Behind the Lines

The day we knew where everyone was.

It is now several weeks since the twenty-fifth anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas. The event was commemorated by somber special reports on television, by articles in newspapers, and magazines, and by several new books, each with its own theory about what happened that sad day. Their exploitation and fatuous thinking have left me angry.

Survey says two-thirds of the people in America do not believe the Warren Commission’s conclusion that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. It was fashionable to disbelieve the commission almost from the moment it was formed. As soon as the report was released, opportunistic charlatans such as Mark Lane toured the lecture circuit and enraptured audiences. John McCloy, a lawyer who was a member of the commission, later wrote in exasperation, “I visited at a number of universities in those days—It was actually thought ‘liberal’ to be convinced that President Kennedy had been shot as a result of a conspiracy by a group of Texas millionaires or chauvinists and that it was quite ‘illiberal’ to think that he has been assassinated solely by a little ‘punk’ who perhaps had some personal communistic leanings.”

One’s attitude toward the Warren Commission became a touchstone belief, like one’s opinion on Vietnam, that separated people utterly. Since then, a belief in a conspiracy has gained a kind of sanctity; now it is treated practically like a religious tenet that may not be challenged or contradicted. Thus most of the retrospectives tiptoed around without really making a stand of what really happened. The New York Times wrote of the window from which “Lee Harvey Oswald’s rifle was fired.” And the Dallas Morning News identified the sixth-floor window as the place “alleged assassin Lee Harvey Oswald is thought to have used.”

There isn’t much credence in evil Texas millionaires anymore. Nor has there been much speculation about Oswald’s Double since Oswald’s grave was dug up in 1981. The body in the grave was supposed to have been that of his double, but it turned out to be Oswald after all. Nothing has been pinned on the CIA. Currently, the fashionable theory is that the mob did it. Carlos Marcello, the longtime boss in New Orleans, is supposed to have ordered the president’s death. Rich Texas bigots, the CIA, the mob—that is the list of the main bogeymen of the last 25 years.

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