November 22nd, 2013–a little less than three weeks from today–will mark the fiftieth anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas. We all know the story. He and Jackie made the short flight from Fort Worth to Dallas via Air Force One. Jackie wore a pink suit with a pillbox hat, and she carried roses she’d been given. They got into the big Lincoln limousine with the bubble-top off, and left for the motorcade to the International Trade Mart, where the President was to give a speech before a packed luncheon crowd. En route, in Dealey Plaza, shots rang out, and President Kennedy was mortally wounded.
The images are seared on our collective retinas: the shaky Zapruder film showing Kennedy’s head explode, then Jackie trying to climb onto the trunk.
Why did she do that? Of all the questions raised that day, that’s one I’ve never heard a good answer to. Was she trying to get the hell out of that car? Was she trying to collect part of her husband’s brain from the trunk? Was she trying to help the Secret Service agent who was running to jump onto the car, and presumably protect Mrs. Kennedy and her slain husband.
We know JFK was taken to Parkland Hospital, and that Father Oscar Huber was called in to perform last rites. After Kennedy was pronounced dead, his body was placed in a casket, and driven to Air Force One. There, in a cramped cabin, a Federal Judge administered the oath of office, and Lyndon Johnson became the 36th President of the United States of America.
All I have written is off the top of my head–no notes, no books open in front of me, and (to my knowledge) nothing controversial or up for debate.
The debate comes in later, with the whos, hows, and whys. Was Oswald acting alone? Could that man have fired those shots with that rifle? Was there another shooter on the now-fabled grassy knoll? Further, who the hell uses the word “knoll” except describing “The Grassy Knoll,” which should be capitalized. Were Communists involved in the plot? Was the CIA? Were Cubans? Did Lyndon Johnson have any culpability? Or was this payback for Attorney General Robert Kennedy’s relentless pursuit of organized crime?
Or was it one disgruntled, insane young man who hit the President with two shots, one of which caused that horrible pink spray on the Zapruder film.
In observance of the half-century mark since John Kennedy’s assassination, a large number of books are being published in the next few weeks. I’ve already reviewed some books this year relating to the Kennedy assassination–some fiction, some non-fiction. I will reprint those reviews this month. Also, I have a stack of JFK books to read. I will do my damnedest to get through them before the 22nd, as well as some biographical films. Some of these are political–I’m currently reading “The Kennedy Half-Century,” which covers how JFK has affected the past fifty years. Others deal with the assassination, including Gerald Posner’s compelling “Case Closed,” which takes on every conspiracy and debunks it. I read it before nearly twenty years ago. It has been revised for re-release, and I will re-read it.
Those days starting in Dallas changed something in this country. These books try to answer the simple question: Just how big a part was John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s 1000 days in office in effecting these changes? Would the Civil Rights acts have passed? Did Kennedy have the juice on Capitol Hill that Lyndon Johnson did to force these measures through?
Oliver Stone made an excellent movie, “JFK,” which created a whole gumbo of different, sometimes contradictory theories. Some of his strongest characters never existed, or they were conglomerations of various “real” people. One of these fictitious characters, imaginatively titled “X”–supposedly based in large part on former Army officer Fletcher Prouty–explains how Kennedy would have had all American troops out of Vietnam by Christmas of 1965, but that the assassination allowed the war machine to have another decade of billion-dollar equipment and thousands of lives.
Where is the truth? I don’t know that we ever get that knowledge. Maybe when we die, there’s a “Welcome to The Afterlife” information kiosk, and we can pick up pamphlets that explain the truths about JFK, 9/11, The Immaculate Conception, The Immaculate REception, too.
Anyway. I am a professional reader. I read as much as I can, and I try to write intelligently about the books I ingest. In the next two-and-a-half weeks, I will do my best to get through as many JFK books as possible. I don’t expect I’ll be 100% convinced by any of them, nor would I expect you to be even 50% by one of my lame-ass reviews.
I have some other good books lined up, and I’ll read them when I can, but in the days leading up to that tragic weekend, I’ll be concentrating a lot on the Kennedy Administration and subsequent assassination.
As I pointed out above, the basic facts of the story are as familiar as they can be. It’s all the facts we DON’T know that keep us–and publishers–so busy.
I hope you enjoy our little project.