There are anniversaries - births, triumphs, marriages - and there are anniversaries - deaths, defeats, tragedies. And then there is the Kennedy assassination.
Nothing else in America's frame of reference resonates so searingly - and so controversially. Pearl Harbor begot V-J Day and a sense, however imperfect, of some closure. The assassination of John F. Kennedy - 50 years ago this Nov. 22 - is still an open case in the court of American public opinion.
That's because of one word: "conspiracy." No matter what the alternative scenario, if there's doubt that Kennedy was killed other than by a lone, Communism-enamored loser out to make horrific history, you have the cornerstones of conspiracy. And an anniversary like no other.
According to public opinion polls over the years, a majority of Americans have continued to suspect conspiracy. Many think Lee Harvey Oswald did not act alone - or wittingly - or at all. Just last month a national AP-GfK Roper Public Affairs and Corporate Communications poll found that 59 percent of Americans still thought multiple people were involved in assassinating President Kennedy. The U.S. House Select Committee on Assassinations gave more than cover to conspiracy advocates when, in 1978, it formally found that Kennedy "was probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy." To be sure, no one labeled the HSCA a bunch of agenda-driven, publicity-crazed conspiracy nuts for their conclusion.
And while Oliver Stone's 1992 "JFK" was flawed, it did serve to ramp-up conspiracy interest for another generation. It also prompted the expedited release of classified information.
Now here we are in the spring of 2013 and already the media drum beat is audible. We're learning that at least two major films, a documentary and a TV movie will be out later this year to herald the haunting countdown to the 50th anniversary of Dallas infamy. So steel yourself for those graphic Zapruder images that loom again. Also prepare for a point-and-counterpoint media frenzy.
Many of you likely saw the Associated Press story that ran two Sundays ago in the Tampa Tribune. It chronicled interest in JFK-assassination theories this last half century, but it also - inevitably, it seems, with some media - included absurdly extraneous context that does a disservice to truth-searching. After noting familiar conspiracy suspects - from payback Mafiosi to avenging Cuban exiles to "military-industrial complex" elements - the piece inexplicably gave credence to whatever buffoon theorized that Kennedy's limo driver shot him "as part of an effort to cover up proof of an alien invasion." Shame on the AP for trafficking in such drivel and thus trivializing those who don't support a lone-assassin theory. It was awful timing for bad editing.
Even worse, the piece then characterized conspiracy theorists as those seemingly willing to go to any lengths to avoid confronting the much more likely scenario: "that Oswald, a hapless former Marine, was in the right place at the right time, with motive and opportunity" to pull off the crime of the century.
This is not the forum to confront character assassination. Nor is this the time to delve into numerous inherent conflicts - from the Parkland Memorial Hospital entry wound that morphed into an autopsy exit wound to cherry-picked Warren Commission testimony to the improbable Jack Ruby.
Two main points for now:
The Warren Commission's motivation was not conspiracy - but national security. The world had dodged a nuclear bullet the year before over Soviet missiles in Cuba. As President Lyndon Johnson made clear to an initially uncooperative Chief Justice Earl Warren: If you have more than three rifle shots - thus more than one shooter - and your prime suspect once defected to the Soviet Union, who knows where this will lead? We have a dead suspect. He was a loser loner. Leave it at that. Do you want to risk WWIII?
As for the 24-year-old Oswald, he was almost assuredly a U.S. government operative, albeit one who didn't know where he fit in America's internecine, often rogue, Cold War tool box. Hence that haunting "patsy" reference after his arrest and before his execution.
Consider a few basic biographical facts on Oswald:
? While in the Marines, Oswald was assigned to Atsugi, Japan, the U-2 spy base. As in Gary Powers' flights. As in strict government clearance. It was no place for security risks.
? The United States invested in Oswald. He was sent to foreign language school where he learned Russian, which he would speak - and write - well. It was no place for dullard losers.
? Oswald would become a "defector" to - and then a "re-defector" from - the Soviet Union. Such scenarios were not unheard of during the height of Cold War paranoia.
? Oswald was, inexplicably enough, known to be involved with both anti-Castro exiles in Louisiana as well as the pro-Castro Fair Play for Cuba Committee. As for the latter, he was the only FPCC "member" in the New Orleans "branch." In intelligence circles, such blatant imposters are known as "dangles" - would-be bait to the other side.
And a lot more.
Put it this way: Oswald was no John Hinckley, Squeaky Fromme or Arthur Bremer.