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The Controversy, at 40
In Dissent, Number One Hundred and Forty-Two
by Brian S. Wise
21 November 2003JFK

General thoughts on the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

The anniversary gives us cause to consider John Kennedy and his circumstances.  For example, there were times when Kennedy was in so much pain he was unable to walk down the stairs normally rolled into place for those exiting Air Force One.  In those instances a lift was brought to the plane’s door; the president would step onto the lift and be lowered to the ground.  About Kennedy’s overall health it’s been said that, if his conditions had continued to go untreated (as opposed to simply being managed, as they were) he may not have lived to see his late 50s – about his back that some of the pain could have been better managed in the short term had he taken the time to strengthen his back and abdominal muscles.  Had the president’s back been even marginally stronger, perhaps he wouldn’t have needed to wear the large brace that kept him upright as the fatal shot came from the grassy knoll, 40 years ago Saturday.
One also recognizes Mrs. Kennedy as a woman who, in the space of four months, not only lost a newborn child but a husband as well ... and who had to explain both tragedies to her two very young children.  In one moment Jacqueline Kennedy became a treasure trove of historical experience, but remained generally unapproachable on the subject due to a certain common decency we probably wouldn’t see, or even expect to see, in similar circumstances today.  (When Diana Spencer died, British newspapers demanded Queen Elizabeth speak to the people, to show she was as broken up as the non-royals.  She wasn’t, but she spoke nonetheless.)

In the face of our modern travails, in those instances where we seem far too willing to spin into crisis mode at the slightest provocation, it’s instructive to remember Mrs. Kennedy as the woman who sat next to the president when the back of his head exploded, who stood next to Lyndon Johnson as he took the oath of office with her husband’s blood on her clothes, and who, despite all that, conducted herself with remarkable stoicism at a time when that was exactly what the country needed to see.

Dallas in the present day somehow tolerates presidential assassination as a tourist trap.  When traffic lights cooperate, out-of-towners can be seen on Elm street posing for photographs at the exact spot Kennedy was killed, which just goes to show nothing is above being treated like the crossing at Abbey Road if you give it enough years.  It occurs to me now that I did once pose for a picture in front of Abraham Lincoln’s tombstone, but not before asking if it was an acceptable practice and taking special pains to make sure no one else saw, as to not disturb the solemn experience for others – a far cry from taking a trip to Ford’s Theatre and posing in the state box, or traveling to Dallas to seek out the exact location of Kennedy’s assassination for the sake of personal posterity.

What you cannot do is visit the book depository’s sixth floor assassination museum and crouch in front of the window where Lee Oswald is thought by some to have perched, as a rather obstructive Plexiglas box blocks the way.  It’s there, of course, to preserve a vital piece of American history … it just so happens that it also keeps people from ducking down and attempting to eyeball the shots in dispute, to see if there is any plausibility to the idea.  An average man with just a little knowledge would spend all of 90 seconds in the window before thinking, “There’s no way.  Not from this window; not with a moving vehicle, even at 11 miles per hour; not with an Italian, bolt-action, mail order rifle; not with a bad site.”  (In an electronic mail, the museum denied my request for a picture of the window as it exists today, taken from the inside of the building, saying that such a thing didn’t exist.)

And so every November, but especially this November, we wonder who set into motion the devices that ended John Kennedy’s life and fight with one another over who had what motive, means and opportunity, irritating those hardliners who continue to believe Oswald was a long gunman.  Despite all that, it somehow escapes our attention that the crime of the century has thus far gone unsolved, given even 40 years, and that we have stood for the indifference that has left it unsolved.

Brian Wise is the lead columnist for Intellectual Conservative.

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