Tragedy of a special kind

In the week since our last issue the world has been marking the anniversary of the assassination of President Kennedy in Dallas on November 22, 1963. This has evoked many articles, and a Hollywood film, Parkland, about the immediate aftermath of the crime.

We all of us remember where we were when we heard the news. I was then living in Ireland and coming so soon after the triumphal visit of the president to Ireland, a generation which had admired him was stunned by disbelief.

I was living in the United States, however, when in the autumn of 1964 the Warren Commission Report appeared. Initially we were all taken up with what we were told about Lee Harvey Oswald. The report, couched in terms of confident gravitas, was reassuring to many people. However, for many of us this quickly changed. The publication of the counter books began.

The earliest of these was Joachim Joestenís Oswald: Assassin Or Fall Guy which began the process of unpicking the evidence so confidently asserted by the Warren Commission which cannot be said to have done any real investigation themselves, but left it all to lawyers and the FBI. The overall aim was to reassure people, not to seek the truth.

Joesten was a journalist and therefore easily dismissed by the establishment. Less easy to dismiss was Inquest, the book by a young lawyer, Edward Jay Epstein. This did more than unpick a few strands of the Commission case, it demolished it, as I then thought.

Radical view

Ah, but such naivety we had then. The radical view which I espoused was that the establishment had fooled us. This was a view too of the radical Catholic magazine Ramparts, an exciting feature of those post-Vatican II days in the US, when a current of engagement coursed through the veins of young Catholics.

Mark Laneís Rush to Judgment took an even more even aggressive approach, to be followed by countless others. But we grow older, the blood runs less quickly ñ or in some cases too strongly, causing high blood pressure. The Kennedy assassination resulted in a continuing ëbattle of the booksí. This month a fresh crop of books are in the shops but for those who lived through those days, they make impossible reading.

But I no longer have any ideas about the matter except that it was a tragedy of a special kind. It may well have turned out that had he lived the rest of Kennedyís presidency might have not been what so many of his admirers then and now believe it would have been. The killing of Bobby Kennedy deprived us of a greater, even saintly man.

Slowly I gave up reading books about the Kennedy assassination. With each new publication certainty was further undermined, further distorted. Was it the Cubans, the Russians, the Mafia, the CIA (as Ramparts thought), or was it, as I still tend to believe, the local Texan political machine?

The plot

I still have on my shelves alongside Joesten, Lane and others, a book little read here I suspect, by conservative historian J. Evetts Haley, A Texan Looks at Lyndon. His theory was that the plot was engineered by Lyndon Baines Johnston, and he connected it with other murders and crimes. But he too was readily dismissed.

On the assassination bear in mind this one small fact. The route of the presidential cavalcade that day in Dallas was diverted from that originally arranged to allow it to pass in front of the Texas Book Depository, which had not been planned. It could not have been known that this would be the case until almost the day itself. That route could only have been rearranged by the local authorities, the very authorities in whose safekeeping Lee Harvey Oswald and Jack Ruby died.

The past cannot be reversed. But there is a lesson here. There is always doubt: in life, in politics, in religion. Certainty is impossible. That is why we speak of faith at all. It is the realisation that some mysteries will always be beyond our limited comprehension: among them the real assassins on November 22.