NOVEMBER MARKS the 50th anniversary of the assassination of our 35th president, an event that defined the life of the baby-boomers—a generation that, by sheer force of numbers, still sucks up most of the oxygen in U.S. culture. There are new books, reissued books, documentaries, made-for-TV movies, and a new Hollywood production, Parkland, starring that Everyman of the baby boom, Tom Hanks. But, anniversary hoopla aside, the JFK assassination and its aftermath can also provide us with some very timely lessons about the dangers that come with secret wars and unaccountable power.
Fifty-nine percent of Americans don’t believe the official story that Lee Harvey Oswald alone killed President John F. Kennedy, and this time the majority is right. The available evidence strongly suggests that the president was the victim of a murder plot that involved anti-Castro Cubans, enraged by his failure to back them up during the Bay of Pigs invasion, and their allies in organized crime who had been heavily invested in pre-Castro Havana. That was the conclusion of the House Select Committee on Assassinations in 1978, which also found physical evidence of another shooter at the crime scene.
Of course, the armed anti-Castro forces in Florida were a bought-and-paid-for creation of our CIA, and the CIA was also working with organized crime figures in various plots to assassinate Castro. So it’s no great leap to suspect some complicity in Kennedy’s assassination by CIA employees. Some reasonable people, including peace activist and theologian James W. Douglass in his book JFK and the Unspeakable, have gone further, claiming that the Kennedy assassination was the result of a policy decision, taken at the very highest levels of the national security state, aimed at heading off JFK’s plans to pull out of Vietnam and end the Cold War. This theory relies heavily on National Security Action Memorandum 263, which laid out plans to begin withdrawing troops from Vietnam, and journalist Norman Cousins’ account of back channel diplomacy in the book, The Improbable Triumvirate: John F. Kennedy, Pope John, Nikita Khrushchev.