The dispute over the true circumstances of the JFK assassination has raged for nearly have a century. Just when it seems like the fire will die down, a new revelation, watershed book or controversial film stokes the flames of debate. Perhaps America’s ongoing obsession with the darkest day in its history stems from the fundamental human desire for catharsis, and the failure of Congress, the Executive branch, and the mainstream media to provide that essential sensation to the American people. In short, the American dream was wounded on November 22nd 1963, and no one has ever sufficiently cleaned and bandaged the gash. No one.
The President’s Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy wants you to believe that Lee Harvey Oswald committed the crime in a complete vacuum of human contact. The House Select Committee concluded there was probably a conspiracy, but Congress didn’t think it was worth the extra money to hunt down the alleged perpetrators of the greatest crime since the crucifixion of Christ. The committee called for further investigation, which didn’t occur for another 23 years. But when the Assassination Records and Review Board (ARRB) finally got a chance to go back into the JFK assassination files, the organization’s mandate was so toothless it didn’t even allow its members to investigate anything they found, let alone form any conclusions about their findings.
If the government’s stance on the assassination seems confusing and contradictory, don’t even bother trying to figure out what the media think about the case. The news networks stand by the Commission’s original lone gunman scenario, while cable television produces a stream of documentaries giving credence to some of the wildest conspiracy theories ever imagined. The history section of your local bookstore most likely has a bookshelf filled with assassination books so contradictory of each other that a young person might think they were written about different events. Movies and TV shows like JFK, Salt, Executive Action, Winter Kills, Bones, Quantum Leap, The X-Files, The Twilight Zone, and Red Dwarf have all spun so many elaborate tales around the circumstances of the assassination that it will probably be impossible for most viewers to ever sort the fact from fiction.
The more entrenched assassination researchers and their followers will most likely never give up their alternate interpretations of the evidence and testimony in the JFK case, the most sycophantic defenders of the status quo will most like continue to cling the government’s initial conclusion of a lone gunman scenario, and Hollywood will certainly never stop coming up with ingenious ways to explain just how and why our President was murdered. But everyday Americans deserve a solid and balanced analysis of the facts divorced from the egos and agendas of elected officials, book peddlers, and Hollywood moviemakers. Maybe then, America can finally recover from the assassination after almost fifty years of doubt and uncertainty. Maybe we can finally experience the much needed catharsis. What are some strategies and best practices to provide this catharsis to our disillusioned nation? JFK007 proposes a three-pronged approach.
1. A National Day of Observance
The day John Kennedy died was a day the world stopped. Children were sent home from school, and their parents were sent home from work. Strangers comforted each and flags were lowered to half mast. Without any official declaration, it became a day of national mourning. The assassination dominated the national conversation for years, but interest has largely dissipated since the explosion of controversy stoked by Oliver Stone’s 1991 film JFK. There is a strong contingent of groups and individuals who remain interested in the case, and a growing contingent of Gen Xers and Gen TeXters looking at the case with new eyes, forming fresh ideas. Here’s one: Let’s make November 22nd a national day of observance, just as it was in 1963. Why hasn’t this been done already? Maybe Congress doesn’t want us to remember, because we might start asking questions again. We might start demanding justice.
2. Let Justice Be Done
For better or for worse, the preferred form of American justice is a good old fashioned jury trial, a la To Kill a Mockingbird or 12 Angry Men. In this country, a man is innocent until proven guilty. The accused makes his plea and counsel defends it. A jury of his peers determines the validity of the defense, and should they find they find him guilty, a judge decides a fitting punishment. The system is undoubtedly flawed and imperfect, but it’s essentially democratic and most importantly, it’s our way. Lee Harvey Oswald never got to stand trial before his countryman and face his charges. Congress and the President’s commission can accuse Lee Harvey Oswald of whatever they like, but until a judge slams the gavel on the case, the guy hasn’t gotten a fair shake. Oswald may very well be guiltier than sin, but until 12 of his peers decide he is, he’s still technically innocent.
Vincent Bugliosi, a respected prosecutor and author of the oppressively snarky Oswald did it book Reclaiming History points out that it was markedly EASIER to prove Oswald’s alleged guilt by commission than it would have been in a courtroom. He cites the fact that Oswald’s widow Marina, whose testimony to the President’s commission was certainly the most damning, would never have been able to testify against her husband in a court of law. Bugliosi would know this better than anyone else, as he successfully prosecuted Oswald in a televised mock trial. Bugliosi does this to point out that the President’s Commission wasn’t the toothless body everyone thinks they were, but what he’s inadvertently doing is pointing to the questionable scruples of the Commission’s methods and mandate.
A posthumous trial could be arranged, despite there being little precedent for this type of proceeding. The Supreme Court of the United States has ruled due process demands a defendant be present at his own trial, although the court has set precedents for several types of exceptions. Unfortunately, none of these exceptions applies to Lee Oswald’s. Since due process is designed to protect the defendant’s rights, it seems logical that the Court could extend their exception to Oswald’s highly unusual case, considering the purpose is to grant the accused his right to a fair trial.
The evidence could be taken out of the National Archives, material and secondary witnesses could be subpoenaed, a jury could be assembled, and an impartial judge selected. The most concise and comprehensive case ever conceived will be made against Lee Oswald, but he would also probably have the greatest legal team ever assembled to give him the best defense any alleged criminal has ever had. Who wouldn’t want to be one of the lawyers who helped acquit the legendary “patsy”? The proceedings would be unconventional and controversial to say the least, but it’s the right thing to do. Once the evidence and testimony is presented, 12 everyday Americans—not congressman, former CIA directors or future presidents—will decide whether or not Lee Harvey Oswald is guilty in the murder of John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Whatever those 12 people decide, there will be countless dissenters screaming foul play. At the very least however, America will have made her decision and officially “closed” the case. But before the people arrive at any decisions, we must look at all the evidence, no matter how horrifying it may be.
3. I Knew Him Horatio
There is one way to settle the debate once and for all, but it’s not a pretty way. The surviving members of the Kennedy clan have expressed no public interest in the assassination, so it’s difficult to imagine any of them authorizing this morbid proposition, but the skull of the victim must be examined. The trauma doctors who first treated the patient’s head wounds remember an exit wound in the front, indicating a shooter other than Oswald, but the autopsy doctors who later examined the body saw an exit wound indicating a shot from behind, implicating Oswald. Whatever happened on the day of November 22nd, there was a steady flow of either absolute incompetence or outward malice. The incompetence or deviousness of whoever was overseeing John Kennedy’s autopsy is unacceptable. However, the dispute could be settled by a quick glance at the skull. Obviously, this can never be done with the authorization of the family. But one day one a Kennedy will let curiosity get the best of them and need to know what happened to their fallen forebear. Then again, maybe not.