Six Seconds 50 Years Later

The median age of the average American is 37.1 years of age which means for most Americans asking them where they were when Kennedy was assassinated gets the reply, “I wasn’t born yet.”

I was eight years old when President John F. Kennedy was shot which would have put me in elementary school and not at all concerned about assassinations, conspiracies and tragedies.   I’m sure at the time of my young life I was far more concerned with cartoons, playing with my friends and what mom was making for dinner than what happened in Dallas.

There are dates that are indelibly sketched onto the collective psyche and ancient memory of Americans.  December 7, 1941.  November 22, 1963.  September 11, 2001.    The killing of the president didn’t touch me directly.  I was too young for it to resonate for me personally, though I do recall my parents watching Walter Cronkite grimly relate what little was known about the shooting of Kennedy and the mysterious little man named Lee Harvey Oswald, the prime suspect in the assassination.

What I know about JFK I know mostly through history as I was far too busy being a child to care about what Kennedy did in his brief time in the White House.  Knowing now what I did not know then, I understand why Kennedy is so revered as a President.  He was young, handsome, charismatic, personable and brimming with potential for greatness, but Kennedy’s enduring popularity, as a Gallup poll in 2011 listed him fourth among the nation’s greatest presidents is still  based upon his potential than his accomplishments.

Oswald: A twisted little loser, brilliant assassin or just a patsy?

While I wouldn’t go so far as those arguing Kennedy was not a great president if you set aside the tragedy of his death and the understandable sympathy and warmth that Kennedy’s untimely end naturally provokes and just go on the record alone, Kennedy does come up a little short on the accomplishments end.

It was Kennedy’s vice-president and successor, Lyndon B. Johnson, who brought to fruition through his Great Society many of the ideas and goals of Kennedy’s New Frontier.   Without JFK to set him up would LBJ have succeeded so spectacularly well in finishing what Kennedy had started?

If not for his foolish escalation of the Vietnam War, Johnson might have stepped out of the long shadow cast by the murdered president, but Johnson wanted to finish what Kennedy had started and it tarnished his presidency beyond salvation.   While LBJ got so much more done particularly in making civil rights for Blacks a priority, his failure in Vietnam makes his overall legacy a decidedly mixed one.

We’ll never know all the answers to the questions of the Kennedy assassination.  50 years after the fact, a murder is still a murder and I don’t believe for a second a creepy little loser like Oswald pulled off the Crime of the Century all by himself.   Too many things fell right into the assassin’s lap to be sheer coincidence or dumb luck.    But too much time has passed and there are too many that might know the answers to Kennedy’s killing as dead and dust as he is now.

Kennedy is frozen in history and in the mind of the American people.   Many of those who weren’t around to draw breath when Kennedy drew his last one are skeptical of the Warren Commission report and disbelieving of its “long gunman” nonsense.    They’ve seen the movies, read the books, watched the documentaries, and heard the theories and they don’t believe the official story now any more than critics of the Warren Commission did then.

We will never know the whole truth of the JFK assassination.  We can speculate and ruminate until the corpse of Jack Ruby reanimates from the dead.  It’s not going to help.  All of the principal players are dead and gone. Any conspiracy that has held for five decades isn’t going to unravel when there’s nobody left to tell how it went down.

This does not sit well with anyone who admired President Kennedy for what he did and could have done had his life not been prematurely snatched away from both his family and his country, but it seems unlikely the full details of his killing  will ever come to light and just as unlikely that any answer would ever be accepted as the definitive.   The assassination of JFK is like a knotty and complex mystery novel with the last ten pages ripped out before the reader can learn whodunnit.

It remains impossible to fully process and assess what the promise of JFK’s presidency might have been as it remains frozen in time by six seconds in Dallas.

Presidents Obama and Clinton lay a wreath at the grave of their predecessor.