The Canberra Times
By Harry Melkonian
On November 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas - not as the result of a conspiracy involving the CIA, FBI, organised crime or the military-industrial complex, but as the result of a barely pre-meditated act carried out without motive or purpose. During the past 50 years, Americans have been unwilling to accept the death of such an important man occurred for almost no reason whatsoever.
Americans have uniformly rejected official explanations and instead cling to a mythic situation that never actually happened but which explains what happened and provides comforting explanations.
The facts are painfully simple. Kennedy, accompanied by his wife, Jacqueline, was making a five-city political trip to Texas. The highlight was to be a grand fund-raiser in Austin, the state capital. All Texas politicians advised the White House staff to skip Dallas. Not only was there no need to add Dallas to the tight schedule but everyone, including vice-president Lyndon Johnson and Texas governor John Connally, anticipated an unpleasant reception in Dallas. The White House ignored them.
Lee Harvey Oswald saw the president's Dallas Parade route published in a Dallas newspaper. Realising the motorcade would pass directly by the Texas School Book Depository where he worked, he brought his rifle to work. Oswald retreated to an unoccupied floor of the depository and, as the motorcade passed, fired three shots from his old but serviceable rifle, killing the president and seriously wounding Connally. There was no escape route for Oswald - nothing had been planned. He was captured within two hours sitting in a cinema, having panicked and killed a city policeman just minutes earlier.
Why did Oswald do it? Really - no reason. Oswald believed he was ''important'' and the public should take note of what he said. However, he was a pitiable creature of limited understanding who had never been taken seriously. To escape a dreadful home life, he enlisted in the Marine Corps. While a marine, he declared himself to be a Marxist and would parrot statements he had learnt in Marxist tracts - it is doubtful he understood any of them. His fellow marines paid him no mind and just called him Oswaldsky or Oswaldkovitch.
Once out of the Marines, in a search for attention, he travelled to Moscow and announced he was defecting and would turn over US military secrets to the Soviets. After an interview, US embassy staff judged there was no concern about Oswald's threat to turn over military secrets - he knew nothing. The Soviets quickly learned the new defector was an idiot and sent him to an out-of-the-way radio assembly factory where he could not get in any trouble.
Several years later, Oswald returned to the US expecting to be mobbed by newsmen and CIA agents. Instead, he was ignored by all. He returned to his home town of New Orleans and became involved in pro-Castro as well as anti-Castro activities. He attracted a modest amount of police attention but nothing of consequence. He then moved to Dallas with his Russian-born wife.
Why did he kill the president? He did not dislike Kennedy, was not envious of him; it was just a means of winning attention for his ideas.
This is, all in all, a rather pathetic story and even Jacqueline Kennedy expressed dismay when Oswald was disclosed as the assassin and a make-believe Marxist. This was such an unsettling finale to Kennedy's life. It was not the way for the leader of the free world to die - almost as if someone dropped a brick on his head as he walked along the footpath.
And therein lies the fuel for the conspiracies. Now, there were some conspiracies, but they occurred after Kennedy had been shot. The FBI knew about Oswald in Dallas and that he was a potential threat to the president.
Shortly before the assassination, Oswald wrote a note threatening to bomb the Dallas FBI offices. The proper procedure would be for the FBI to notify the Dallas Police Department and the Secret Service to assign a minder to Oswald until the president had left the city. The FBI failed to implement these
procedures and later covered this up - a conspiracy, but not a conspiracy to kill the president. Similarly the CIA wilfully lied to the Warren Commission to conceal CIA machinations to kill Castro in a joint venture with US organised crime figures. Again - a conspiracy to obstruct justice but not a conspiracy to kill the president.
None of this history satisfies the American public. It is all disjointed, lacking a theme and fails to tell a complete story. Then arrives the story that continues to attract the largest number of followers - the version concocted by New Orleans district attorney Jim Garrison and captured on film by Oliver Stone. The story does not reflect facts but it offers a morally satisfying version - one which gives people comfort and which gives Jack Kennedy's death profound meaning.
American philosopher Roger Gilles made the breakthrough. He approached the assassination from the viewpoint of Aristotelian philosophy and concluded Garrison's world view prevails because it presents a coherent and meaningful narrative even though based on falsities - in other words, a classic example of sophist rhetoric. Professor Gilles was right.
Jim Garrison approached the Kennedy assassination from the viewpoint of Jim Garrison, not Kennedy or Oswald, and to Jim Garrison we all can relate. He described growing up as an American who always saluted when the national anthem was played and would get a lump in his throat when the troops marched by in parades. Garrison became a pilot in the air force, then served as an FBI agent and eventually was elected as the reform candidate for district attorney in vice-ridden New Orleans.
Garrison presented himself as patriotic and trusting. Garrison was a hero - John Kennedy on a smaller scale.
Garrison explained that his investigations into the assassination were legitimate because of Oswald's connections to New Orleans. He then described Oswald's descent into the fetid and murky world of the CIA and military-industrial complex, forces he contended were alien to true Americans. Garrison discovered a shadowy world of secret and unlawful CIA training camps near New Orleans that were being used by fanatic anti-Castro groups.
All of this was true and it was also true that organised crime was involved - basically cheating the CIA out of funds for the ostensible purpose of fighting Castro. And Oswald drifted in and out of this shadowy world. But, that's all there was - shadows and rumours. From this Garrison conceived of a military-industrial complex determined to get Kennedy out of the way so there would be unlimited profits in Vietnam - and by the time of his books, the Vietnam war was waging under Johnson. Garrison saw Oswald as a pawn, just a patsy in this ever-increasing web of conspiracies: sometimes of the CIA, sometimes of Lyndon Johnson or organised crime, and always of the military-industrial complex.
Garrison soldiered on to bring the culprits to justice but, just as he envisioned they had done to his hero John Kennedy, the forces of darkness overwhelmed him and turned him into a creature of public mockery. But, as Vietnam turned into a morass and things seemed not to go so well for the US, public belief in Lyndon Johnson became loathing. Garrison retook his position as the American hero fighting the forces of darkness.
The Garrison story gave meaning and significance to the life of John F. Kennedy. It built on the tragic events that followed - it related those events, such as Vietnam, to his death. Garrison's story might not be what really happened on the day JFK died but he made that day powerful and important in light of the evil that followed.
Kennedy was a great American, deserving of a hero's end. Garrison and Oliver Stone gave his life the ending he had been denied in life. While Garrison's story is not true in a strict historical sense, as constituting part of the American mythic experience it plays an important and unifying role.
This article appeared in The Canberra Times.