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Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

Next week, as Americans celebrate the 100th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s birth (May 29, 1917), much of the public conversation will be about his death. The controversy over who killed JFK in 1963 has now raged for over half a century. It is a diversion and a waste of time.

It is more important to learn from the successes and mistakes of Kennedy’s presidency, to reflect on the changes that have occurred since his death, and to restore the hope for a better society and a peaceful world that JFK—despite his many contradictions—inspired.

But the question of who killed Kennedy will never be resolved. Assassination buffs, for whom the JFK murder is a cult-like obsession, are locked into their views. Proponents of different theories argue and make claims, but they don’t really debate. They look at many of the same facts and come to very different conclusions.

Whether you believe the Warren Commission that Lee Harvey Oswald was a lone gunman acting on his own, or one of the many conspiracy theories that Oswald was part of a plot hatched by the CIA, the mafia or both, or some other speculation, the nation will never reach a consensus on the tragic killing of the young president.

But more importantly, it really doesn’t matter.

I refuse to waste my time wading into the muck of the JFK assassination controversies. It is not that I lack curiosity about American history. But nothing that I uncover would surprise me or alter my view of my country. I already know that the Central Intelligence Agency was involved in the overthrow of governments and the murder of political leaders in Iran, Guatemala, Vietnam and elsewhere. It is well established that the CIA bungled several efforts to kill and overthrow Cuba’s Fidel Castro. I don’t need more evidence to know that some politicians and government agencies collaborated with organized crime. We currently have a president who had close ties to the mob during his days as a New York real estate developer.

Nothing I could learn from the Warren Commission, Oliver Stone’s film “JFK,” or the hundreds of books about the assassination, would change how I think about the current problems facing the United States or what to do about them.

Kennedy was hated by the nation’s right-wingers, including the Ku Klux Klan, the John Birch Society, some extremists within the military (such as General Edwin Walker) and anti-Catholics among Protestant fundamentalists.  Back then, the Republican Party still had a liberal wing — like Senators Jacob Javits (New York), Charles Percy (Illinois), George Aiken (Vermont), Margaret Chase Smith (Maine), Clifford Case (New Jersey), Mark Hatfield (Oregon), Lowell Weicker, and John Chafee (Rhode Island) – which made it possible for Democrats and Republicans to find common ground. The right-wing businessmen who later became the money behind Barry Goldwater’s presidential campaign in 1964 were still just a faction within the GOP. Today, in contrast, the religious right, the National Rifle Association, and the Tea Party — fueled by funders like the Koch Brothers and Robert and Rebekah Mercer, political operatives like Jim DeMint, Grover Norquist, and Steve Bannon, and the right-wing echo chamber dominated by Fox News and Rush Limbaugh — has taken control of the Republican Party.

President Kennedy was torn between his Democratic Party’s segregationist wing and its liberal, pro-labor and civil rights wing. He was an ardent Cold Warrior, timid on civil rights and had few legislative triumphs as either a senator or as president. Because he was young, charismatic and murdered before he could even complete his first term in office, most Americans overestimate JFK’s achievements during his thousand days in the White House.  He is well-known for creating the Peace Corps and resisting his top military advisors who wanted to go to war with Russia over the Cuban missile crisis.  Even so, he rarely gets credit for some of his most important accomplishments, including creating a commission on women that helped jump-start the feminist movement and initiating an effort to limit the nuclear arms race. Three days before he was assassinated, he told aides that he wanted to do something about poverty. Lyndon Johnson took up JFK’s mantle and declared a national war on poverty.

Since Kennedy was assassinated, the nation’s economy has become increasingly dominated by a relatively small number of giant global corporations who have too much political influence. Some of the nation’s corporate leaders are Republicans and some are Democrats but (with a few exceptions) they share a common outlook about business and government. They want lower taxes, fewer regulations and weaker unions. They seek to maximize profits and control, but they are not a conspiracy. Since Kennedy’s time, the super-rich have expanded the tools they use to influence politics. In the past half century, the role of private wealth, corporate-backed think tanks and business-supported lobby groups in American politics has skyrocketed.

Regardless of who killed Kennedy, it won’t change my view that we need much tougher campaign finance reform to rid the country of its legal bribery system that gives corporate America too much power.

No matter who pulled the trigger in Dallas that November day in 1963, it won’t revise my thinking that we need tougher regulations on big business to protect consumers, the environment and workers from irresponsible business abuses, we need to tighten regulations on Wall Street so they can’t repeat the damage they caused with their risky, reckless and often illegal practices, and we need to battle the National Rifle Association and win stronger gun control laws.

We’ll never know whether JFK would have expanded or ended American involvement in Vietnam, but we do know that the president who replaces Donald Trump – either through his resignation, impeachment, or defeat in 2020 – must reduce our country’s military presence around the world, cut the defense budget and redirect tax dollars to strengthen our education system, our crumbling infrastructure and our shortage of affordable housing.

Whether Oswald acted on his own or was part of an organized plot, it won’t have any bearing on my view that the next president’s Supreme Court appointments should be individuals who will overturn Citizens United, reverse the current court’s pro-big business agenda, protect women’s right to reproductive health and abortion and restore the Voting Rights Act.

Whether or not JFK was a great president, he did inspire a generation with his call to use their talents to improve our society and our world. The idealism that he helped unleash resulted in a revolution in values and institutional change, including civil rights, the environment, women’s rights, gay and lesbian rights, consumer protections, workplace safety, and limits on American militarism. No matter who killed Kennedy, that is his most important legacy.

Peter Dreier is professor of politics and chair of the Urban & Environmental Policy Department at Occidental College. His most recent book is The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame (Nation Books).

This article was made possible by the readers and supporters of AlterNet.

3 Responses to I Don’t Care Who Killed JFK

  1. The Cuban Missile Crisis should provide a lesson for America’s current situation. Krushchev perhaps thought that the young President would not capable of reacting effectively to the Soviets’ placing IRBMS in Cuba. Was he under the impression that Kennedy’s relative youth would paralyze him into inaction? Clearly, the boldness of Kruschev’s move was ill-advised. Today, Putin may assume that Trump is so ineffective in a global sense (i.e., he knows nothing) that Russia will be able to do almost anything without the danger of eliciting a U.S. response. (Forget about Russia holding incriminating evidence about Trump’s perversions or indebtedness. Does Putin believe that Trump is incompetent?) The danger is that the threat of an unwinnable nuclear war that restrained Kennedy and Krushchev may not restrain Trump. Instead of working through the issue, Trump may go directly to the “football” to resolve it. I remember well the atmosphere of the Cuban Missile Crisis–fear and an outsized sense of patriotism–and it was a very scary time. Fortunately, there were some in both the Moscow and Washington who were determined to avert nuclear war. Today, I think that Putin is smart enough to know that nuclear war would yield the earth to the cockroaches. I’m not so sure that Trump understands this.

  2. Of course it makes a difference. If Oswald acted alone it was an assassination. If he was killed by a conspiracy, it was a coup d’etat. Maybe we should ask GH Bush while hes still alive.

  3. I would agree that at this point it serves no purpose. Whoever was responsible is a bit player were it an individual; if it were the CIA, it would warrant an immediate dismantling of the agency and redefining its rules of operation, and that ain’t gonna happen.

    If it involved at the core the US government, a similar act of nullifying the entire political system in America would be necessary—and that won’t happen until a few generations from now have expired, at least.

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