Reading about John F Kennedy’s assassination is like heading down the rabbit hole. No wonder so many conspiracy theorists get so caught up with it. And no wonder the majority of Americans dismiss the theory that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. There are so many unanswered questions, ambiguities and strange connections. In his novel about Oswald and the assassination (and which plays on the conspiracy theory angle) Libra, Don DeLillo (below) has one of his conspirator characters say, “we are all linked in a vast and rhythmic coincidence, a daisy chain of rumour, suspicion and secret wish.”
As well as revisiting DeLillo’s novel, I have been reading two new books, released around the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination, that examine JFK from different angles. Larry Sabato’s The Kennedy Half-Century claims to be an even-handed analysis of the evidence around the assassination, as well as, more importantly perhaps, an analysis of the impact of JFK’s presidency on subsequent presidents and American life in general. Naturally Sabato argues that JFK looms large, but one could perhaps also make the case for Watergate being the key issue for subsequent presidents. Or Vietnam. Or perhaps, as one author has recently argued, presidents subsequent are yet to shake the influence of Reagan.
Regarding the assassination, Sabato tends towards the lone gunman theory, though he is open, and certainly regards many aspects of the case as puzzling, pointing to, at the very least, the Warren Commission report trying to paper over cracks.
JFK and the Unspeakable, by James Douglass, is different again. This is a thoughtful book, examining copious amounts of evidence in fine detail, but also giving much thought to why, if the evidence points to a conspiracy (as Douglass thinks it does), Kennedy was targeted. And his answer is that Kennedy, post-Bay of Pigs turned away from his previously belligerent attitude and away from the advice of his military chiefs, towards peaceful (secret) negotiations with both the USSR and Cuba. One can see why when his military chiefs were, it seems, committed to starting a nuclear war so that they could get the jump on the USSR and supposedly minimise the damage to the US. Douglass says they didn’t want to avoid war, they wanted to win it – a ridiculous ambition when one is talking about global nuclear war where there clearly would be no winner. At one point Kennedy walked out on a meeting in disgust as the chiefs calmly discussed nuking 140 million soviet citizens.