As we enter into the final run-up to the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, I have a declaration to make. I am a buff. I can hold forth on the single bullet theory and tell you why it is certainly true. I can tell you why the Zapruder film confirms, rather than contradicts, the theory of a single shooter in the rear of the motorcade. I can engage you in a conversation about the identities of Door Man, Umbrella Man and the Hoboes. I can go on for longer than anyone should be able about the odd life of Lee Harvey Oswald.
So I was taken aback by Duane Dudek's review of Killing Kennedy, a film version of Bill O'Reilly's book that aired last night on the National Geographic Channel. The film, he writes, "doesn't tell us Jack."
Cute line but wrong. The film is derivative but it tells a story that most of us have not heard.
One of the things that has always struck me is that there is a public narrative about the assassination that is spectacularly false. Kennedy is often claimed - or implied - to be a martyr to some generalized notion of "American" or even right wing violence. Recently, there have recently been a few cringeworthy examples of that narrative in the liberal press (Salon, Slate and the New York Times) and the idea is advanced in a new book called Dallas 1963.
But the facts are these, Kennedy was shot by a Marxist who had defected to the Soviet Union and tried to defect to Cuba in the month before the assassination. In March of 1963, he had tried to kill former General Edwin Walker, an extreme right wing figure living in Dallas. In the months before the assassination, he had been trying to engage the Communist Party USA, Fair Play for Cuba Committee and the Daily Worker (all of whom held him at arm's length) in support of his political activities.
I'll bet most of you didn't know that.
This isn't to say that the "left" killed Kennedy who was an enthusiastic Cold Warrior. Oswald was an angry man with delusions of grandeur whose pathologies expressed themselves in left wing terms. He
was actually as ignorant of Marxist philosophy as he was of capitalism.
But it does undercut the Kennedy as a martyr of some American or right wing "sickness" and, for that reason, is useful to know. "Killing Kennedy" is a (mostly) accurate portrayal of those facts (there is a bit of dramatice license and compression) and, contrary to Dudek's claim, will tell most viewers quite a bit that they did not know.
Cross posted at Purple Wisconsin.