Tuesday, November 26, 2013

JFK Remembered, Part II

Recollections of the Kennedy assassination often reveal more about 2013 and the psychic needs of those who write them than they do of the late President or the events in Dealey Plaza. 

As I’ve mentioned before, there have been repeated invocations – in major and supposedly reputable media outlets – of the silly meme that “Dallas” or “America” (expressly or implicitly meaning “the right”) was responsible for the assassination.  These accounts reflexively refer to supposed “Tea Party” anger as a reflection of the same phenomenon. 

This is ominous nonsense. It requires a studied avoidance of the facts and a dislocated logic to turn reality upside down. There was no right wing violence in Dallas on November 22, 1963.  There was only a deranged communist with a rifle.   

This twisting of the truth is not new. As James Pierson recounts in his excellent book Camelot & the Cultural Revolution: How the Assassination of John F. Kennedy Shattered American Liberalism, this distortion began almost immediately.  It reflected, in part, Jackie Kennedy’s horror that her husband had not even had the “satisfaction of dying for civil rights”, but was killed by a “silly communist.” While one would think that opposition to communism was a human rights issue of the first order, otherwise intelligent people insisted – over all available facts – that what they wanted to be true was true. 

But to avoid blaming the Marxist, liberals had to blame everyone.  Because they couldn’t concede that Oswald was motivated by what he actually believed, he had to become the product of a “sick society.”  Pierson argues that this contributed to the left’s embrace of transgression and an oppositional stance toward America and conventional values. 

It’s an interesting observation, but a bit overstated. In that sense it’s like the claim that Kennedy was really a conservative, most recently expressed by Ira Stoll in his book, JFK, Conservative.  Kennedy was certainly well to the right of today’s Democratic Party, but he wasn’t a twenty-first century conservative either. 

The reluctance to face the truth is a prime factor behind the continued vitality of conspiracy theories – which generally turn out to be based on a curious mix of credulity, half-truths and an adamant refusal to ask the next question.  If Oswald is an inconvenient assassin, it becomes necessary to find another. 

At its extreme, this desire to evade uncomfortable facts can amount to an assault on the very idea of truth.  Last Friday, this paper reprinted an op-ed by Syracuse Professor Douglas Brodie who suggested that, since we cannot deny that Oswald was shooting at someone from the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository, perhaps he was shooting at the real assassins in the grassy knoll and, alas, missed. 

My first reaction was to think he ripping off a Family Guy vignette that made the same point as a joke.  (But Oswald could not have voted for Kennedy in 1960 since he was living in the Soviet Union.) 

But Brode is apparently serious – not in the sense that he thinks he can prove it – but as the presentation of “a truth” that comports with what Douglas Brode thinks and is therefore “enlightening.” 

Brode is a novelist and film critic, so perhaps he can be excused.   

Others, not so much.

Cross posted at Purple Wisconsin.

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