Innocence Lost

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Originally published on the Doomstead Diner on November 22, 2013
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Innocence Lost

jfk-jr

“Why we as a nation worship youth so much is because we confuse it with innocence. We long for the irresponsibility of not knowing. I would not myself be young again for anything you could offer me. But I long, I must admit it, for innocence. To be ignorant of the pain of the world … not to be haunted by knowledge of the pain, the suffering, the injustice and horror that’s going on all the time everywhere … If I could have unawareness back again … that would be happiness.”

― Gerda Charles, A Slanting Light

“JFK, blown away, what else do I have to say?”

Billy Joel

 

Anyone who was alive on that day marks the hours that have passed since the moment that time stood still. The answer to the inevitable question asked of people of a certain age, “Where were you when . . .?

I heard the news on the stairs of Wilkins Junior High school. It was after the overly long fifth (lunch) period, and I was on my way to my sixth period civics class (yes, they actually once taught civics), when I heard the news whispered, “Did you hear . . .?

Went to class, where the worst was confirmed. A group of stunned eight graders, barely believing what they were seeing huddled around the blue light of the black and white classroom TV, listened to the news reported by Walter Cronkite. Even a feckless teen could see that this news demigod was struggling under the weight of a story too enormous and too incomprehensible to tell. Normal school operations had come to an end. Every TV was tuned to the news– the horrible, unbelievable news, the repercussions of which a bunch of teenagers would not be able to discern. A normally rambunctious group of kids straggled home on buses, more subdued than usual.

Normal life hung in a hazy suspended animation for three days. Images from that weekend: mostly snippets from TV as most Americans were locked in a kind of civic duty– the horse-drawn caisson, the funeral cortege of a state funeral, the veiled widow with her children, John-John’s salute. That image, reprinted in the next day’s papers, evoked a sadness and a loss that went straight to the heart. There was the sense that not just a much-beloved President had been taken from us, but also something ineffable, something un-nameable, some shard of innocence that would never be regained. As a child I was unaware of the fascist interests that in the 1930s, unable to unseat FDR and install Smedley Butler as suzerain, licked their wounds and plotted in dark corners, only to reappear a generation later.

From Slate: “This flyer, around 5,000 copies of which were distributed around Dallas in the days before President Kennedy’s November 22, 1963 visit, accused Kennedy of a range of offenses, from being “lax” on Communism, to “appointing anti-Christians to Federal office,” to lying to the American people about his personal life.

General Edwin A. Walker, a Texan who served in World War II and the Korean War, had resigned his Army post in 1961 after a Kennedy-ordered investigation found that he had violated the Hatch Act, which prohibits federal employees from engaging in political activity on the job, by distributing John Birch Society literature to his troops. Walker moved to Dallas and became a leader of right-wing activity in the city (more on the full range of that activity here). The ex-General led resistance to James Meredith’s 1962 enrollment at the University of Mississippi and unsuccessfully ran for the position of Texas governor.

After the assassination, Walker’s organization was briefly under suspicion, and the Warren Commission investigation tracked these flyers to Walker’s aide Robert Surrey. Surrey had overseen the distribution of the sheets in the days prior to JFK’s arrival; members of Walker’s organization, acting on his behalf, placed them under windshield wipers and in newspaper racks.”

Donald E. Wilkes, Jr., Professor of Law, University of Georgia School of Law, gathered other facts about the right wing hatemachine located in Dallas and wrote this:

“When the president died, the cheering stopped and for days America was filled with gloom and mourning. There was, however, in this country one political group that rejoiced at the news of the assassination. Right-wingers, the truth must be told, were delighted by Kennedy’s death. As far as they were concerned, Kennedy deserved to die, die, die.

During his presidency, right-wingers utterly detested President John F. Kennedy; and the extreme right-wingers hated Kennedy with a venomous, malignant ferocity bordering on insanity. Because he was a liberal and pro-civil rights, right-wingers–particularly, the segregationists and racists, the opponents of civil rights, the states-righters, the free enterprise loonies, the wealthy ultra-conservatives, the religious bigots, the anti-Castro Cubans, the U.N. haters, and the lunatic fringe anti-Communists–regarded JFK as dangerous, destructive, and downright traitorous.”

Wilkes cites the poster shown here, plus a full-page ad placed in the morning paper by the John Birch Society, a fringe group before they were able to hijack today’s Republican Party. And he adds,

“Not even Kennedy’s death at 1 p.m. at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas stopped right-wingers from publicly displaying their loathing of JFK. As William Manchester notes in his classic The Death of a President (1967): “At 3:05 p.m., when 80 percent of the American People were in deep grief, an NBC camera panned toward a group of spectators outside Parkland’s emergency entrance and picked up a young man with a placard that read, ‘Yankee, Go Home.’” (In a wealthy Dallas suburb, Manchester reminds us, “pupils of a fourth-grade class, told that the President of the United States had been murdered in their city, burst into spontaneous applause.”)

“The right-wingers who angrily and contemptuously protested JFK’s visit, and the many other right-wingers who shared their views, could only have been jubilant when they heard of the assassination. How could persons with their mentality not be pleased with the violent death of a man they believed to be a fiendish traitor? It is an historical truth that right-wingers all over America received the news of the assassination with celebration. There is plenty of evidence that numerous right-wingers, especially the radical ones, heartily huzzaed the JFK slaying, although they soon decided to conceal their exuberance and later denied having cheered. William Manchester’s book, for example, discusses the “initial glee” with which right-wingers greeted news of the assassination. “An Oklahoma City physician beamed at a grief-stricken visitor and said, ‘Good. I hope they got Jackie.’” In Amarillo, Texas, a woman reacted by saying: “Hey, great, JFK’s croaked!” Men whooped and threw their hats in the air. Others smiled broadly. Soon, however, the right-wingers realized that their public gloating was a ghastly mistake, whereupon they began concealing their happiness. “[T]hey were anxious to avoid the undertow of public opinion,” Manchester says.

Thus it is important to remember that the sort of deep seated atavism represented by today’s Tea Party has always been a part of the American psyche. It is only today been “legitimized” or made mainstream by truckloads of right wing money and their 24/7 TV cable news outlet, coupled with all of AM radio. Thus do a people come to the end of the line of a materialist, consumer-culture way of life have a means of finding a scapegoat for their own learned helplessness.

But back to my own story: We healed, and life went back to what passed for normal. Junior high melted into high school, and as LBJ pushed through Great Society and civil rights legislation (in the process delivering the once “solid South” into the hands of racists and other haters), I was too busy following the summons of biological imperatives to be aware of politics. But in 1968, while in college, RFK was assassinated by a guy who doesn’t even remember being there. (Pop quiz: what large, lavishly funded organization does extensive research into mind control?) Then it was MLK. You would have had to been blind or stupid to see fail to see that the leading lights of progressive change in this country were being systematically hunted down and exterminated.

And then we got Nixon.

There was a time when we ordinary, working class stiffs believed in the premises of government. When the government was at least nominaly the guarantor of individual rights. When there was a sense of proper stewardship of commonly held resources for a common purpose– whether that belief was warranted or not. Those days stand in stark contrast to today, where it appears that the government’s proper role is to hold the coat of big corporations while they systematically rape us, poison us, shear us for profit, or otherwise sift through our private communication. In a recent article, Steve from Virginia describes the era succinctly and well–

The ‘Modern America’ the world’s citizens inhabit in 2013 sprang almost fully- formed from the US’s victory over Germany and Japan in World War Two. We defeated two military superpowers in two different parts of the world at once; this was our first- and defining, ‘If we can put a man on the Moon’ moment. Americans were competent; we did things right, we were efficient yet (somewhat) humane and civilized. Our armies triumphed without massacring prisoners or raping and pillaging, they gave candy to the enemy’s children. America succeeded in spite of internal differences and a crushing economic environment. After saving the world from Nazism and Japanese militarism Americans believed they could do anything including remake the debauched old world in their own, atomic-powered, tail-finned image … and to the large degree they succeeded.

That was the world in which baby boomers came of age, a world which began to spin out of control before we even had a chance to lay claim to it. It was at this time that faith in government began to wither. If you acquainted yourself with the evidence (and I must confess that I made an extensive reading of most every book written about the Kennedy Assassination– the CIA did it, the Mafia did it, rogue military did it, LBJ did it, Castro did it, the Bay of Pigs Cubans did it, J. Edgar did it, his own bodyguard did it) there were so many flaws in the chain of physical evidence, so many inconsistencies, so much tampering, that the fix was in from the start. Many believed and, like me, believe to this day that the Warren Commission was a coverup from the beginning, much like the 9-11 Commission. For just one of thousands of examples, consider testimony from Jeremy Gunn, former general counsel for the Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB).

“There is substantial evidence that points toward Oswald and incriminates Oswald” in JFK’s assassination, he said, “and the only person we can name where there is evidence is Oswald. But there’s also rather important exculpatory evidence for Oswald, suggesting he didn’t do it, and that he was framed.”

Besides, Gunn says, the Warren Commission genuinely believed that Oswald had killed Kennedy.

“So they wanted to write the document in a way that would reassure the American public that it was a single gunman acting alone, somebody who’s a little bit unstable, and that that’s the explanation for what happened.”

Since the facts aren’t clear, though, that document can look like a whitewash.

“There are serious problems with the forensics evidence, with the ballistics evidence, with the autopsy evidence,” Gunn said. “And, in my opinion, if they had said that openly, it would have not put the issue to rest.”

Faced with that, the Warren Commission went with what it believed.

Gunn says that wasn’t enough. It’s not that he thinks all the loose ends needed to be tied up.

“It wouldn’t be unusual if Oswald had done the crime — or not done the crime — to have evidence that’s inconsistent,” he said.

It’s the big mysteries that cause him the most trouble.

“If the president had been killed as part of a conspiracy, that needed to be known,” he said.

“The institution that had the opportunity to best get to the bottom of this, as much as it was possible, was the Warren Commission, and they didn’t do it,” he said. “Now it’s too late to do what should have been done originally.”

The continuing legacy of the Kennedy Assassination and Warren Commission report. Since those days, in spite of numerous attempts to “get to the bottom of things,” such a bottom remains occluded. And as a result, as a people we have become dubious, wary, and hostile to government at the same times as the functions of government have been usurped and twisted in such a way as to be forfeit of support. Thus do the echoes of what happened fifty years ago today continue to reverberate. And if that makes me a conspiracy theorist, then at least I have plenty of company.

***

Surly1 is an administrator and contributing author to Doomstead Diner. He is the author of numerous rants and articles on this site, and has been active in the Occupy movement. He lives in Southeastern Virginia.

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