Fifty Years On, And We’re None The Wiser.

I was alive when it happened. But as I was living in Sydney, and only six months old at the time, I’m not very high on the FBI’s list of suspects.


For those old enough to remember, it is, like the 9/11 attack on New York City, a marker in everyone’s timeline: where were you when you heard the news? Australian journalist and barrister Stuart Littlemore, in his autobiography The Media and Me described how, as a young cadet with the ABC, he was stationed in their Sydney studio on the graveyard shift, when around 4:30 in the morning, the news clattered across the teletype. He believes he was the first person in Australia to receive the news, although it is more likely the military signals directorate got there beforehand.

Jack Kennedy, 35th president of the United States, had become a tragic, and indeed pathetic figure, long before he was shot in Dealey Plaza, Dallas, fifty years ago today. The son of one of America’s worst-ever crony capitalists, a bootlegger, Nazi appeaser and philanderer, Joseph Kennedy, who taught his four sons all the wrong lessons in life. His daughters, he conditioned for worse.

Had Kennedy’s older brother survived the Second World War, history would be very different, and possibly for the worse. Joe Junior was, by all accounts, every bit as egotistical as his father, bragging to anyone who would listen of his ambition “to become the first Catholic President of the United States, if my father doesn’t get there first”. Being groomed for the office after Joe Senior’s political career came to a grinding halt in 1940 following his recall from the Court of Saint James, due to his advocacy of appeasement and indeed defeatism, Jack, more cerebral and a bookworm, yet imbued with the same vanity, was given a freer hand with his career. But after Joe Junior’s death in 1944, the burden of family expectations fell on the unwilling Jack. Running successfully for Congress in 1946, the Senate in 1952, and unsuccessfully for Vice-President in 1956, he defeated Richard Nixon in highly controversial circumstances in the 1960 presidential poll.

The cronyism started straight away, with the appointment of his 35-year-old brother as Attorney-General. Bobby Kennedy was a firebrand who had his brother’s ear, 24/7, and was the driving force behind many of the Kennedy administration’s more “courageous” initiatives (as Sir Humphrey Appleby would have characterized them). In the process, the pair of them created so many enemies that, after the event, it wasn’t too hard to go looking for them.


Just this once, I’ll invite any crazy conspiracy theories of the JFK assassination you have come across. Here is what I think of some of the standard ones:

Khrushchev did it. Appeals to the anti-communists, but just doesn’t stack up. Why would they pick such an obvious Soviet sympathizer as the shooter?

The Mafia did it. The presence of Jack Ruby and Sam Giancana in the picture point in this direction. Certainly, Giancana felt the Kennedys owed him for his “help” in getting Jack over the line in Chicago in 1960. Dallas nightclub owner Ruby (originally Jacob Rubenstein, also from Chicago), was unusually friendly with many officers on the Dallas police force, and was associated with Giancana, as well as mobsters Santo Trafficante and Carlos Marcello; the latter who had spoken often about wanting to assassinate Kennedy. According to this theory, Oswald was a hired gun unaware of his ultimate paymasters, and Ruby was sent into the basement of the Dallas police headquarters to ensure his silence permanently.

But from all reports, if the Mafia were indeed that desperate (they weren’t), it would have been Attorney-General Bobby they tried to hit, not Jack; the Kennedy family had too many mob connections, stretching all the way back to prohibition, to make a planned Mafia hit on Jack—which would have precipitated an all-out, genocidal war on the Mob—even a remote possibility. Another theory that doesn’t stack up.

The CIA did it. Possible, but unlikely. They exist by government funding, and Johnson was far less predisposed than Kennedy to play spook games all over Europe and Central America. If they did do it, Oswald is just the sort of drop-kick they would have chosen as the trigger-man; but again, they had everything to lose, and nothing to gain.

The FBI did it. Naah. Jack Kennedy and Edgar Hoover had so much dirt on each other, it was a case of mutually assured destruction. The only reason American newspapers after JFK’s death weren’t filled with pictures of Hoover in tutus, lingerie and lipstick, was precisely because the FBI weren’t involved, and Joe and Bobby didn’t push the red button. The fact that the American president was shot by an American national, with declared Communist sympathies, who was barely even on the FBI’s radar, was a major embarrassment to Hoover, which sort of knocks that theory on the head.

Johnson did it. He was one bullet away from the most powerful job on earth, a Texan and might have known about Oswald, he couldn’t stand Jack and despised Bobby, and resented the Kennedys for beating him in the 1960 Democratic primaries.

Doesn’t smell right. Johnson was a career party machine man, used to getting what he wanted through the system, not by short-circuiting it.

Kennedy faked his own death. Now here’s one of my personal favourites. He’d be 96 now, sipping a banana daquiri on the balcony of the stately mansion on his own private Caribbean island, with a couple of nubile, uh, secretaries, attending to his every whim. You could just imagine him wanting to do it, too; escaping everything he never really wanted: his overblown job, his society wife, the hangers-on and sycophants. It becomes a guessing game, what major news magazine has secretly been edited by JFK for nearly half a century?

Oswald really did do it, all by himself. OK, one of the more unlikely ones, but the one the Warren Commission self-consciously came up with the following year, principally, I suspect, to cover their own arses. Yeah, like a loser like Oswald got lucky enough to score a job in a warehouse where he could be alone, but with a window overlooking Dealey Plaza! Then he figured out the whole assassination in his own head, found a travelling wizard and purchased a magic bullet, loaded it into his ancient Italian rifle, aimed it at the Kennedy brain, squeezed the trigger and got “nothing but net”. Then, instead of high-tailing it out of the country or hiding in a cave for ten years, he wandered off to see a movie and got himself arrested an hour later.


JFKFrontPagesMe? The best theory, in my opinion, has the simplest explanation. Apply Occam’s Razor—but with Einstein’s Qualification. Oswald did it, all right. But he didn’t act alone. There’s no way his bullet could have done all the damage it did; ballistics experts have said that all along. I believe there was a second gunman on the grassy knoll. Maybe he knew Oswald, maybe he didn’t. But: had he, too, been captured and/or killed, he would in all likelihood have turned out to be just another Oswald—a drifter, a loser, a malcontent, with low intelligence, but a passion for Marxism and extensive, easily-provable ties to the Soviet Union.

Which is enough to make it obvious that the Soviets themselves didn’t do it. Had they wanted Kennedy dead that badly, there were at least half a dozen ways I can think of off the top of my head that they could have pulled it off, without it ever being linked back to them, let alone so blatantly as with Oswald. No, the man who ordered JFK’s murder wasn’t a Russian; but he did have extensive links with the KGB, GRU and other arms of Soviet intelligence. So he would have known all about Oswald, and whoever-he-was gunman #2. Those two hapless men were the means.

Kennedy himself—stupidly driving in an open-topped car in a public motorcade through a huge crowd of people in Texas’ third-largest city, at least half of whom he knew perfectly well hated his guts, and 95% of whom possessed firearms—Kennedy himself generously provided the opportunity.

In fact, the man who I believe did order Kennedy killed is himself still alive today, though he is now old and frail. He is revered as his country’s greatest-ever hero, though he was in truth no liberator as he claimed, but one of the 20th century’s worst despots. I have the sneaking suspicion that he might actually ‘fess up before he croaks, or at least will tell all in memoirs to be released posthumously.

And the motive? The best motive of all: Jack and Bobby Kennedy were gleefully trying to murder him. Like some idiotic Boys’ Own adventure: exploding cigars, poison beard powder, you name it. He was just lucky, and got in first. If I was in his shoes, I can’t say I wouldn’t have considered it myself.

Fidel before the ghost of another assassinated president. This picture was taken seven months before Kennedy was elected.

The Castro theory is reportedly the one favoured by Lyndon Johnson; he shared it privately with friends and journalists in the years before his death. Maybe it’s true, maybe it’s not. The only person alive at the time I’m sure didn’t do it is me.

What’s your theory?

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37 Responses to Fifty Years On, And We’re None The Wiser.

  1. Ozboy says:

    Since I published this story, the archival footage at the top, of Walter Cronkite announcing the news of the assassination, has been wiped by YouTube due to a copyright claim by CBS (after 50 years – is that legal?) I’ve found another location for it, but we’ll have to see how long this one lasts.

  2. Ozboy says:

    Kennedy’s death had an impact that was seen in film and television, where scenes that appeared to allude to the assassination were hurriedly deleted – much like the original promo for the 2001 version of Spider-Man, showing him swinging between the World Trade Centre towers.

    Stanley Kubrick scrubbed the original final scene from his cut of Dr. Strangelove, which at the time of the assassination was at pre-release stage. The scene (of which, sadly, no copy remains) depicted an old-fashioned pie-fight in the War Room. President Merkin Muffley (Peter Sellers) got hit with a pie to the face and fell to the floor, at which General Turgidson (George C. Scott) exclaims, Gentlemen! Our gallant young president has just been struck down in his prime! Spooky.

    Also, if you look carefully at the opening scene of the first series of Gilligan’s Island – shot in Honolulu Harbour shortly after the assassination – you can see at 0:22 the U.S. flag outside the Harbour Authority at half-mast:

  3. I was young, with my family in a taxi having just arrived on the island of Guernsey for a holiday ‘abroad’. It came over the Taxi’s radio. I’ll always remember it, the Taxi driver was no longer a stranger, as we all discussed nothing else for the rest of the journey. Even our exciting holiday now forgotten.

  4. msher says:

    Like virtually every American alive at the time, I do not believe the official version – but I don’t know which of the zillions of conspiracy theories to believe. My problem stems from the following: the official version is that Oswald was a Marine at the top secret U2 spy plane Air Force base in Japan. He then goes to Russia, where, in exchange for monthly support from the Russians, he tells them everything he knows about the base and U2 operations. He marries the daughter of a KGB colonel. Then decides he wants to come back to the U.S. U.S. embassy issues visa for wife and pays for both to come back to U.S. Oswald faces no legal consequences and is left to live his life.

    Do you see any problem with that narrative? I do. What he did was called defecting – unless he was part of the CIA program that had U.S. soldiers “defect” to feed disinformation to the Soviets. The official version cannot possibly be true, which means what we know about Oswald is not true.

    I also saw the one interview Marina Oswald gave. Not a mousey, cowed, stupid peasant girl as portrayed by the media and gov’t. A very beautiful, very sophisticated, highly intelligent and hugely forceful, strong personality stunning woman. Whom I believe was taken care of by the gov’t after the assassination. What we were told about Marina was not true, which again raises the question of whether anything we think we know about Oswald is true.

    I don’t go beyond that. I just know that something is very wrong with the narrative about each of the Oswalds, and that says nothing is wrong with the whole official version.


    To almost every American old enough to watch and understand television on the day of the assassination, that remained the most traumatic event in our collective consciousness, until 911. You could start a sentence to anyone old enough “Where were you when…..” and the other person knew you meant “where were you when you heard the news?” And everyone body still remembers.

    I happened to have seen Kennedy a number of times in person – even spoke to him once for a few minutes. (Nothing profound.) Charismatic as could be.
    We now know much more about his personal character and what the press didn’t report. Not so admirable. One of his sexual liaisons was a known Soviet agent. His activities besides completely disrespectful to his wife were reckless and opened him up to blackmail. With respect to policies, whether with more time he would have matured into an important president will always be unknown. But unlike current Dems – Clinton and Obama, he was of the generation that served in combat in WWII, and one has to think he had in him the possibility for growth.

    The Kennedys have not been good for America or for Britain. Whether one is liberal or conservative, I don’t see how anyone can justify Ted Kennedy almost single handedly stopping successive Administrations from stopping the contributions of Irish Americans to the terrorist IRA. And those great environmentalists are the icon of hypocrisy. They have led the effort to stop the building of an offshore wind farm off their holiday compound at Hyannis Port on Cape Cod. (I agree there should be no wind farm, but I am a global warming skeptic activist and think wind farms are a creation of the devil.) I don’t know where that wind farm stands now.

  5. msher says:


    Castro is as good as guess as any. (Other theories, CIA, CIA with Mafia, LBJ). I don’t hold any particular theory, but no theory is going to work for me until Oswald’s unworkable story is explained.

    Re Cronkite video: I still remember seeing and hearing it that day.

  6. msher says:

    Correction to typo in my post above re Oswald. Last paragraph should read:

    I don’t go beyond that. I just know that something is very wrong with the narrative about each of the Oswalds, and that says something is wrong with the whole official version.

  7. karabar says:

    I was in my final year of High School at Midland Collegiate Miami. The principal heard it on the news and informed the school via the PA system.
    My favourite conspiracy theory has to do with a statement allegedly made by Kennedy on November 16, 1963 that he was ready to address the nation to inform people that the USA was under the control of a powerful organisation determined to rule the world via a single unelected government.
    (I paraphrased that since I can’t remember where I stored that info).
    As with any of this stuff, it is difficult to know whether he actually said that or somebody made it up. However, it is not at all difficult to imagine that JFK with his connections was well aware of the UN and its real purpose.

  8. karabar says:

    I don’t know where I got the ‘seven days prior’ notion. It sort of stuck in my head. It probably all has to do with this speech in April of 1961.
    In any event, this speech could well have meant many different things to many different people.

  9. Kitler says:

    What people forget is that Kennedy had President Diem of South Vietnam murdered on his orders in a coup on Nov 2nd, just 20 days earlier, Madame Nhu his sister in law was one of the few family survivors could have paid for an assassin out of revenge. They had the motive the money but whether they had enough time to carry it out is questionable.

  10. karabar says:

    And not long after, a real president gave this speech. A man ahead of his time.

    Covered it back here – Oz

  11. meltemian says:

    I posted this on another blog a couple of days ago:-

    As someone who lived near an American Air Force base during the Cuban Missile Crisis I have nothing but respect for the way JFK (and Kruschev to be fair) managed to avoid all-out nuclear war. One of the things I will never forget is the feeling of imminent doom that was everywhere on that week in October. We all felt the world was coming to an end.
    I know the ‘Camelot’ hype was only a reaction to a new, young President with a glamorous wife after a series of older men, FDR, Truman and Ike, but there really did seem to be a feeling of hope that better times were ahead. That was all shattered by a bullet and the whole world was shaken that such a thing could happen. It’s one of those events where everyone remembers where they

    were when they heard the news.
    Who knows how things would have panned out if he had lived? He was in office for less than three years but they were certainly eventful and memorable ones.

    Thanks msher for your insight, I’m sure there is far more to this than we will ever know.

  12. izen says:

    I have never grasped why there is such enthusiasm for conspiracy theories around the JFK assassination. There is a bit of psychobabble that claims that people feel that major events require a major cause, that there SHOULD be some kind of balance between the power/authority of the cause and the effect.

    There is a hypothesis that conspiracy ideation is a feature of an authoritarian mindset, so that the lowly individual is not considered to have the power or autonomy to carry out a significant action without the orders and direction of a higher, hierarchical authority, and perhaps that is what motivates some to look for a more powerful authority behind the Kennedy killing.

    While there are gun experts who have stated that it is implausible that a cheap Italian gun could be used as a sniper rifle firing that many shots from that distance with accuracy, I have also seen experts demonstrate that such a rifle can manage that rate of fire, and in the hands of someone with training and aptitude the shots made are possible.

    Historical evidence would indicate that the lone gunman is a particular feature of American culture. Globally the lone nutter is more common than the secret cabal from Princips in Sarajevo to Lincoln, Harding, Reagan and all the ‘going postal’ and school shooting events it is the individual who is responsible not despite,but perhaps because of their social insignificance and lack of power.

    Lee Harvey Oswald looks like the paradigm of the American lone nutter. An obvious yearning to belong to a greater more meaningful belief system and a rebellion against US socio-political convention. It is his failure to be a successful, socially embedded citizen of the US that as with many others like him seems to have motivated his attacks on the rich and significant. He is part of a common pattern in US history and society and I have never found any of the conspiracy theories credible.

    Despite the Singer conspiracy with Gen bradley against FDR and 9/11, the lone gunman, and psycho-nutter is a much more common, and likely, culprit in assassinations, bombings and shootings in American culture than government or criminal conspiracies.

  13. meltemian says:

    “You cannot have a situation in a liberal democracy in which the expression of an opinion is rendered unlawful because somebody else finds it offensive or insulting.”

    Quite right, it’s time to see sense and stop pandering to the ‘serially offended’ who spend far too much time looking for a reason to be insulted where none exists.
    Bring on the robust discussions.

  14. izen says:

    How dare you be intolerant of my bigotry!

  15. Ozboy says:

    Mel and Izen,

    One man’s bigotry is another man’s righteous indignation. So long as there’s no incitement to violence or other criminality, you can’t stop free speech forever.

    You are, however, by the same principle, fully entitled to counter what you regard as bigoted or ignorant rantings with free speech of your own.

  16. Amanda says:

    Oswald was a Communist, and the sort of people that are born free but are enticed by Communism have the sort of flaws that one might expect to lead them to — extremism, and murder.

    Oswald did it. As a Communist nutter, acting alone no doubt but doing what he thought Mother Lenin would approve of. (Or Mother Stalin: does it matter?) I have never seen any convincing evidence otherwise.

    The attempts of Democrats even to this day to implicate conservatives and/or Republicans is gross, deluded, and disgusting. It was one of YOURS, you Dems, on YOUR side of the spectrum. Own it, and realize what it means, like grown-ups. And beyond that, sod off.

  17. Amanda says:

    Perhaps the word is grotesque rather than gross. Just witness a recent commentary — was it New York Times? — I can’t recall — that asked how the city of Dallas felt about JFK’s death. As if the city of Dallas itself were responsible, on account of being insufficiently left-liberal. This is how Leftists think. But it’s not actually thinking, is it?

  18. izen says:

    @- Oz
    “One man’s bigotry is another man’s righteous indignation.”

    Exactly, the line about being intolerant of my bigotry could be said by a US baptist revolted by the sight of a nigro in the whitehouse or a muslim disgusted by miley cyrus.

    Over in the UK our dear leader has announced harsher hate crime speech laws to tackle fundie Islam….

  19. Amanda says:

    Izen: As I have said before but you still astound: you are living in a fantasy world, man, when it comes to the United States. You wouldn’t know a baptist if he/she sang Kung Fu Fighting in your personal space and showered you with hard-boiled sweets (a Christmas custom on the streets of Natchez, Mississippi). Don’t talk about what you haven’t encountered, never mind understood. I’ve spent more time among Baptists than you’ve spent among white houses or muslims, and trust me mate, they are people just like anyone else. I’d rather give my house keys to a Baptist than to most other Americans. So there!

  20. Kitler says:

    Of course being the good people they are Southern Baptists consider dancing sinful and will lead you into immorality, they only got around to apologizing for slavery in 1995. However they are not the worst, people who have been born again or have found Jesus are the ones that will rip you off for everything you own and should be in jail for life.

  21. izen says:

    @- Amanda
    I do of course defer to your greater direct knowledge of US Baptists. To clarify, in the interests of brevity I referenced Baptists and Muslims, but intended that to be the institutions rather than the individuals. I am sure that as with the many muslims I have met very few are dogmatic and bigoted individuals, but the creed they follow is fascistic, monocultural and encourages the imposition of its moral certainties on everyone including those with different ideas about the human condition.

    While I have limited experience with individual baptists, my observations of the southern baptist institution leads me to the conclusion that it shares a bigotry with salfadist islam.

  22. Amanda says:

    Hi Izen,
    Such elegantly crafted sentences, nice work. On the other hand, I’m not sure what your links are meant to establish. Without devoting more than a few minutes to this — which is a lot these days, isn’t it? (smile) — it seems you’ve got a story about greed and money corruption on the one hand and a story about a reactionary fringe group stressing sex roles and nationalism on the other. Nothing especially Baptist about either of those phenomena, frankly. As long as you’ve got a group of more than 3 people, you’ll be able to find some fringe of it that is in radical stroke unsavoury stroke nutcase territory. That says more about human nature and the confusions of the human mind than it does about a religion where most people are quietly getting on with it — as a matter of culture, political education, and doctrine.

    The fact is that millions of baptists, belonging to some or other Baptist denomination (Protestants continue to be highly splintered and I don’t claim any expertise on the subject), get along just fine in mainstream American life. They are part of what makes mainstream American life. I don’t know what ‘salfadist’ Islam is, but I do highly suspect anyone trying to paint long-standing, genuinely American religionists with the same brush: much more apart than in common, and if I were talking to anyone else it wouldn’t even need saying. Cheers.

  23. Amanda says:

    I left a comment for Izen but it’s being moderated. On account of the italics, maybe? Not sure Amanda; I’ve cleared it now – Oz

  24. farmerbraun says:

    And for good measure:-

  25. Ozboy says:

    A few months after Nelson Mandela was released in 1990 from Victor Verster Prison in South Africa, he made a world tour, which included Australia. I was near the front of the 50,000-strong crowd who heard him speak from the steps of the Sydney Opera House, so close in fact that I could hear his unamplified voice. He was, without doubt, the most powerful orator I have ever heard personally in my life (though Pope John Paul II was a close second). I have seen newsreels of Hitler, Churchill, Kennedy and Reagan, and Nelson Mandela is definitely in their exclusive league.

    Whatever the debates about his methods in the ANC in the 1950s and 60s (and he was certainly a terrorist, by any common definition of the word), it was his generosity of spirit after the end of apartheid that will be his defining characteristic in the history books, methinks. Including whites in his government, attending the rugby and cricket as an enthusiastic supporter, even wearing a Springbok jersey (once seen as the embodiment of white supremacy), and urging reconciliation between the races, were the first tentative steps in South Africa’s quest to become a first-world nation, without relinquishing its African-ness.

    And one more thing: he never advertised it, and most people never knew it, but former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser quietly made an annual pilgrimage to visit Mandela in prison on Robben Island. So much for the nexus between conservatism and racism. Mandela’s first words to Fraser reputedly were, “is Don Bradman still alive?”.

  26. Amanda says:

    Interesting: thanks for that, Oz.

    The real South Africa, through the eyes of an Aussie who’s lived there.

    (Not for the faint of heart) – Oz

  27. farmerbraun says:

    It’s interesting that an alarmist , sensationalist outfit like Yahoo News continues to publish this guy . I guess that in a world of bullshit , the truth can appear sensational at times :-

  28. Ozboy says:

    Posted over at DT the other day, but here’s Redwar Greenpeace unleashing their inner grinch:

    Having just wrapped up my own roster of Santa gigs for the year, this lot makes me want to take a shower.

  29. karabar says:

    It’s because they don’t even know what they publish. It’s words on a page. It fills up a blanks space. For the same reason they publish cockamamy bullshit from Lewandowski or John Cook or Bill McKibbon, or Michael Mann, or Robert Manne, or Tim Flannery. They don’t read it first. They wouldn’t understand it if they did. Just paste and copy. That’s my story, and I’m sticking with it.

  30. Amanda says:

    Oz: Eh? You’ve been Santa-ing with a red suit, white beard, ho ho ho and the whole enchilada??

    Yep. Do it every year – Oz

  31. Amanda says:

    Just thought I’d add, for those interested in the subject, that a great article (debunking the debunkers, if you like) on the Kennedy murder is ‘The Making Of A Martyr’ by James Piereson in The Claremont Review of Books, Fall 2013.

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