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Nov 18 2013

Get ready for Kennedy death anniversary orgy of remembrance

I have written before of the weird fascination of the US media with covering the anniversaries of major events. I generally find them either utterly boring or they arouse a mild flashback, similar to hearing a song from one’s youth. This week is going to be one of the biggest nostalgia trips, since Friday marks the fiftieth anniversary of the killing of president Kennedy.

Fifty years is major milestone and at the same time is short enough that many who are alive today can personally recall those events, which makes for endless stories about where they were when they heard the news and how they felt.

The wallowing has already begun. The Sunday Plain Dealer had a large supplementary section (which I skipped entirely) and NPR has repeated stories about it which I tune out. This will be going on all week culminating with a massive orgy on the 22nd.

At some point, the coverage will become meta, with members of the media wondering why there is so much fascination with the Kennedy presidency and his death, when the obvious answer is that it is because the media won’t stop talking about it. I really doubt that ordinary people would care so much about this story if it weren’t driven into them.

I am going to studiously avoid reading such stories.

30 comments

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  1. 1
    dysomniak "They are unanimous in their hate for me, and I welcome their hatred!"

    Ah, that’d be why I keep hearing conversations about how a bullet “can’t travel like that” from people who don’t even know how the bullet traveled.

  2. 2
    smrnda

    An interesting study was done on ‘flashbulb memories’ – remembering where you were when you heard Kennedy was shot and such. It was found people’s memories over time weren’t so reliable.

    On the assassination, I think there’s a morbid fascination with death-related events.

  3. 3
    left0ver1under

    Back in 1995, a lot of comedians joked, “This just in: World War II is over!”

  4. 4
    colnago80

    I think the fascination with JFK is because of the controversies over what really happened in Dallas on 11/22/1963. The number of conspiracy themed books on the subject is mind boggling.

    Many folks consider it off the wall that a non-entity like Oswald could assassinate a president, forgetting that the assassins of Garfield and McKinley were equally non-entities.

    The interesting thing about the conspiracy tomes is that hardly any two agree with each other. Oswald was a patsy Oswald was innocent, Oswald was one of several shooters, Oswald was hired to perform the assassination by the Mafia, the CIA, Castro, J. Edgar Hoover, Texas oilmen, the Mossad, Palestinian terrorists, Clay Shaw, the KGB, etc. The fact that no two of the books agree with each other doesn’t seem to bother those who refuse, for whatever reason, to believe that Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone assassin.

  5. 5
    arno

    Does it count as an ironic twist that this article is where I read first about the upcoming anniversary?

  6. 6
    dean

    @#4: you forget what seems to be the hot one this year (even though it was the subject of a book in the 80s): that the killing shot actually came from the assault rifle of the Secret Service agent who was riding in the car immediately behind the president’s car. After the first shot, so the legend goes, the agent rose up to look for the shooter and accidentally fired the round that struck Kennedy’s head.
    He kept quiet, as did the rest of the Secret Service men who witnessed it, in order to save his career.

    I really doubt that ordinary people would care so much about this story if it weren’t driven into them.

    I’m not sure about that: a good number of people distrust anything stated by the government, so the official report is ignored and other explanations sought. Many people (as has been noted) don’t like to admit that otherwise insignificant actors can occasionally have profound influence on history. As a saying goes: Big doors swing on small hinges.

  7. 7
    colnago80

    Re dean @ #6

    Yeah, I recall reading something about that. One of the 8 forensic pathologists who examined the autopsy photographs, Cyril Wecht, agreed with the other 7 that the wound on the back of Kennedy’s head was an entry wound and was fired from the rear but that his analysis of the trajectory of the bullet indicated that it was fired from a lower vantage point then the 6th floor of the Texas School Book Depository building. This theory might have resulted from Wecht’s opinion. Most of the multiple assassin theories claim that the alleged second gunman was either on a railroad overpass downstream of Kennedy’s limousine or on the grassy knoll which was on the right of the limousine and somewhat downstream of it. There may have been another shooter in one of those locations but the pathologists who examined the autopsy photographs all concurred that all shots that hit anybody had to have been fired from the rear. Of course, the conspiracy theorists who claim multiple assassins, maintain that the autopsy photographs were fakes. This is the position of all the multiple shooter conspiracy theorists, namely that any evidence that disputes their claims is faked. This is in addition to claiming that the rifle found on the 6th floor of the Texas School Book depositary building was planted, as was the bullet found on one of the stretchers on which Connolly and Kennedy were carried into the emergency room at Parkland Memorial Hospital.

  8. 8
    Chiroptera

    Did Kennedy know who planted the fake Obama birth announcements in the Honolulu newspapers? ‘Cause that would supply motive for his murder.

  9. 9
    Mano Singham

    Really? Do you live in America? If you do and had not heard it, then I envy you!

  10. 10
    Mano Singham

    That’s interesting. I actually have quite a vivid memory of hearing the news as a young boy in Sri Lanka. But my cousin who gave me the news is dead so I will not be able to verify if his memory matches mine.

  11. 11
    arno

    I’m living in the UK, and am rarely following mainstream news from the US – so its probably not that surprising.

  12. 12
    colnago80

    #8 wins the thread.

  13. 13
    wtfwhateverd00d

    And yet, George Herbert Walker Bush could never remember where he was that day.

    That’s one reason among many Kennedy’s assassination is still so raw for so many. America had this good looking, erudite, self-deprecating young progressive leader for a post WWII color TV science oriented socially minded generation, and then boom, all of that was stolen out from under us.

  14. 14
    dean

    #9: seconded

    It should also be noted that many people dismiss Oswald’s ability: at one point he qualified as a Marine sharpshooter: a later test with slightly lower score reduced that to marksman. In any case, he was a much better shot than the average person on the street.

  15. 15
    wtfwhateverd00d

    And all we got was a lousy Vietnam.

  16. 16
    Trebuchet

    I’m actually more interested in the Doctor Who anniversary the next day, but I do remember very well where I was when I heard of the assassination. And I had been on stage with Kennedy (in the high school band) just a few weeks earlier. He looked more tired than about anybody I had ever seen. And had to look at his notes for the name of the town when he started his speech, because he clearly had no idea where he was.

  17. 17
    Pierce R. Butler

    … the weird fascination of the US media with covering the anniversaries of major events.

    Yet none of them mentioned, 10 years ago, how Donald Rumsfeld’s visit to Baghdad came on the 20th anniversary of his first tour of that fair city, as a personal representative of Pres. Reagan to Pres. Hussein.

    A tidy decade later, they still avoid that topic quite assiduously. Funny, that.

    As for the JFK murder, I tried digging into the literature on that some years ago. I found a complete looking-glass world: every single one of the scenarios offered, from the Warren Commission to Jim Marrs’s imaginative rants, had holes in it. That way madness lies…

  18. 18
    Blane Beckwith

    Actually, getting a marksman medal is pretty standard for everyone who completes basic training. It’s not all that special.

    The fact that always bothered me was that the rifle Oswald used was in such bad shape, the FBI ballistics experts refused to fire it because they were afraid that the breach would fall apart. I think that Oswald probably got off only one shot at most.

    Another fact that always bothered me was the quick succession of shots that supposedly happened. A bolt action rifle can be quite cumbersome to operate, especially this particular model. Even expert sharpshooters who are fairly accustomed to using a folder action rifle find it next to impossible to fire a number of shots in quick succession, just because of the necessary physical actions required to operate a bolt action.

    There is no way I will ever believe that Lee Harvey Oswald did this all by himself.

  19. 19
    Kimpatsu

    JFK was assassinated? The most important 50th anniversary to fall next Saturday is, of course, Doctor Who. And the Time Lord is still going.

  20. 20
    Drewzilla

    @10.1 Blane Beckwith

    “There is no way I will ever believe that Lee Harvey Oswald did this all by himself.”

    The true mark of an intelligent sceptic. And I love the casual dismissal of the variety of experts who have shown that the time it would take to fire the required amount of shots from that type of rifle is perfectly congruent with reality (on top of the huge amount of information on the bullet trajectory, the way JFK reacted to the shot and the immediate reactions of witness which all point to a single shooter in a highrise…) L2sceptic better.

  21. 21
    lpetrich

    I’m old enough to remember something that may have been related to it. TV coverage showing lots of people waiting at some train station, I think, with the repeatedly flashed the caption “New Brunswick” “New Jersey”.

    I agree that many people find it hard to believe that Lee Harvey Oswald did it alone, that he had been a lone lunatic. However, several other lone lunatics have killed presidents or tried to kill presidents. I remember two women who had tried to kill President Gerald Ford.

    List of United States presidential assassination attempts and plots – Wikipedia has a big list. There are a few revolutionary terrorist organizations which have tried to kill presidents, including an Argentine anarchist one, a Puerto Rican independence one, a bin Ladenite one, and the Stern Gang, a Zionist one. But it’s mostly lone lunatics, it seems.

    I remember Sirhan Sirhan killing Robert Kennedy for helping Israel too much. Though he was a Palestinian, he acted alone. Yet another lone lunatic. Also, LHO did not live long after killing JFK. Jack Ruby killed him, and I think that he did it because he thought that that was a heroic act.

    But why the unwillingness to believe that LHO had been a lone lunatic and not part of some broader conspiracy?

    I’m reminded of Lord Raglan’s mythic-hero profile, something that many legendary heroes fit very well, and something that many well-documented ones have a poor fit to. In it, the hero dies a mysterious death, and the conspiracy theories about JFK’s death fit it very well.

    For the most part, JFK doesn’t fit it very well, despite his distinguished parentage. There was no hint of his future destiny, something not in the profile but still very common among legendary heroes. Nobody tried to kill him in his infancy, and he grew up in his “kingdom”, raised by his biological parents. Defeating Richard Nixon may qualify as triumphing over some enemy, but JFK’s presidency was not exactly uneventful. The Bay of Pigs. Berlin. Cuban missiles. He didn’t push much by way of notable laws, either. When he became president, LBJ did a *lot* more, like civil rights and Medicare. He also didn’t displease his fellow politicians enough to make them want to impeach him, as would later happen to Richard Nixon.

  22. 22
    Mary Jo

    Mano, I heard NPR yesterday discussing a book someone is selling that displays each and every frame of the Zapbruder film, over 400 of them. I felt queasy hearing about that and changed the station. Like you, I will avoid the rehash as much as possible.

  23. 23
    Mano Singham

    Yes, I heard that clip too and decided to give it a miss.

  24. 24
    Raging Bee

    The only JFK conspiracy theory I find remotely plausible is the one that says the Mafia organized it. Only the Mafia had both the motive and the organizational capacity to carry out such an op and keep it covered up afterwords. A government agency — even the military — would simply not have been able to kill their own head of state without the risk of dissent; and what could any agency have gained by taking such a huge risk anyway?

  25. 25
    Jared A

    Mano, you were also my first source on this one, and I live in the USA.

    Still, I don’t watch television, and mostly just listen to local news on the radio during my short commute.

  26. 26
    Raging Bee

    The interesting thing about the conspiracy tomes is that hardly any two agree with each other.

    Good point. And how many times do the conspiracy-buffs attack each other’s differing theories? You’d think the people who blame (for example) the Mafia would be eager to discredit the people who blame the KGB — but I’ve never heard any hint of such hot debates. And I’m guessing that’s for the same reason that con-artists don’t make much effort to expose each other’s competing scams, and churches don’t attack each other’s irrationality.

  27. 27
    Raging Bee

    Actually, a lot of that myth about JFK was created AFTER he was killed. At his widow’s explicit urging.

  28. 28
    dean

    He needed to fire three. One round starts in the chamber, so two workings of the bolt. Not difficult at all – and your response is the standard dismissal of his abilities.

  29. 29
    colnago80

    Actually, at one point in his military career, Oswald made sharpshooter, which is a step up from marksman.

    By the way, a million years ago I visited the site of the assassination in Dallas and a cursory observation of the School Book Depository building and the highway leading past the building seems to this admittedly non-expert on firearms to be a fairly easy shot with a rifle (not so with a handgun). I think that the argument that many critics make that it was a difficult shot, and therefore Oswald is unlikely to have made it is piffle.

    Is there a citation for the claim that the FBI experts didn’t actually fire the rifle? Since there was a ballistic match of the bullet found on one of the stretchers and the rifle alleged used by Oswald, somebody must have fired it to produce a bullet to match. I was under the impression that FBI experts experimented with the rifle and discovered that the time to fire a shot, work the bolt action and fire a second shot was a minimum of 2.4 seconds. I may be dis-remembering as perhaps they used an identical rifle for those experiments.

  30. 30
    dean

    Actually, at one point in his military career, Oswald made sharpshooter, which is a step up from marksman.

    Yes, I noted that in my other comment. Apparently you and I both noticed that Blane chose to ignore it. Blane’s objection about the time span and lack of accuracy of the weapon are also baseless: initially it was believed that the time span from the first shot to the third was just under six seconds, which make for challenging but not impossible shooting. More detailed (and recent) analysis of the Zapruder film indicates the time from first to third shot was more on the order of 8 and 1/2 seconds: not a numerically huge increase, but enough to lower the difficulty of regaining target after firing. It is also worth noting that the “never been duplicated” argument is dubious: when CBS had several people try to reproduced the shot, most of the 11 people (8, if I remember correctly) involved, none of whom had ever used that type of rifle and scope. hit the target on two of three shots. One other person hit all three.

    Was the rifle tested? Yes, of course Oswald’s rifle was tested after it was found. When police found it there were three spent cartridges on the floor, presumably fired from the rifle. One had a distinctive dent near the neck. The test firings produced a cartridge with a dent in the same location.

    I don’t know why people continue to dream up exotic plots for this assassination, especially since they are all so easily dismissed when the evidence is actually examined.
    But then, I do not know why people deny other significant historical events, or theories in science, or don’t believe that 0.9999 repeating is equal to 1 (I have at least one student every stinking semester who has a problem with this). I figure it will always be this way.

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