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November 22, 2005

Forty-two Years
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 11:35 AM *

Forty-two years ago today, I was standing in the bus line at St. Patrick’s Parochial School in Bedford, New York, waiting to go home, when I heard the news that John F. Kennedy had been shot.

I think that everyone who was alive then and over the age of reason remembers where he or she was at that time.

That’s one of the branching points in history. What would have happened in Vietnam if Kennedy hadn’t been killed? Would he have had two terms, followed by two terms of Johnson, with peace, security, and prosperity? Would he have led us deeper into the quagmire sooner, and given us Nixon-sans-Watergate?

The Kennedy killing has led to a minor industry in Conspiracy Theory. Oliver Stone, Mark Lane, Jim Garrison … a Google search on Kennedy Conspiracy yields over three million hits. Grassy Knoll, Second Gunman, Abraham Zapruder ….

The only credible Kennedy Conspiracy book that I’ve seen (the rest, and I’ve read most of them, range from far-fetched to laughable) is Conspiracy of One by Jim Moore. He reaches the same conclusion as the Warren Commission: That Oswald, acting alone, shot Kennedy.

Comments on Forty-two Years:
#1 ::: Abigail ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2005, 11:54 AM:

It's so terrifying and so sad to think that a single person, with a single act, could so thoroughly derail history. In Israel we recently marked the tenth anniversary of the Rabin assassination with the sober realization that we're only now beginning to to put back together what his killer destroyed with a few bullets.

So many works of art and fiction try to teach us about the power of the individual to alter reality (I've been watching too much Babylon 5 lately, go with it) but I think the sad truth is that when a single person alters history, they usually alter it for the worse. Destruction, after all, is so much easier than construction.

#2 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2005, 12:14 PM:

Jim: Thanks for your post. I remember Kennedy's death very well. It was beyond shocking. I can still call back to memory the moment I heard the news (from a fellow student in the hallway; he heard it on a transistor radio. I thought he was joking, and was furious at him until I realized he was reporting, not playing with my head...) I remember helping the school janitor lower the school's flag. I remember the funeral, and photo of Jackie Kennedy, her clothing stained with her husband's blood, standing beside LBJ in the plane as he took the oath of office. Extraordinary moment in history.

#3 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2005, 12:15 PM:

the sad truth is that when a single person alters history, they usually alter it for the worse. Destruction, after all, is so much easier than construction.

Destruction is often concentrated and immediate, and easy to spot. Goodness and constructive change, on the other hand, are diffuse, and may have a longer fuse. (Also, the kind of work that contributes to the overall level of goodness and happiness and stability in the world is all too often the sort of work that only gets noticed when somebody stops doing it, or when something that used to function well in that capacity ceases to do so.)

#4 ::: Tim Kyger ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2005, 12:18 PM:

I had just moved from Bearfield Elementary, 6 miles outside of New Lexington, Ohio. At Bearfield it was two grades to a room. I was in third grade. Mom had just been released from the mental institution she had been in throughout the summer and Dad had just come back from 'Nam (we had been told he'd been in Okinawa for 18 months). We moved to Dayton, to Wright-Patterson AFB, the first week of November. We all caught incredible cases of flu. (Also also read, that week, my first-ever SF book, "I,Robot," which I got from the base library.)

I began school at Page Manor Elementary Number 2 (grades 1 through 3 -- Page Manor 1 next door had grades 4 through 6). Shortly after 1pm, someone from the school office got on the intercom, and gave everyone the news about JFK.

It wasn't the President being murdered that got my attention; it was the fact that this *grown-up* was...emotionally distraught. Could grown-ups be *allowed* to be distraught? Where was the order in things, then, if that was the case? If a grown-up could fall apart like that, then who would frickin' take care of us kids?!

JFK's murder was major change for me, and not because of the resulting politics.

Oh, by the way: Thank Lee Harvey Oswald. Without his killing spree we wouldn't have made it to the Moon in the 1960s. And yes, I can defend that statement. Buy the book.

#5 ::: Barry Ragin ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2005, 12:24 PM:

Tim, i agree that that the sight of all of the teachers crying was the most significant to my own 7 year old self.

i think, though, that i'd trade not having made it to the moon by 1969 for not having JFK assassinated. yeah, i think i'd make that trade in a heartbeat.

#6 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2005, 12:40 PM:

Distraught adults? Oh, yeah...

I was in third grade -- and home from school that day due to illness. Mom had been watching a soap opera, and had left the room to do something for my baby brother...

Then "Special Bulletin" came up on the screen, and there was my favorite news anchor, Walter Cronkite telling me that JFK had been shot. It was the first time I saw Cronkite with tears welling in his eyes -- I don't know how he managed to not shed them on camera.

To this day the words "Special Bulletin" on a TV screen send a cold shudder down my back...and a flag sighted drifting down to half staff makes me cry...

"...while I, with mournful tread, walk the deck my Captain lies, fallen, cold and dead..."

#7 ::: Neil ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2005, 12:49 PM:

I was a junior in high school. I was some sort of assistant in one of the offices, and another kid came in and said that the radio said that the President had been shot, so I said, "Yeah, and the radio said Martians landed."
When I found out it was real, I went out (it was grey and drizzly) to lower the flag to half staff, but someone already had.

One of the odd experiences of aging which no one told me about is watching experience turn into history and myth. I often do not understand how the separation happens between what is included and what gets left out.
Nothing (anywhere near here) has changed as fast as things did in "The Sixties" (which originated in the late Fifties and ran to 1973). The official cartoons don't include that. Joe Haldeman's _1968_ is the best portrayal I know of.
So as I write, it occurs to me that it will be interesting to talk to East Europeans who are then in their 50s or older in another 30 years about 1989/90 . . .

#8 ::: John ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2005, 12:59 PM:

Seeing as LBJ died in January, 1973, it seems rather unlikely he would have served two terms...

#9 ::: Tim Kyger ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2005, 01:17 PM:

LBJ and two terms, and heart attacks:

Well, who knows? This is all counterfactual speculation after all. Heck, if we're gonna go, "Gee, if only JFK hadn't died," then I want Martin Luther King back, and by the way, I want some benevolent alien first contact too. 1972 would do.

I, too, would have traded a JFK second term for a 1969 moon landing. I also would have liked to have had a date with Linda King in 10th grade. Oh well....

#10 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2005, 01:23 PM:

for me, it was a dark (heavy clouds, no rain) afternoon at Kerr Elementary in Bossier City, LA when my fourth grade teacher was called away for a moment, then came back to tell us what had happened, and sent us home.

It was the Friday before Thanksgiving, and we were already set to spend the week at my grandparents' ranch in Oklahoma. (Note: my grandfather was a banker, but like a lot of people there he lived outside of town on 80 acres and allowed a neighbor to run some cattle on their land in return for milk and meat.) Since I was 9 1/2, this was the year that I would learn to feed cattle early every morning, and I was looking forward to it. We drove up Saturday, and for the next couple of days the TV was on all day, the adults clustered around it, talking until something new happened on the screen. I was a little surprised as none of them would have dreamed of voting for JFK (some of them thought Goldwater was a liberal).

Ironically, we were visiting Dallas a year later, and watched the Warren Commission restaging of the assasination at Dealey Plaza. I still have, somewhhere, some old 8mm silent film of the actual limo being driven again down that street in fromt of the Texas School Book Repository. Eerie.

(Tim, in my case it was Barksdale AFB, and I, Robot was my first "adult" SF novel, too)

#11 ::: Laina ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2005, 01:36 PM:

I think that everyone who was alive then and over the age of reason remembers where he or she was at that time

I was sitting in my 4th grade classroom when they announced that the President had been shot. A classmate who was from an ardently Republican family made an unfortunate comment. (Now why do I remember that?) We didn't have a television at the time and I remember that we went to a neighbor's house to watch the funeral.

I remember how disconcerting it was when, years later, I realized how close I was to that "age of reason" band, and how many of the people I knew had been born since it happened.

#12 ::: Rob Hansen ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2005, 01:41 PM:

I was 9 when JFK was shot. I remember it and the aftermath like it was yesterday.

I've never read Moore's book but I, too, came to the conclusion years ago that Oswald acted alone, but when you reach that conclusion you the have to wonder just what he was up to. Me, I think he may have been trying to start WWIII. Defecting to Russia, coming back with a Russian wife, all the dubious associations etc., may have been done to make himself appear a Soviet agent. After all, if you are a lone assassin why do you blurt out "I'm just the patsy" on camera unless you want people to believe you're part of a larger conspiracy?

We'll never know for sure what his motivations were, of course, but the idea that it *might* have been this - and that it could have succeeded - gives me the chills.

#13 ::: John Farrell ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2005, 01:51 PM:

I was probably standing in front of the boob tube, watching Romper Room with a dump in my pants and a thumb in my mouth....


#14 ::: Steve Eley ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2005, 01:56 PM:

He reaches the same conclusion as the Warren Commission: That Oswald, working alone, shot Kennedy.

For pure poetic appeal, my favorite theory is the one from the Sondheim musical Assassins. Oswald did it because the specters of all the other would-be presidential assassins, past and future, appeared and talked him into it.

Granted, the evidence supporting this theory is somewhat thin.

#15 ::: Jeremy Osner ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2005, 01:59 PM:

If you're looking for conspiracy theorists, a British web site called Spartacus Educational has a page devoted in great detail to the JFK Assassination Debate. I don't know if they are the same as the socailist group called Spartacus.

#16 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2005, 02:02 PM:

Eighth grade and 13. We were going to watch a film (or a movie), but the projector bulb was dead. Kid (and neighbor) sent to office for new bulb. Came back saying he'd heard from kid in office that President had been shot. Kid in office was notorious for untruthfulness, so this was discounted. Until vice-principal came in during film, and teacher said we'd already heard. Shortly thereafter was lunch, and we could see the flag had been lowered. It was a very quiet cafeteria that day.

My family was at a church retreat that weekend, already scheduled. It was quiet also.

I think my reaction was 'Presidents aren't supposed to be assassinated!'

#17 ::: DaveL ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2005, 02:12 PM:

I was in 8th grade, in Mixed Chorus class, and whispering started as we were rehearsing, then the official news came over the school loudspeaker.

I remember how shocked my parents were, and how I helped my father redo the front display window of his gift store (in a DC suburb) to contain only a black-draped photo of the President (and he was no fan of JFK politically). He also wouldn't sell any more of the JFK novelty items he had in stock, though he kept a deck of "Kennedy Cards" (JFK was the King, RFK was a Jack, Jackie was a Queen, etc.) which I think he still has.

I don't know if anything would have been very different had he not been killed, but neither he nor the country deserved that death.

I too think Oswald acted alone.

#18 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2005, 02:13 PM:

Also in 8th grade and 13. We lived in Northern Virginia, 10 miles outside DC. We were released early from school, and Mom and I (Dad was in Antarctica) spent all weekend in front of our Olympic television; we saw Ruby shoot Oswald live.

Since we lived so close, I managed to attend the burial ceremonies at Arlington (I have no memory of who took mother didn't drive and wasn't along).

#19 ::: Rich Magahiz ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2005, 02:17 PM:

My earliest memory is watching the President's funeral on television, with the horses and the flowers, in my family's little apartment in San Francisco.

#20 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2005, 02:18 PM:

I just want to thank you for that phrasing about "over the age of reason."

I was, in fact, born during the Kennedy administration, but only barely--the first presidency I remember is, *sigh*, Nixon.

#21 ::: Mac ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2005, 02:27 PM:

Along with the differences in terms of major historical branching-points, I wonder about what differences might exist in terms of our cultural/political collective American personality.

It seems to me that the character of the nation might be rather different, had Kennedy not been assassinated.

#22 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2005, 02:33 PM:

It seems to me that the character of the nation might be rather different, had Kennedy not been assassinated.

Or if Nixon had lost in 1968. I suspect that politics would be considerably cleaner if he had lost. (Yes, I remember 1960, if in a fading way.)

#23 ::: Lis Carey ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2005, 02:34 PM:

I was six. My mother says we were at Jordan Marsh in Boston when we heard, but apparently whatever we heard there made no impression on me. What I remember is sitting in front of the tv taking it all in and feeling that the world was shaking.

And then I remember a few days later, in school, Mrs. Curran saying, we don't do this in school but today we're going to, and leading the class in a prayer.

That all the adults were so obviously upset was scary.

(And no, I don't know why I wasn't in school that day. One of life's little mysteries.)

#24 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2005, 02:34 PM:

"I think the sad truth is that when a single person alters history, they usually alter it for the worse"

For this to make sense we have to believe that "history", rather than being the residue of human effort, is something that exists outside of it; and moreover that this thing we call "history" has a direction and a shape which is substantially foreordained. Only then can we sensibly talk about "altering" history rather than, you know, being part of it. For "altering" is something we do to things that exist prior to and separate from ourselves.

Of course, history is no such predetermined thing, and (outside of certain science-fiction tales of time-travel and parallel worlds) nobody actually "alters" it. Which is just as well, since the conclusion of the statement quoted above is one of the most horrible ideas I've ever seen posted on Making Light: that individual human effort almost always makes everything worse.

#25 ::: Chris Clarke ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2005, 02:41 PM:

I was probably standing in front of the boob tube, watching Romper Room with a dump in my pants and a thumb in my mouth....

Unlikely. I remember it precisely because I was unable to watch Captain Kangaroo, which for some confusing reason had been preŽmpted by a boring program with men talking over images of motorcades and policemen.

As I was pushing four at the time, I am reasonably certain that my pants were clean, and at that point I often derided my sister for thumb-sucking so that was likely something I'd just outgrown as well.

#26 ::: Laura Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2005, 02:43 PM:

It is possible to refer to people "making history," and I don't think that's usually presented in a negative way.

#27 ::: Chad Orzel ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2005, 02:49 PM:

I'll just note in passing that my parents were 16 and 14 in 1963. I do remember Reagan getting shot, if that helps...

#28 ::: Tim Kyger ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2005, 03:01 PM:

Patrick ---

Amen, brother, amen.

#29 ::: Tim Kyger ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2005, 03:03 PM:

With respect to Cap'n Kangaroo:

I remember two things of that weekend.

1. I was quite angry that *my* Saturday morning cartoons had been preempted. How dare they?!
2. Watching Oswald get shot, live. (Heh.)

#30 ::: Andrew Brown ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2005, 03:05 PM:

Here's an unimproving memory. Kennedy was shot in my first term at an English prep (boarding) school. I was eight. The youngest boy in the house was seven. We slept in dormitories named after Royal Navy battleships, about eight to the room. One of us was an American child, named Richard Ashcroft. When we heard the news, we chanted, after lights out, "the president of Ashcroft is dead" until he cried. This was hugely gratifying, since no one had cried for about a month. Every little boy in the room had cried themselves to sleep for the first week or fortnight, or month after school started in September. I had taken up beating my head against the pillow until I was numb all over; apparently it's something I still do, in my sleep, when I am distressed. I cannot say how much we learnt to enjoy the spectacle of other boys in pain, and the best thing about chanting "the president of Ashcroft is dead" was that none of us could understand, really, why it upset him.

#31 ::: Brooke C. ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2005, 03:15 PM:

Vicki: it could be worse. I was born in late 1979. As far as I was concerned as a kid, the President had always been Reagan. The actual Camelot meant a lot more to me personally than Kennedy's.

Assumptions I (rightly or wrongly) instinctively make about politicians:

1. They're lying.
2. If they're not lying, they're bending the truth.
3. If they're not bending the truth, it's because someone else is doing it for them.
4. All of the above has very little influence on whether some nutcase will take a shot at them: the nutcases' numbers increase in direct correlation to the number of people who perceive the public figure in question to have some kind of power, political or otherwise.
5. Any assassination attempt which succeeds just happens to have won the Pure Dumb Luck lottery (see: John Wilkes Booth vs. Guy Fawkes); security and whatnot undoubtably helps somewhat, but at the end of the day there is no absolute security. As a public figure, your chances decrease as in #4.

I should mention, maybe, that I don't think of myself as cynical. Or apathetic, for that matter. I've never bothered to ascribe to any particular Kennedy assassination theory because I'm dead sure I'll never find out the truth (though this doesn't stop me from speculating about the death of Marilyn Monroe, or Perkin Warbeck and the two princes in the Tower, either). Kennedy seems to have so much emotional baggage connected to him which I can't relate to that I've tended to feel that his death is sort of...well...covered. Okay, I didn't say that feeling made sense.

History Channel documentaries are very fond of using the phrase "the day we lost our innocence": Western history would seem to have the re-virginizing capablities of a Celtic goddess.

Maybe it's because I'm a Southern Californian, and used to the way Hollywood exists more in the mind than in the drab cluster of warehouses, strip malls and cheaply built apartments you find along Santa Monica Blvd. You make your own Camelot. Even in Camelot, it only lasted as long as faith.

#32 ::: Laura Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2005, 03:15 PM:

I was vexed when my Saturday morning cartoons were interrupted when John Lennon got shot. At least, I'm pretty sure that's they were talking about.

#33 ::: Lynn Calvin ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2005, 03:23 PM:

I was in second grade and my school made no intercomm announcement, and we found out (specifically *I* found out) from the crossing guard, who had been crying and started crying again when asked why the flag was at half mast. (2nd graders had just done flag etiquette).

My other memory is that my mother and our immediate three neighbors were none of them people who kept a radio or television on, and no one believed me. First my mother and grandfather, who thought it was a joke

"the president was shot"
"Who, Lincoln?"

and then being sent to tell neighbors and them not believing me either and the recurring motif here of adults starting to cry, even staunch Republicans like my parents.

And the one set of neighbors from Lithuania being both upset and frightened since they had only been in the US for a few years.

#34 ::: Tim Kyger ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2005, 03:23 PM:

And in the usual coincidence, Hugh Sidey also just died. Somehow appropriate I guess.

#35 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2005, 03:25 PM:

Lennon wasn't shot on a weekend.

* * *

Too young to remember to remember JFK getting shot. I do vaguely recall the TV coverage of Robert Kennedy and MLK Jr.' assasinations.

During one of these, one of the local (NYC) TV stations aired a slide with a single word, in jaggy writing:


#36 ::: James ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2005, 03:49 PM:

I have memories from before JFK's assassination, but none of the assassination or its aftermath (I was about three at the time). This is probably due to (a) being a Canadian and (b) living in a house with no TV -- no visuals to leave an early strong memory, and although all the adults would have been shocked by the event it just wouldn't have had the resonance it had in the US. By contrast, I do have very vague memories of the coverage of Churchill's funeral in 1965, and clear memories of the 1968 assassinations.

I tend to associate November 22 principally with St. Cecilia; the strong association with the Kennedy assassination which I think even many Americans who are not old enough actually to remember the event share is just not present in my local culture.

#37 ::: John Casey ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2005, 03:53 PM:

My first political memory is of the 1956 Democratic political convention; Stevenson did not pick a VP candidate, but instead left it to the convention to choose on an open ballot. Estes Kefauver edged out Senator John Kennedy of Massachusetts for the job, which was a flaming train wreck of a campaign against an unbeatabled Ike.

Then in 1960, I was a 10 year old Irish Catholic kid delighted in the victory of another vibrant, young, Irish Catholic kid.

In November, 1963 I was a high school freshman, at the high school where my father was the assistant principal. One of his jobs was giving the end-of-day announcements over the PA; on that day, he told us he had some bad news, and I thought he was going to chew out the band for screwing around during morning rehearsal. I can still tap out the marching rythym of the funeral procession: pum pum pum rumpapa pum pum pum rumpapa pum pum pum rumpapa pum pum pa pum.

#38 ::: theophylact ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2005, 03:54 PM:

I was a chemistry grad student at Berkeley. A guest lecture had been scheduled, and all the students were expected to attend. Shortly before the talk, one of us heard on the radio that Kennedy had been wounded in Dallas, but there was no immediate followup news; so we all trooped down to the auditorium for the lecture.

As usual, the professors sat in the front row, and the grad students further back. The talk began; but students trickled into the auditorium with more and more updates, whispering to each other. Eventually everyone in the room knew that Kennedy was dead -- except for the guest lecturer and the professors. Finally, one of the profs got the word as well, and interrupted the lecturer with the news that the President was dead. We fled the hall for our radios, leaving the stunned guest standing there.

#39 ::: Scott H ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2005, 04:25 PM:

I'm not normally a big conspiracy buff (UFOs? nope. Bigfoot? nope. 9/11 orchestrated by U.S.? nope), but I actually do think that Oswald was set up. There's no way to be sure, of course, but:

1) As a defector, Oswald would have been listed in government files as a Bad Guy and been a good paper candidate for anti-government action. However, the type of personality that runs away from his problems doesn't strike me as consistent with the type of personality that would martyr himself.

2) You've got to admit, the fact that he didn't survive to go to trial is suspicious.

3) Jack Ruby's alleged mob connections are interesting.

#40 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2005, 04:39 PM:

John Casey, the drums at the funeral were muffled (tension on heads released).

William Manchester gives the best description of the beat:

Boom Boom Boom, Drrrrrrrrr
Boom Boom Boom, Drrrrrrrrr
Boom Boom Boom, Drrrrrrrrr
Boom! Boom-Boom-Boom.

This has been called the stutter of muffled drums.

(Cite: _Death of A President_)

#41 ::: Keith Kisser ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2005, 04:55 PM:

Any one else notice the mental shift that occurred in the last few years? Up until about 2000, it was widely assumed by everyone that yeah, there must have been some conspiracy involving the death of JFK. Not just the kooks, but regular folk like my parents thought the whole thing was fishy. Then it just sort of all flipped. Now it's pretty much a common sense thing. Of course Oswald did it and only the nuts still claim otherwise. I wonder how and why that shift in perception happened? Was it just that, as the generation that lived through it got older, they just resigned themselves to the conventional story or did something more fundamental shift? Did the accumulated knowledge of the human species reach a half step up, we all got ballistics training from too much CSI and Mythbusters? There was even an episode of King of the Hill where Dale the conspiracy nut has a shocking realization that it was Oswald, and that all these years, he had assumed it was too complex to be one man because he was looking at the map of Dealey Plaza upside down.

#42 ::: Scott H ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2005, 05:07 PM:

Keith Kisser wrote

"only the nuts still claim otherwise"

I resemble that remark.

#43 ::: JonathanMoeller ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2005, 05:13 PM:

And you know you were born *after* 1963 when you don't remember that Kennedy was shot on Nov 22 until you happen to read about it on a blog.

Of course one person can make the world better, or send it careening off the rails. Gavrilo Princip, after all.

#44 ::: Zander ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2005, 05:16 PM:

I was nearly eight, and I'm afraid I don't remember where I was. I also have no direct memory of (what was more immediate to me at the time) watching the first ever episode of Doctor Who, though, so it's nothing personal.

As regards who did it, you pick the story that makes you most comfortable. Most Americans will probably prefer to believe the lone-nutcase story, because nobody really likes to think there are secret conspiracies running things behind the scenes. Conspiracy theorists aren't happy about what they think is going on. They just see things that don't make sense and try to explain them. Isn't there something about a bullet changing direction several times or something?

The comment about altering history was spookily echoed in (funnily enough) a Doctor Who novel I was reading tonight. The Doctor said something to the effect that whenever anyone changes history it always ends up being for the worse, which (as noted above) leads inexorably to the conclusion that history as it is is the best of all possible timelines. Sheer Panglossian quietism, and not what I expect even from Pertwee's Doctor. Ah well.

When it comes down to it, Kennedy shouldn't have been shot, not because he would have necessarily been a better President than his successors, but because nobody deserves to be shot. Nobody should be killed before their time, in war or in peace, for any reason.

#45 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2005, 05:49 PM:

I don't have any particular Kennedy-assassination-conspiracy-theory ax to grind, but I do find it remarkable when people talk as if it's crazy to suppose that there are sometimes secret conspiracies behind public events. Of course there are sometimes secret conspiracies behind public events. When lots and lots of money and power are at stake, people will sometimes form secret arrangements with one another in order to try to snag some of it. This is an obvious fact about human nature and it seems to me wildly unrealistic to act as if it isn't true.

#46 ::: Lois Fundis ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2005, 06:04 PM:

I had just turned 13 that Monday. Friday the 22nd our school was planning a special "hootenanny" assembly, for which everyone in our junior high had been practicing songs in music class for weeks. We were looking forward to it; it sounded fun. The schedule was jumbled to make room in the schedule at the end of the day for the assembly and so that the music teacher could have his free period as the last one before the assembly to get things set up.

Thus we were in science class, not algebra as usual for that time of day. But our algebra teacher, Mr. Funk, came into the science room to tell us; he was on his free period, and had heard the news on the radio there.

There was much hushed gossip and speculation (Was it the Communists? Would there be a nuclear attack or a war now?) and no studying the rest of the afternoon. We went back to our homerooms. The home economics teacher sent out a message that girls who wanted to could come to the home ec. room to help cut out Thanksgiving decorations, so a lot of us went up there to do something, if only cut out construction-paper turkey feathers, and gossip and generally share the numbness we all felt, until it was time for the school buses to come.

My mom had been home watching her soap operas when the bulletin came on TV. Even though she was a Republican and had never had much use for the Kennedys, she was also obviously very shaken that such a thing could have happened in our country. We watched TV all weekend in sadness and shocked wonderment that this was happening in our country and in our time.

I think that the fact that President Kennedy was the same age as my parents and had such young children was also part of the shock. If it could happen to him, with all his wealth and looks and power, and such a nice young family, and the Secret Service, it could happen to anyone.

We eventually did have the hootenanny, a few weeks later, but there was a cloud over it due to the memories of the originally-scheduled day that made it less fun than it should have been.

Someone upthread mentioned that if an assassination attempt succeeded it was pure dumb luck. But the security around Presidents has increased tremendously in the last 42 years *because of* JFK's assassination, as well as the attempt on Reagan (and the several other assassination attempts since 1963), and has been expanded to Presidential candidates because of the assassination of Robert Kennedy in 1968 (who was shot the day of my high school graduation. Welcome to the adult world, kid).

#47 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2005, 06:14 PM:

The Napoli Express hinges on the problem with conspiracies.

But I don't think a lone Oswald means that there wasn't some dumb stuff going on which looked suspicious. Until you have had a Guy Fawkes, you don't search the cellars for gunpowder.

#48 ::: dolloch ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2005, 06:19 PM:

Patrick - I'd agree that sometimes there are legitimate conspiracies, but I have to disagree with the "secret" part. A secret can only be kept when there's less than two people involved, and even then it's fairly dodgy. I'm much more a fan of deliberate incompetence myself e.g. make a department to make sure the sweatshops aren't, but don't give them the power to stop goods at the docks until the shop infractions are fixed.

#49 ::: SeanH ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2005, 06:40 PM:

I was born in 1987. November 22nd, for me, is the anniversary of a friend's suicide. Still miss the stupid bastard.

#50 ::: Laurie Mann ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2005, 07:46 PM:

I was 6 and I think I was home sick that day. I don't remember hearing about this in school, and, being a kid in Massachusetts, that seems inconceivable. I do remember watching the funeral on TV, and I was watching TV when Lee Harvey Oswald was shot.

It was my second hint that the outside world was unstable. The first hint being the Cuban missle crisis the previous year. And, it being the Sixties, that meant things got even more unstable as the years went along...


#51 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2005, 08:26 PM:

I was older when it happened than lots of people who remember it. I don't know why I don't -- because we didn't have a working TV? just blocked it out? Republican parents?

I would have been on the cusp of first and second grades, having been skipped up one a couple of months into the school year. Did that push it out of my mind? Maybe I was too self absorbed.

The earliest memory I have of it is one of my classmates saying that when Oswald was shot, he blurted out, "Ruby--!" So the first thing I remember about it is a conspiracy theory. I had no idea what it was supposed to mean at the time, but it felt kind of creepy to me, even then. Years later, I wallowed in the theories for a while, but finally decided that none of them were convincing. A relief, because I couldn't keep all the fractal ins and outs and timetables and murky photos straight anyway.

#52 ::: LauraJMixon ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2005, 08:41 PM:

I was five. I don't remember the assassination itself; I only remember watching the funeral on TV and asking my mother what was going on. She was standing on a piece of furniture, dusting, and watching the funeral.

She told me the president had been shot and killed. I remember she informed me that she'd voted for the Nixon in the last election.

She was obviously upset, and I can remember realizing that that even though she didn't like Kennedy, she thought assassinating the president was a bad thing.


#53 ::: Madeleine Robins ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2005, 09:34 PM:

I was nine, in fifth grade. One of the three Michaels in my class had left early for a dentist appointment; five minutes later he burst back into the classroom yelling "President Kennedy's been shot!" Our teacher grabbed him by the arm, saying something about bad jokes, took him out, and returned five minutes later, white as a sheet, to say that it was true.

My grade school was on Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village, in the midst of a dozen Catholic churches and associated schools. The memory that really sticks with me is of the cascade of bells ringing from every church as I walked home up Sixth Avenue, and the blank, stunned looks on the faces of all the adults I saw. I don't think I saw faces like that again until 9/11.

#54 ::: Keith Kisser ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2005, 09:38 PM:

I didn't mean to imply that there wasn't/isn't a conspiracy behind the JFK assasination. Clearly, there was (even if it really, truely was just one man whispering overheated rhetoric to his rifle).

But for a while, serious consideration was being given to baroque deals involving the Maffia, CIA, lizards from Neptune, the Queen of England and her secret lovechild, the Hamburgeler. Which is just silly. We seemt o have, for now, swung back to more mundane explenations.

#55 ::: cmk ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2005, 09:44 PM:

I don't remember why we were off school that day (I was a junior in [a very small Catholic] high school) but my mother was having her hair done and I had charge of my baby sister in her stroller.

I also don't remember whether I heard rumors and then went into the TV section (we didn't have a set at home), or whether I was there and saw the bulletin.

What's stuck most vividly in my memory was the woman in the beauty parlor who said, with a kind of ghoulish avidity, "and I hear Jackie was shot in the face."

We listened to the radio at home (no TV) all that weekend, and went to my aunt's house to watch the funeral.

#56 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2005, 10:09 PM:

Keith Kissler -- one Washington Post writer disagrees with your summary; the Post has several articles, but this was the one the Boston Globe chose to reprint, complete with a claim that 3/4 of the country believes there was a conspiracy \and/ 3/4 of the country doesn't want another investigation. (The writer isn't quite the wingnut this article makes him out to be; he also defended the Post against Stone's claims, pointing out holes in Stone's argument.

I do wonder why nobody plausible has come forward if there was a conspiracy; it's not as if only three people would have known what was going on, as with the identity of Deep Throat. I've seen the Zapruder film and been very unimpressed; the one questionable item I've heard is that Oswald's military records showed him to be an indifferent marksman, and I couldn't vouch for the source.

Yes, I remember that day. I was in 5th grade, and the news hit as we got into our carpool; I was so distraught I didn't even notice that my father had come home from the hospital. I won't even guess what would have happened had he lived; every guess for something better is matched by something worse, i.e. what if what we now know about him had come out during his term(s)?

#57 ::: John Farrell ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2005, 10:20 PM:

While I have no memory of Kennedy's death, I do remember the moon landing, and Chappaquiddick in summer 1969, because my dad was a managing editor at the Boston Herald Traveller, he was on the phone all the time, even when we were vacationing, and in spite of his busyness that summer seemed very idyllic.

#58 ::: Paula Kate ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2005, 11:16 PM:

Junior high school, English class. I too remember watching Ruby shoot Oswald live on TV (hi Tim).

I am unconvinced either way on a conspiracy to kill Kennedy, but I find Ruby's actions and the presence of so many future Watergate burglars strange and unlikely.

#59 ::: Danny Yee ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2005, 11:55 PM:

I think that everyone who was alive then and over the age of reason remembers where he or she was at that time.

This is incredibly US-centric. What fraction of Chinese or Indians over fifty do you think remember where they were when Kennedy was killed, and why on earth would they care?

#60 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2005, 12:04 AM:

Actually, Danny, I was eight years old when John Kennedy died. And living in another country. While I don't remember exactly where I was when it happened, even the geeky kid I was did understand that something terrible had happened.

I think I remember Bobby's death more clearly because I was 5 years older by then. I vividly remember the photo on the front page of the local paper, of Bobby lying in his blood with his head resting, I think, on one of those convention hats.

#61 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2005, 12:14 AM:

John Farrell remembers where he was when Armstrong and Aldrin landed on the Moon. I do too. Heck, I was in front of the TV pretty much during the whole mission. The attitude of the rest of my family was 'so what?'. (No, not the most imaginative bunch.)

A friend of ours was on the phone with Roger Zelazny during the Landing. He told us that, listening to Zelazny, you could picture him jumping up and down as he said "We FINALLY did it!"

#62 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2005, 12:19 AM:

I remember someone coming into our classroom, tellling our teacher (Mrs. Alexander? gotta go look next time I'm at mom's) and her bursting into tears. No adult had EVER done that in front of me, ever. It was scary.

a number of years later (maybeI was 14 or so), dad asked an opinion of what I thought about the three assassinations, I looked at him and said, "it's a really bad world where people who have done so much good get killed like dogs in the street. It makes me very sad." I don't know what prompted him to ask, he might have made some rude comment about them. (my father was another Goldwater supporter, in fact I think he may have, for a while, been a John Bircher but he got better from that).

the only other time he ever asked for a political opinion was what I thought about Nixon (first time). I stated "I'd trust the man as far as I could throw him.". Dad NEVER ever asked another political opinion from me if he didn't want to know what I thought. We were miles apart pollitically and he couldn't gather how he''d had so little influence. He did. he did teach me to be thoughtful and not knee-jerk. And that's what I did.

#63 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2005, 12:26 AM:

Zander wrote that "...Most Americans will probably prefer to believe the lone-nutcase story, because nobody really likes to think there are secret conspiracies running things behind the scenes..."

I'd think that peopel would prefer the idea of a conspiracy. It implies that there is some order behind the events of the world. It's more scary - to me anyway - that some loser can just pick up a gun and knock everything over.

#64 ::: chris ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2005, 04:04 AM:

I was 12, in my room, doing homework. My mother came running up the stairs carrying a portable radio and screaming, "The President's been shot!" I said, "The President of what?"

I don't think history would have been much different. Too much was invested in Vietnam already by 1963. The Great Society would still have been derailed. The tide, as HST put it, would still have rolled back. Probably Nixon would have won in 68.

#65 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2005, 09:26 AM:

Re: Presidential Security

If an assassin is willing to die in the attempt, he/she can get close enough to kill the President or anyone else with a security detail.

It's one of the risks of the job...

#66 ::: Hoyt Pollard ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2005, 09:40 AM:

Watch the news conference with Oswald in the Dallas police station. He says something to the effect of "I have not been charged with any crime." One of the reporters tells him that he had, in fact, just been charged with killing the President. Watch Oswald's body language. You can see the panic in his eyes... It just became clear that he had been set up.

That we will never know what really happened is one of my greatest disappointments.

#67 ::: Stephen Frug ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2005, 11:00 AM:

What would have happened in Vietnam if Kennedy hadnít been killed?

I just read a fascinating book about the U.S. decision to go to war in Vietnam (that is, the major commitment and not just a few thousand advisors) in the roughly two years from mid-1963 to mid-1965. It's called Choosing War by Fredrik Logevall (who just joined my department, although I haven't taken any courses with him). Logevall argues that there is no convincing evidence that Kennedy was already planning to withdraw from Vietnam (and plenty of reasons to think otherwise), but that when the decision to make the war into an American war is studied, there is a lot of reason to think that Kennedy would not have made that commitment, but would have continued the limited U.S. involvement and probably pulled out after his reelection (presuming that he was reelected, which seems likely).

It's a fascinating book, although it's extremely detailed in its analysis of the various factors that went into the decision. If you want the briefer version, the introduction & last chapter outline his arguments. (And the parallels with Iraq? Terrifying. And not intentionally depicted, since Choosing War was published in 1999...)

Oh, and Steve Eley: I'm glad I'm not the only person who finds the theory in Sondheim's Assassins the only truly convincing conspiracy theory he's ever heard..

#68 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2005, 11:16 AM:

Does anybody know when Vietnam made it into American TV's fiction? It apparently was in the Twilight Zone's episode In Praise of Pip. That's the one where Jack Klugman plays a loser whose one success is his son now in the military, stationed somewhere in Asia. One day, he receives a telegram announcing that his son has been wounded and is in critical condition. His reaction? Disbelief, and "We're not even supposed to be in Vietnam."

#69 ::: Nomie ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2005, 12:25 PM:

Born in '84. My parents both have vivid memories of that day.

I remember the Oklahoma City bombing, and both of the World Trade Center events - the bombing, and 9/11.

#70 ::: Chuck Divine ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2005, 01:16 PM:

I was in my first year at Rutgers in New Jersey. Early in the afternoon I was sitting in the library studying when someone I didn't know came in and "Kennedy's been shot." It didn't make any sense. Late that afternoon I went to my last period physics class. The professor had scrawled a note on the blackboard announcing the assassination and cancelling class. That's when I took it seriously.

I have vague memories of going home that weekend. Lots of us did. There was a lot of shocking news on the TV. One other memory I have is of the Rutgers University Chorus (Choir?) appearing on TV singing some sort of requiem.

Yes, it was a depressing week. Even for Republican Protestants who'd never attended anything (except maybe a sports event) at a Roman Catholic institution. Oh -- that describes my family at the time.

Would things have been different if Kennedy had lived? Possibly, although I wouldn't have bet huge amounts of money on it. Conflicts were already increasing in the U.S. Blacks were fighting for equality. The Berkeley Free Speech movement dated to 1963. The SDS was founded in 1962. Barry Goldwater was a major political figure by 1960 or so. People were really scared of Communism. Sputnik, Cuba, the Berlin Wall, the Cuban missile crisis, etc. pushed many buttons. Too few people realized how empty the threat was, how bad off the Soviet Union actually was.

To me Kennedy was just a President -- not a miracle worker. I think people later on too often created a fantasy that life wouldn't be the way it was by a decade later if Kennedy had lived. Kennedy did some good things, some bad things.

Today I'm a bit of an optimist for the long term. It's my lifetime that worries me.

#71 ::: Sandy ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2005, 03:52 PM:

I agree with Serge: the natural human feeling was, something so big had to have a big cause.

There are only two events that have the same "This is where I was" memory for me: the Challenger disaster and the World Trade Center.

I hope I go a very long time before I get another.

#72 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2005, 03:53 PM:

Add another for me: Columbia.

#73 ::: Chris Quinones ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2005, 04:06 PM:

FWIW, I remember where I was when I heard about Reagan getting shot, Challenger, and the first WTC bombing, while 9/11 was all too real for me.

My best friend in high school was born on the 5th anniversary of the JFK assassination (happy 37th, Ethan, wherever you are). I was born on the 23rd anniversary of Hiroshima. Just one of many things we had in common.

#74 ::: Tim Kyger ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2005, 05:33 PM:

I was born on the anniversary of the 1929 stock market crash.

King me. [grin]

#75 ::: alsafi ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2005, 06:05 PM:

I was born on the thirteenth anniversary of JFK's assassination, and my first thought on reading the very beginning of the post was "Oh, cool--Jim Macdonald and I have the same birthd-errr, nevermind."

#76 ::: Jeremy Leader ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2005, 07:58 PM:

I was 2, and a big Captain Kangaroo fan; I have a vague recollection connecting Kennedy's assasination with the show, but I'm not sure whether I actually remember watching and seeing the news bulletin interrupt the show, or whether I'm unconsciously reconstructing the memory.

My father was a Kennedy assasination conspiracy fan for many years, with a shelf full of books about different theories. Eventually he decided that he'd never really know the truth, and he got rid of most of the books.

I still like the theory I recall from one of Robert Anton Wilson's books (probably part of the Illuminati trilogy?). The book described how there were hit squads in Dallas that day from the CIA, the Mafia, the Soviet Union, and various other shadowy organizations, all planning their own attacks on Kennedy. The teams of professionals were all taken aback when some whacko amateur, all on his own, managed through sheer beginner's luck to perform far above his own ability, pulling off an astonishing feat of speed and marksmanship.

#77 ::: blaise ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2005, 08:58 PM:

in re: SHAME

That was WOR (channel 9) in NYC; and it was done for Robert Kennedy's assassination. I know; I was watching at the time. I was the one who told my mother 'something funny is on the TV.'

#78 ::: Barry Ragin ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2005, 10:09 PM:

The earliest memory I have of it is one of my classmates saying that when Oswald was shot, he blurted out, "Ruby--!"

as i recall it, it was the sheriff (or one of the law officers who was escorting LHO at the time) who shouted out "Jack, you son of a bitch!"

i don't recall ever reading that LHO was supposed to have recognized his own killer.

#79 ::: Barry ::: (view all by) ::: November 25, 2005, 02:51 PM:

Abigail: "In Israel we recently marked the tenth anniversary of the Rabin assassination with the sober realization that we're only now beginning to to put back together what his killer destroyed with a few bullets."

I place the end of Israeli democracy right at that assassination. For the killer got what he wanted - the election of the right in Israel. IIRC, Rabin was leading in the polls; the assassination tipped that election. And for another reason - that means that the 'center' of the Israeli people didn't mind that; otherwise they'd have vote for Labor, and not Likud.

#80 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: November 25, 2005, 04:12 PM:

as he lay dieing on that gray pavement Lee Harvey Oswald's last words were "...don't take your love to town."

#81 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: November 25, 2005, 04:13 PM:

later on, as he lay dying he was heard to mutter "damn, that song sucks."

#82 ::: Shunra ::: (view all by) ::: November 25, 2005, 07:49 PM:

Barry, that's a fascinating statement. While the murder of Rabin was indeed a pivotal moment, it seems to me that it changed nothing in terms of status-as-democracy.

It changed the country in a great big way; it was loud, too, and you could feel the chill run right down the collective spine of those of us who lived there (my apartment was a couple of blocks closer to the beach from there, and I only failed to go to that demo 'cause my son was small and needed sleep, and me) - but a democracy? Doesn't 'democracy' imply things like residents having a chance at being a citizen even if they aren't born in the right ethnicity, and absence of such things as secret service background checks for schoolteachers?

#83 ::: davidt ::: (view all by) ::: November 26, 2005, 10:05 PM:

>I do find it remarkable when people talk as if it's crazy to suppose that there are sometimes secret conspiracies

In Oswald's case, I'm perfectly willing to grant that he acted alone _and_ that there was a substantial conspiracy before and after the fact. How many americans defected to Russia, worked for the KGB, defected back, worked for the CIA and the FBI, and, as bonus, were involved in pro- and anti- Castro groups? Whew. At least a half dozen intellegence agencies must have had foot-thick files on Oswald _before_ Kennedy was shot.

A zillion secret agents and operatives all over the world probably said "Oh shit, that guy worked for us for a while. We better make sure they don't pin this on us. Let's go to work."

#84 ::: Dave Levin ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2005, 05:48 PM:

I was too little to remember the event. 30-odd years later, I came upon "Rush to Judgment" and "Plausible Denial," both by Mark Lane. The former was based on his examining the volumes of evidence collected by the Warren Commission, and finding that they do not support the conclusions in the Warren Report.

#85 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2005, 11:38 PM:

Another assassination was brought to mind by today's paper, carrying an obit for the last of the people directly involved in the murder of Mohandas Gandhi. The jerk was completely unrepentant and had lived off books about the killing.

#86 ::: Anne Sheller ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2005, 12:35 AM:

Fifth grade, Holy Name of Mary School, San Dimas CA. Most of the teachers were Irish nuns who took it very hard. I had been reading some adult SF for about a year at that point and was convinced for some time that we were about to have WWIII starting; the apocalyptic novels I'd read had me convinced that things would be very grim very soon.

#87 ::: Barbara ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2005, 12:00 AM:

I don't remember hearing it, but I was probably teaching a newspaper lab, and Friday was the day we published, so we were distributing the newspaper. I remember that I turned on our classroom TV and watched for the remainder of the day, using the extensive coverage as a first class journalism lesson .
I remember wondering what Look magazine was going to do with all their future features already planned, written, and pictures taken. They were so caught up in the Camelot and Kennedy mistique that they had already printed their Christmas at the White House, featuring the Kennedy planning committee. I remembered it when I received last month's Southern Living magazine with a long feature on "Spend your vacation on the Gulf Coast." complete with old NO houses and quaint spots. I felt so sorry for the editor.

I remember feeling much more incensed at the MLK assassination, but it might have been the cumulative effect.

#88 ::: Nell ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2005, 12:01 AM:

chris: The Great Society would still have been derailed.

Without Johnson, there wouldn't have been anywhere near the scale of the Great Society legislation that there was. He was infinitely more effective in pushing things through Congress than JFK.

I'm partial to the mob theory. How else can you explain Ruby?

My mother saw the Ruby shooting live; I'd gone out to the store for taffy, and when I came back she was standing by the television saying, "They killed him."

The 'they' stuck with me, I guess.

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