Friday, November 22, 2013

The legacy of John F. Kennedy

Fifty years ago John F. Kennedy was assassinated. And for many it was much more than just a President who died that day.

In many ways the best thing that happened to Kennedy's reputation was Lee Harvey Oswald. * A lot of the problems that exploded in the 1960s came after Kennedy's death. It became possible to believe he would have evaded full involvement in Vietnam and driven through civil rights with less pain than Lyndon Johnson. The facts that Kennedy had already shown he was prepared to go to the brink against Communism and whilst he'd talked the talk on civil rights he'd also pandered to Southern segregationists instead of standing up to them, to the disappointment of many civil rights leaders, just get overlooked.

But beyond his substantial record, or lack thereof, Kennedy's death also came to symbolise the passing of an age when the Presidency was shrouded in mystery and magic. His successor was forced out by a popular uprising that rode the primaries - indeed the Secret Service warned Johnson not to attend the 1968 Democrat convention because it was too dangerous. Then Richard Nixon, the man beaten by Kennedy, brought the office into disrepute. Never again could a US President be looked upon like some deity or superhero. Instead he was a mortal, easy to distrust and mock.

Indeed one can almost neatly illustrate the changes with depictions of contemporary Presidents in superhero comics. Here's a panel from Action Comics #309, which, due to the time lag in publishing, went on sale just weeks after Kennedy's death:

(Superman has just entrusted his identity to the President in order to hide it from Lois Lane and Lana Lang!) Superman's speech now seems ironic but at the time it reflected the awe in which the office was held.

Here's a panel from Captain America #175, published in April 1974, as Cap has a showdown with the evil mastermind behind the Secret Empire, in none other than the Oval Office:

The art may tiptoe around showing the face but from the context there was no hiding who it was meant to be. Months before the final resignation it was possible to say "I knew it was you all along, Richard Nixon!"

But before November 22nd 1963 nobody would have depicted Kennedy as crooked or in the pocket of mobsters.

* Okay the inevitable "whodunit" question. The more I read on this, the more I think the evidence points to Oswald acting alone. Much of the evidence for a conspiracy hinges on dubious evidence, particularly a false seating plan of the limousine that makes the Single Bullet Theory look ludicrous. Yes there are areas where the Warren Commission and all the other enquiries were not as thorough as they could have been but every investigation and murder conviction has loose ends that a defence can build upon without making it so. The idea of a giant conspiracy involving hundreds of people that managed to hide itself from the world yet is known to all the conspiracy nuts just doesn't hold water. And Oliver Stone has a lot to answer for.

1 comment:

neil craig said...

Oswald carried a package he called "curtain rods" to work. That convinces me he was involved. However I think the Mafia (Carlos Marcello) was behind him. Jack Ruby was Mafia and him killing Oswald makes no sense unless it was to prevent him testifying. There are also some other Mafia connections & Marcello, whom Bobby was trying to expel from the country certainly benefited.


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