Belfast Telegraph

Friday 29 August 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

John F Kennedy: 50th anniversary of assassination offers up excuse to pour over the life and death of icon

The 50th anniversary of JFK's assassination takes place this week
The 50th anniversary of JFK's assassination takes place this week

America loves its icons. And this week’s 50th anniversary of his assassination offers up yet another excuse for the media to pour over the life and death of one of its most revered – John F Kennedy.

In the five decades since his slaying, JFK’s once shiny “Camelot” image has been tarnished somewhat by the oceans of ink and miles of film footage detailing his philandering and questionable decisions in his personal life.

Likewise, endless ‘what if’ commentaries regarding the Vietnam War and the struggle for civil right in America have also been produced.

JFK rose to the highest office in the US (although allegations of voting rigging in his 1960 victory over Richard Nixon have never faded) spouting anti-communist Cold War rhetoric that made the likes of Ronald Reagan proud.

His Oval Office tenure also coincided with an unprecedented grassroots movement to end segregation in America’s South and advance the long-stymied drive for equality for blacks nationwide.

JFK was politically cautious approaching the civil rights issue. He was very much a leader hesitatingly following the likes of Martin Luther King Jr, rather than leading from the front.

But, eventually, in June 1963, JFK went on TV to address the nation, urging Americans to embrace civil rights as a “moral issue”, and he pledged to champion strong civil rights legislation through Congress, which he introduced within a week. The landmark legislation sailed to passage after his death.

One of the most striking speeches JFK ever made was to the UN General Assembly in September 1961.

After outlining the perils of nuclear arsenals, he proposed that the US and the USSR begin talks to “achieve under the eyes of an international disarmament organization, a steady reduction in force, both nuclear and conventional, until it has abolished all armies and all weapons except those needed for internal order and a new United Nations Peace Force.”

The next year would see the world on the brink of nuclear war with the Cuban Missile Crisis. Meanwhile, Kennedy was also increasing the number of US military “advisors” in Vietnam from 900 when he took office to more than 16,000 by the time of his death.

Still, if he was serious about such radical disarmament, with the Cold War at its height, top Pentagon brass would not have been happy. More fuel then for the conspiracy theorists who believe US government members had a hand in his killing.

JFK remains in the public consciousness eye first and foremost because of the way he was killed.

According to several individuals and organizations, the CIA alone has over 1,100 documents relating to the assassination that it has fought to keep classified. One group, The Center for Effective Government, has claimed that the CIA is holding a staggering 1 million records relating to Kennedy’s assassination.

The public’s belief in a plot to kill JFK death has waned slightly in the past 10 years.

In 2003, a Gallup poll found that 75% of Americans believed there was a multi-person conspiracy. By contrast, an Associated Press poll last April found 59% support for that view, while 24% said Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone gunman, and 16% weren’t sure either way.

Further insight could be gained in four years time when, per The JFK Records Act, signed by President George H.W. Bush in 1992, all remaining classified documents must be made public by October 26, 1917.

But there are of course two key exceptions: whosever president at the time can block any release if they deem 1) that US military, intelligence, police or foreign relations may be harmed, or 2) “the identifiable harm is of such gravity that it outweighs the public interest in disclosure.”

Stiff odds indeed for the truth to ever be fully told about the death of JFK.

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