JFK50: CONTROLLING THE MESSAGE
By Joseph E. Green
For the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Mayor Rawlings of the city of Dallas has come to a momentous decision. Facing what was likely to be a large-scale presence at the grassy knoll, he and his associates have determined that they will allow 5,000 ticket-holders into their “event.” 2,500 will be Dallas residents, and another 2,500 will be for the many thousands of tourists from all over the world.
Their website is at www.50thhonoringjohnfkennedy.com.
This decision is ludicrous, but not as much as the title of the website where applicants can try to screen their way into the lottery. Is it really possible for the city of Dallas to honor John F. Kennedy fifty years after he was murdered on their streets? Did Earle Cabell, then-mayor of Dallas, seize the moment to aggressively pursue Kennedy’s agenda at the local level? Did Texas become a place where civil rights are guaranteed and obscene oil profits are renounced? In the last fifty years, has there been any aspect of Kennedy’s programs or ideas that have found a home in Dallas?
Just within the last week, the Texas Supreme Court determined, in Salinas v. Texas, that silence can be an indicator of guilt in response to police questioning.
But more on the topic of fascism in a moment.
As is obvious to anyone who looks with clear eyes at the situation, the 50th anniversary is all about public relations for the city of Dallas. City leaders are hoping that once it passes, interest in the case will die down and they never have to deal with the city’s shame again. In the meantime, they are going to do their level best to keep out the “crazies” and have a solemn, meaningless event for the cameras. They know the world will be watching and they need to put a good face on the President being shot in the head on a public street.
If Lady Macbeth were alive today, her PR firm would have her endorsing soap flakes.
However, they are not the only ones interested in controlling the message. Some of the agitation comes from the other side, as well. Every year, John Judge of the Coalition on Political Assassinations holds a moment of silence on the grassy knoll on the anniversary of the moment Kennedy was killed. The moment of silence takes place in the context of what is typically a weekend conference, in which people gather to hear speakers on various topics related to political assassination.
Every year, the conference goes well beyond JFK. We discuss the “big four” of 1960s assassinations – the two Kennedys, Dr. King, and Malcolm X – but we also go into more recent political killings and some which are quite obscure even to attendees. In 2011, I myself gave a presentation on the murder of Fred Hampton, a Black Panther leader who was executed by Chicago police in December of 1969. The Coalition on Political Assassinations ends in a plural – JFK is incredibly important, but he isn’t the only topic on the agenda.
There are some who disagree. Some people within the movement, including long-time researchers, want to make the 50th anniversary conference all about John Kennedy and nothing else. No one wants to hear about these other assassinations, they say. We should focus only on JFK.
And once again this comes down to what it means to properly honor John F. Kennedy.
I don’t believe that Kennedy was some sort of demigod. I know that he had serious flaws. I also know, however, that there were reasons he was shot, and those reasons had to do with being more concretely democratic than his fellows. There is no doubt that if Kennedy had remained alive, our country doesn’t stay in Vietnam. Virtually everyone in his cabinet who has spoken out on the matter has agreed. But in a sense, it doesn’t matter how democratic he actually was. What matters is how those in power perceived him. This excellent point was made by Michael Parenti in his brilliant study, The Assassination of Julius Caesar. To our eyes, looking back, Caesar may not have seemed particularly democratic; but to the assassins, he was a dangerous radical.
Now, having said all that, if we researchers – like the city elders of Dallas – wish to honor Kennedy, then do we do that by only discussing his murder? Or does it make sense to continue the study of all political murders, since they seem to be both (1) related to one another and (2) related to our rapid slide into what one might call acceptable authoritarianism?
The Kennedy assassination doesn’t happen in a vacuum. The major assassinations of the Sixties wiped out the political Left in this country and paved the way for Richard Nixon’s ascendance in 1968. That is the critical point where a button is pushed and democracy starts to give way to fascism. And it has been accelerating.
Just a few days ago, Nancy Pelosi – the Democratic House Minority Leader from California – stated that she thought Edward Snowden should be prosecuted for releasing documents confirming National Security Agency spying on all Americans. Pelosi, who is loathed by the political right in this country, considered a leftist nonpareil, is on the side of NSA! This is a Democrat, ostensibly. To the people’s credit, she was booed when she made these remarks. They also made comments about this being George W. Bush’s “fourth term,” commenting on the fact that the wars abroad have not ended, and the wars at home – in terms of surveillance and loss of rights – have continued with alacrity. The people are on the left of the leadership.
We continue our gradual slide into acceptable authoritarianism. I call it this because much of the public seems to go along with the incredible corruption of the state as long as their lives are relatively unimpeded. To understand this process, one should begin on November 22, 1963. But unless all the context is studied – the arc of history whose end never ends, because it continues right up until this moment – one cannot understand the assassination. For those interested in understanding how the world works, JFK’s murder isn’t some true crime story where the point is to revel in the lurid details. It’s to reveal the beginning of a series of political murders done for the purpose of changing the world to benefit the few against the many.
As always, it’s all about agendas, and controlling the message. Whether this arises from the city of Dallas, desperate to make everyone forget, or certain JFK researchers who want everyone to remember only what they want them to remember.
My personal feeling is that it’s bigger than all of us. None of us can grasp the whole thing. But if we’re serious about honoring John F. Kennedy, it behooves us to try.