Wednesday, August 21, 2013

What Didn't We Know and When Didn't We Know It?

            This year marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President Kennedy, so we will be treated once again to stories about his death, about enduring puzzles of the case, and so on.  In 1963, the authorities decided that a 24-year-old communist did it with a $12 rifle — a conclusion that was not widely accepted.  Speculation turned to the involvement of Fidel Castro or, more likely, gangsters, as the killing slowly gained an underserved reputation for impenetrability.  Now, a haunting irony supposedly looms over this signal event — that after all the probes and investigations, we might never know who did it.  

            It is a testament to the power of secrecy that such ridiculous notions arose and persist, because the murder was not a particularly difficult crime to solve.  All that was missing was a good-faith investigation.  For example:
            Whatever you might think about alleged assassin Lee Oswald, I’m sure you’ll agree that he was younger once.  He was a teenager once.  He had a few part-time jobs in 1955 and 1956 before he joined the Marines, and they are listed in the Warren Report.  He was a stock boy at Dolly Shoe Company.  He worked at Pfisterer Dental Lab and Gerard F. Tujague, Inc., a shipping company.  The F.B.I. found his W2s among his possessions — and buried them.  Why?

            Decades passed.  Today, thanks to the declassification process created by Congress in 1992, the reason for secrecy is clear: the W2s bear tax identification numbers issued by the I.R.S. in January of 1964.  In fact, rather a lot of “facts” about Oswald have turned out to be similarly crafted fictions.

The “organized crime” theory of the shooting has an air of plausibility to it because we know how bad those people can be.  But, like the other “it wasn’t us” stories; it can’t actually explain anything.

            Did gangsters forge those W2s?  Did hired muscle arrange an illegal, secret, military autopsy to misrepresent, alter, and destroy medical evidence?  Did Carlos Marcello convince the F.B.I. to run neutron activation tests of material in the case and then conceal the findings?  Did the families lean on Lyndon Johnson to sign an executive order classifying evidence for 75 years?  Did powerful criminal elements persuade the House Select Committee on Assassinations to scoop up further traces and hide them for half a century?

            By the way, the H.S.C.A. also investigated the murder of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.; and we only have to wait another 26 years to find out what they uncovered.

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