Does the JFK Research Community Act Like JFK?
Over fifty years has passed since President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas on a sunny November day in 1963. To save you the details…America has never fully recovered from his loss. One of the reasons for this is the suspicious circumstances that surrounded his death. The government didn’t help calm those suspicions when they could have. As a matter of fact, they responded to those circumstances with years of deceit and shoddy investigations; only furthering the confusion surrounding our President’s passing.
That behavior eventually led the public to investigate the assassination for themselves. Experts from all different walks of life led the charge to get to the bottom of JFK’s death. This public interest pressed congress to reopen the investigation in the late 1970’s. After a lot of controversy, the committee told the people their fears had been justified all along…there had been a conspiracy to kill Jack Kennedy in Dallas.
However, congress left us hanging on the greatest question of them all: Who were the conspirators behind his murder? They basically said they couldn’t tell us due to a lack of evidence. They were right. There was no hard evidence to convict any conspirators in a court of law. Thus, the case was left in the hands of individual researchers again and they created a culture of investigation that personified our democracy at work.
The 90’s saw the release of Oliver Stone’s hit film ‘JFK’, a movie that caused the American people to rise up once more and demand their government release certain files related to JFK’s assassination. Many believed there would be a smoking gun in these files, but it never came, well, at least not yet. In any case, once the hype surrounding ‘JFK’ faded away, the cold case was still left unresolved and the JFK research community again sought to change that through their organic studies.
Which brings me to the point of this blog. Once this case became free ground for people to “solve”, it also became an ugly mess. Many researchers entered into the Kennedy assassination with strong opinions on varying theories. They were sure they were the ones with all the answers, and everyone else was simply wrong in their conclusions. There were those who claimed the FBI did it. Others thought the CIA and the Mafia were the culprits. Some even went as far as to accuse the Catholic church. Yet, by the late 1990’s, the camp was defined by two particular groups of researchers: The “Lone Nutters” and the “Conspiracy theorists”. (Lone nutters is a term used to describe people who believe Lee Harvey Oswald shot JFK alone.)
The internet provided these two groups an opportunity to debate this case through forums and social media outlets. However, instead of this outlet creating an atmosphere of civil exchange, it created an atmosphere of slander and angry typing matches. Not everyone is guilty of this. I know a lot of people who understand the futility of this behavior, but there’s also a lot of researchers who have taken their eyes off the original goal of researching this case in the first place, namely, the legacy of President Kennedy.
As a younger researcher, this concerned me greatly. I even wrote a book on this topic (‘Before History Dies’) to prove that civil debate was possible when people are respectful and truly interested in hearing each other’s viewpoints. I didn’t agree with everyone I interviewed with, but I was respectful to all of them and I learned a lot by not approaching my project through an angry bias. I surely didn’t want to act like a hypocrite in my research. I was suppose to be working towards solving JFK’s murder, and if I cared about him like I claimed I did then I couldn’t just behave how I wanted towards those I disagreed with.
In closing, I hope the point of this blog is as clear as the high noon sun. I cannot imagine how horrified JFK would be if he saw how nasty some people get over his death. I cannot imagine he would ever cuss someone for opposing his views, or he would condone the type of banter that some participate in. That being said, we all need to look in the mirror and ask ourselves if we have made this case more about us and our legacy than our late President’s. The time for reform in the JFK research community has come. We must examine our own inward attitudes towards one another and not assume that the other party is always to blame. We cannot afford to keep going at each others throats. We must strive to act like JFK in our public discourse, and be statesmen towards one another in times of heated debate. This is one of the many reasons why President Kennedy has lived on in the corridors of American History. He was a gentleman in the face of overwhelming criticism and debate. He made critical decisions based on logic. He chose peace when others wanted war. Can we say that about ourselves? Do we act like JFK? As I said at the Lancer conference in November, “Ask not what the JFK research community can do for you, ask what you can do for the JFK research community.”