"Three can keep a secret, if two of them are dead" -- Benjamin Franklin.
If there is validity to Franklin's words, then we would be forced to conclude that after 50 years, The President's Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy, also known as the Warren Commission, got it right -- at least in a macro context.
Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone assassin who shot John F. Kennedy from the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository. Having written a book on the transformative events of 1963, I chose not to offer any new insights on the Kennedy assassination.
Instead, I wrote about what Nov. 22, 1963, did to the nation.
But the Warren Commission's presupposition, which was decided within 24 hours of the assassination, that it was in the national interest to conclude that Oswald acted alone, opened a Pandora's box of conspiracy theories.
If the outcome has been predetermined, would it not stand to reason that questions would abound?
The tension that existed between the federal government and local authorities in Dallas successfully exacerbated the chaos that occurred in Dealey Plaza.
It became paradoxically the greatest crime of 20th century America matched by equal ineffectiveness, crystallized by the ease in which Jack Ruby could kill Oswald at point-blank range surrounded by Dallas police.
The totality of the Warren Commission's efforts, subsequent conspiracy theories, the ghost of a martyred president, and the public-relations campaign known as Camelot has led to a collective inability to examine what Nov. 22 did to us. It was a blow to the nation's solar plexus from which we have yet to recover.
But Oswald being the lone shooter does not negate the possibility of a conspiracy, which by definition merely requires two people to act together.
It would seem the only plausible conspiracy theory would include our own government.
Kennedy's motorcade route was not publicly published until Nov. 19. Could any group put together such a sophisticated operation in three days without prior knowledge?
Assuming momentarily it was the federal government, would they invoke the services of Oswald and his unreliable 6.5 mm Carcano rifle to conduct the crime of the century?
Oswald was hired at the Texas School Book Depository on Oct. 16 -- five weeks before the president's motorcade passed by. Since it was neighbor Ruth Paine who told him about the opening at the depository, wouldn't she, too, be complicit in the assassination?
For 50 years, there has been a yearning that it be more than Oswald. I understand that yearning. It makes more sense that JFK was slain via a sophisticated conspiracy than what we are left to ponder -- a nobody killed a somebody.
Historian William Manchester, writing in The New York Times, outlined the fundamental problem in accepting Oswald as the lone assassin:
"To employ what may seem an odd metaphor, there is an aesthetic principle here. If you put 6 million dead Jews on one side of a scale and on the other side put the Nazi regime -- the greatest gang of criminals ever to seize control of a modern state -- you have a rough balance: greatest crime, greatest criminals. But if you put the murdered president of the United States on one side of a scale and that wretched waif Oswald on the other side, it doesn't balance. You want to add something weightier to Oswald. It would invest the president's death with meaning, endowing him with martyrdom. He would have died for something. A conspiracy would, of course, do the job nicely."
But after a half-century, we are left to conclude that either Franklin is right or 50 years from now there will be more books and documentaries speculating on similar questions with little to show for it.
Contact Byron Williams at 510-208-6417 or firstname.lastname@example.org.