Fayette Durlin and Peter Jenkin
Fayette Durlin and Peter Jenkin write from Brownsville, Minnesota.
James Piereson has written an essay, "The Making of a Martyr," in the fall issue of The Claremont Review that convincingly explains our rancorous domestic politics of the last 50 years, a history largely determined by the lies told about the Kennedy assassination. Everything grows out of the initial lie, promulgated almost at once by influential leaders and columnists, that the President's death was fostered by an atmosphere of hatred, fostered since the 1950s by right wing ideologues, an indictment that essentially effaced Lee Oswald, who became the forgotten man of the story. Oswald was a Communist sympathizer who had actually moved to Russia, married a Russian woman, fired a shot at Edwin Walker, head of the Dallas chapter of the John Birch society, and tried desperately to get to Cuba to see his hero, Fidel Castro.
If Jack Ruby had not intervened, it is probable that Oswald's motives would have been exposed at a trial and the liberal lies would not have had such an easy time, but Ruby killed him, and thereafter Oswald was, for all intents and purposes, written out of the story.
. . . so the assassination came to be encrusted in layers of myth, illusion, and disinformation strong enough to deflect every attempt to understand it from a rational point of view.
Those last words - "rational point of view" - are the crux of the matter. With Oswald and his leftist motive essentially masked, the way was clear for the "blame America, especially rightward Americans, for its bigotry and hatred" line that had already been widely disseminated. The diminishment of Oswald, however, left a hole at the center, which was filled with proliferating conspiracy theories. Three quarters of Americans today believe that the assassination was a conspiracy.
Meanwhile another lie - that Kennedy was really a martyr in the cause of civil rights - was being crafted by the President's widow, as well as Lyndon Johnson, who used the lie to aid the passage of the civil rights law, about which Kennedy was actually very lukewarm. As Piereson points out, the assassination was an incident in the Cold War, nothing else. By making Kennedy a martyr in a domestic cause, and by indicting America, especially the Right, the liberal establishment set the stage for the wave of anti-Americanism that was to infect the country during the next decade, culminating at the Democratic convention in 1968. Liberalism was giving way to radicalism in the Democratic Party, with results we see today.
It was wrong for national leaders in 1963 to invent a story of President Kennedy's assassination that deflected responsibility from the real assassin to the nation's culture or to a group of Americans who played no role in the President's death. In formulating a story that fit comfortably with assumptions of the time, even though it was at variance with the facts, they sowed the seeds for distrust and division in the body politic that are still with us today.
The lie did not actually create the liberal hatred and demonization of the Right, which had begun in the late 1940s and early 1950s when Communist infiltration of government agencies and then McCarthyism became big public issues. Liberals were on the defensive at first; the Wallace campaign in 1948 had sobered them, but the crudity and malevolence of McCarthy roused them to excuse or forget fellow-traveling naivete. That's when, pursuing the opening McCarthy gave them, liberals began to demonize the Right. The lies about the assassination and the fabrication of Kennedy as a martyr for civil rights, and then the whole Camelot nonsense, created a master narrative of a shining liberal figure brought down by reactionary bigots of the Right, which helped to inspire the radicals of the 60s and beyond. What this excellent essay does it to make us see how significant the lies about the assassination have been in the formation of the rancorous mess we face today. *