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Sixty years on, the question lingers: was the assassination of John Kennedy by Oswald a single act or a conspiracy?




BY 22 NOVEMBER 1963, the United States President, John Kennedy, had visited Fort Worth, San Antonio and Houston, touring those cities in an open-car cavalcade, making rousing speeches and receiving warm welcomes from large crowds.

He had travelled through all these cities together with wife Jacqueline and state governor John Connolly. Now came the final stage of the tour at Dallas, a Republican city well known for hostility towards Democrats.

Passing through the city centre, waving to more large and welcoming groups of people, the cars were driven past the Texas School Book Depository and into an open area.

Then several shots rang out, two from ahead of the Kennedy car and at least one from the depository building. The one from behind which hit the back of Kennedy’s head went on to wound Connolly in a thigh and wrist.

The assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, had chosen a sixth floor window space in the Book Depository for his firing position.

The car was driven at speed to nearby Parkland hospital. Kennedy was pronounced dead about an hour later and the news released to a deeply shocked nation and to the world.

Kennedy was the fourth US president to be assassinated. The others were Abraham Lincoln in 1865, James Garfield in 1881 and William McKinley in 1901.

 There have also been several unsuccessful attempts since Congressional Independence was established with President Andrew Jackson in 1835.

Two major events in Cuba defined the Kennedy years. The first was an attempt at overthrowing Fidel Castro in a counter revolution. Some 1 400 Cuban émigrés were trained for an invasion, the US making sure no Americans were involved so that Kennedy could deny involvement if it all went wheels-up. It did. And nobody believed his denials anyway. Over 100 invaders were killed and the remainder wounded or captured.

The other event developed from the discovery by a spy plane pilot flying high over Cuba who spotted and photographed rows of large tube-like objects 80 miles from the American coast, which were considered to be most probably nuclear rocket launchers.

Soviet Union chairman Boris Yeltsin was angrily informed that his plot had been rumbled. And as more launchers were on the way Kennedy blockaded the Soviet ships, sought the advice of Britain’s Harold Macmillan and after 13 days of negotiation Yeltsin, an alcoholic, in a sober moment took away the launchers which were all pointed at America. In return as Kennedy had to withdraw American troops from Turkey on the Soviet Union border.

 International fears of nuclear war were resolved, though only just.

Oswald, a former US Marine, was known to admire communism. On discharge he made his way to Moscow and applied for citizenship but was refused  even though he was married to a Russian girl.

Subsequently he applied for Cuban citizenship but that was also rejected, most likely leaving him disillusioned. Eventually he obtained a job at the Depository at Dallas.

After shooting Kennedy, Oswald abandoned the rifle that had been purchased by mail-order as well as a .38 special revolver and fled down the stairs to the street, running about a mile. On the way he encountered a traffic policeman who attempted to make an arrest, so Oswald shot and killed him. He then disappeared into a cinema where he was tracked down and dramatically arrested.

The next day at a police station Oswald was being walked to an interrogation room surrounded by security guards. Night club owner Jack Ruby, an associate of the Mafia led locally by Sam Giancamo, sneaked in through an underground car park and confronted the group, shooting Oswald in the chest to kill him. A few weeks later Ruby was himself fatally shot.

Meanwhile the presidential successor Lyndon Johnson set up a commission headed by chief justice Earl Warren to examine all the circumstances of the assassination. It consisted of six members and it spent a year considering evidence.

Warren produced an 881-page report which declared that Oswald had acted entirely alone. Immediately there were many expressions of doubt and outrage and claims that it had been the work of a conspiracy.

Some thoughts on the conspiracy theory

Two members of the Warren Commission resigned without explanation. Did they disagree with Warren and for what reason? John Kennedy swore many times that he would destroy “The Mob” which was his reference to Giancamo’s Mafia organisation, which Bobby Kennedy frequently supported. He was himself murdered five years later.

It was all perhaps the Mob’s response. The Soviet Union, smarting at America’s discovery of their missiles in Cuba? The Russians are not above assassinating even their own. Fidel Castro for years of America’s imposed isolation and attempts on his own life? Jack Ruby, used to silence Oswald and then being killed himself? That second bullet, which meant there was a “team” of two? Who fired it? A second assassin? Hothead Republicans who hated the Kennedys and were quite capable of violence?

 All just enough to keep a conspiracy debate alive.

But for 60 years we have only had Lee Harvey Oswald on the record and it is likely to stay that way.

About the writer: John Kelley spent the greater part of his journalism career in Rhodesia and Zimbabwe. Now based in Britain, he occasionally writes for The NewsHawks.

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