Thursday, November 21, 2013

We Lost More Than Our President

“Mr. President, you can’t say Dallas doesn’t love you.”

~ Nellie Connally, First Lady of Texas, November 22, 1963

“To mark the 50th anniversary of JFK's assassination, the networks have decided to make as much money from it as possible.”

~ Andy Borowitz, November 21, 2013

Regular “What’s the Diehl?” readers know that I’m a middle-aged progressive who’s pro-choice, supports gun control, loves good music and thinks Newt Gingrich, John Boehner, Mitch McConnell and Eric Cantor should be gagged, bound together and set adrift in the north Atlantic in a decrepit old boat with insufficient food and water and a burlap bag stuffed with several hungry, angry, venomous snakes. But what you may not know is that I grew up fascinated to a fault by the assassination of the 35th President of the United States.

While other boys were honing their athletic skills and watching Gunsmoke and The Man from U.N.C.L.E., I was learning that the murder of John F. Kennedy was caught on tape by a Dallas dressmaker named Abraham Zapruder, who was convinced by his employees to return home to get his 8-millimeter movie camera before heading to Dealey Plaza in downtown Dallas, Texas, on November 22, 1963, when I was 20 months old.

Lee Harvey Oswald
I learned that a 24-year-old ex-Marine, Communist sympathizer and loser named Lee Harvey Oswald fired three shots at JFK from his perch on the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository – 265 feet away from the presidential limousine – two of which struck the president from behind. (Some say a second gunman also fired at Kennedy from his hiding place on the “grassy knoll,” in front of the motorcade.)

I learned about the “Single Bullet Theory,” which has helped bolster conspiracy theories for decades. Because one of Oswald’s three shots missed the limousine entirely and another caused JFK’s fatal head wound, that means only one bullet could have caused seven other sounds to the president and Texas Governor John Connally, who was riding in the limo and was seriously injured that day but survived. Some folks find this implausible.

The Kennedys at Love Field in Dallas
I learned that Oswald was in fact not arrested for killing JFK but was charged with the murder of Dallas patrolman J. D. Tippit, who had stopped Oswald for questioning 45 minutes after the assassination.

I learned that Jack Ruby, the Dallas nightclub owner who shot Oswald two days after JFK’s assassination as Oswald was being escorted by police through the basement of police headquarters, had ties to the mob and died of lung cancer at Parkland Hospital, the same place where JFK and Oswald had been pronounced dead three years earlier.

I remember one old magazine article – I can’t remember which one – describing JFK’s head exploding thusly: “Brain matter spewed forth that resembled a mixture of tomato soup with rice.” To this day I can’t consume even a spoonful of soup that contains rice.

Last Sunday, I awoke to a CBS Sunday Morning piece on the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination. Face the Nation, which followed, was devoted to the same subject, although curmudgeonly Bob Schieffer was much more insistent than Charles Osgood that a lone gunman was solely responsible for the murder of perhaps our most beloved president. (According to a recent poll, just 39 percent of Americans believe Oswald acted alone; others blame the Mafia, the CIA, former Cuban leader Fidel Castro, Lyndon Johnson, the Ku Klux Klan and even the Soviets.)

I realized that that was just the beginning of an onslaught of maudlin commemorations, preemptions and Very Special Episodes marking the assassination’s golden anniversary. Television, with its propensity to beat a dead horse so thoroughly that there’s nothing left of the carcass but dust, would surely devote the entire next week to overwhelming and inundating viewers with all things Dealey Plaza to such an extent that some will feel like cursing myopic network executives while heaving their sets right out of their windows. Sadly, I was right.

I’m sorry that President Kennedy suffered such a gruesome fate. (Anyone who’s viewed the Zapruder film and autopsy photos knows why I use “gruesome.”) I’m sorry that the First Lady had to experience the sensation of her spouse’s head exploding inches away from where she sat in the presidential Lincoln Continental and that two young children lost their daddy. I’m sorry that November of 1963 marked a turning point, one in which this country’s heart, our nature, went from hopeful and trusting to cynical and divisive. I’m sorry that the most noteworthy unsolved mystery in our history continues to generate argument. And I’m sorry that five decades later, we still almost gleefully dwell on this terrible tragedy for ratings, callously exploiting the pain associated with this jarring event in our everlasting quest to sell soap and soda.

I shouldn’t have added to the din with this blog post but if you can’t beat ‘em...

Sources: New York Daily News,,, New York Times, The Olympian.


  1. Nice selection of photos. I appreciate your thoughts but I still want the death solved, so I continue to read about possibilities. I did a lecture in my intro to media class trying to show young people how hard it was then to find out what had happened. Remember that night the TV networks all signed off at 1 a.m. but I couldn't sleep for hours. Too much media today, but too little then.

  2. It is the world's greatest murder mystery, or the second if you count the Jack the Ripper killings, but in terms of world exposure and shock, it is definitely the most famous killing ever. We of course are getting a bit of it on this side of the Atlantic too, but why not? It's a part of world history now like Beatlemania or the Moon landings or the British invasion, all from those now far off heady 60s.

    Kennedy was seen as the blue eyed, all American boy, the King at Camelot, the new hope for a new America and by and large the rest of the world saw him as a new beginning for the whole world too; I think people were as obsessed with him here in ol' Blighty as you were in the US. And he seemed to usher in a new era of civil rights, and issues which would be looked at and taken into account, perhaps with a Left of centre perspective. Of course, we know that some of it was myth, or it was overegged simply because he was young, good looking and dynamic and not like all of the presidents who had come before him who tended to be older, more conservative and of the old school. The myth of course was also that he was innocent, and was about a new start, change and all that, when the truth was as usual a little more convoluted and complex. But, isn't it always? We all see things through rose tinted glasses to a certain extent, especially from the times we perceive to be golden eras. He was a rich guy from a very powerful and very wealthy patrician family and so was more likely to end up wealthy and powerful whatever he did. And I suppose that Americans can be as naïve as to the nature of powerful and influential people as many Brits are, not seeing the harsher realities of truth behind the veneer of the glamorous façade so carefully painted. Americans went from a kind of wilful almost naïve hope, to a morbid sense of cynicism and loss when he was shot, but I suspect that when we place all our hopes on a president, queen, prime minister, pope or even rock star they will always break our hearts in some way. They are, after all, only people like you and me. His death was terrible in any event and he did not deserve such a fate; it is that we remember it for as much as anything else.