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Why We Continue to Ask the Question “Who Killed President Kennedy”

Updated on November 26, 2013

November 22, 2013 marked the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas, Texas.

The event shocked and stunned the nation. Kennedy was a young and vigorous president who was popular and widely admired by the American public.

Of course, politically, he had narrowly beaten former Vice President Richard Nixon in the 1960 election and was facing a potentially tough re-election campaign against the rising Republican star, Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona.

Whether Americans support or oppose a president’s politics, once elected, the nation expects a president to remain in office until the next election. Assassinating a president is not the American way.

President Kennedy Giving Civil Rights Address in June 1963
President Kennedy Giving Civil Rights Address in June 1963 | Source

Part of the shock over President Kennedy’s death was the fact that in the nearly 200 years that had elapsed since we declared our independence and the day of the November 22nd assassination, President Kennedy was only the fourth U.S. president to be assassinated. While military coups and assassinations were common in other parts of the world, this was not the way Americans changed their leaders.

The most recent prior successful assassination of a president had occurred sixty-two years earlier on September 4, 1901when President William McKinley was shot by Leon Czolgosz, a troubled twenty-eight year old radical socialist and anarchist.

Like the three previous presidential assassins, John Wilks Booth (Lincoln, 1865), Charles Guiteau (Garfield, 1881) and Leon Czolgosz (McKinley, 1901), Lee Harvey Oswald, President Kennedy’s assassin, did the killing as a single gunman.

Conspiracy Theory Industry Born

Despite the fact that Lee Harvey Oswald was captured and identified as the gunman who had killed Kennedy, there have been doubts since the beginning as to whether or not Oswald acted alone. In fact an entire conspiracy theory industry has developed and worked, unsuccessfully, for the past half century at uncovering the supposed conspiracy behind the Kennedy assassination.

A generation of amateur and professional journalists, historians and detectives has spent their entire career investigating and publishing books and articles focused on advancing theories as to who else was involved in the assassination. It is not inconceivable that this niche industry will continue to flourish for generations to come.

One factor powering the conspiracy theory industry is the fact that thousands of government documents relating to Oswald and the assassination still remain classified 50 years after the event.

A Theory About Origin of Kennedy Assassination Conspiracy Theories

However, in recent articles and a book (Camelot and the Cultural Revolution: How the Assassination of John F. Kennedy Shattered American Liberalism) by Manhattan Institute Senior Fellow, James Piereson, offers an interesting theory as to why the assassination has given rise to these conspiracy theories.

In a long article in the November 16-17 2013 weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal entitled JFK – Casualty of the Cold War, Pierson argues that the fact that JFK’s killer, Lee Harvey Oswald, was “a self-described Marxist, defector to the Soviet Union, and admirer of Fidel Castro” disturbed liberals then and now.

According to Piereson, liberals were upset that their hero had been killed by someone on the left, a communist, rather than deranged individual from the right side of the political spectrum.

American Left Upset that Kennedy's Assassin Came from Left

Kennedy’s assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, was captured shortly after the shooting and his communist affiliation was known and broadcast the same day.

Television, radio and evening editions of newspapers brought word of Oswald’s past to the American public the day of the assassination.

These accounts described the ex-Marine sharpshooter’s avowed Marxism and his move from the U.S. after his discharge to start a new life in the Soviet Union only to return a few years later with his Soviet wife and child.

Liberal disappointment and efforts to spin the assassination blame, away from the left and toward the right, began immediately.

Jackie Kennedy's Disappointment at Learning Assassin Was a silly little Communist

In William Manchester’s book, The Death of a President, Jackie Kennedy is quoted as saying to her mother later in the day of the assassination that “He [President Kennedy] didn’t even have the satisfaction of being killed for civil rights... it had to be some silly little Communist”.

New York Times Columnist Publishes Article on Climate of Hate in America

New York Times columnist James Reston wrote a piece on November 22nd, titled Why America Weeps: Kennedy Victim of Violent Streak He Sought to Curb in the Nation, which appeared on the front page of that newspaper the next morning. This piece ran next to a front page article on Lee Harvey Oswald’s Marxist views and Soviet sojourn.

In his first paragraph Reston wrote: America wept tonight, not alone for its dead young President, but for itself. The grief was general, for somehow the worst in the nation had prevailed over the best. The indictment extended beyond the assassin, for something in the nation itself, some strain of madness and violence, had destroyed the highest symbol of law and order.

According to Reston, Lee Harvey Oswald may have shot the bullets that killed the President but the real blame lay with the American people.

Further on, Reston gets a little more specific, writing:

The irony of the President's death is that his short Administration was devoted almost entirely to various attempts to curb this very streak of violence in the American character.

When the historians get around to assessing his three years in office, it is very likely that they will be impressed with just this: his efforts to restrain those who wanted to be more violent in the cold war overseas and those who wanted to be more violent in the racial war at home.

Reston’s article was probably reprinted in numerous other papers around the nation as his New York Times columns were widely syndicated at that time.

New York Times Publishes Tributes to Slain President

The same day the New York Times published James Reston’s article they also had another article entitled, Tributes Cite Loss to U. S. and World. This article consisted of comments/condolences expressed by 33 political, business and religious leaders from the U.S. and abroad.

The group included political friends and foes with the comments of most focused on sympathy for the late President’s family and sorrow at the loss of a leader. However, a few prominent liberals chose instead to blame the President’s death on the hate that supposedly pervaded the nation.

Supreme Court Chief Justice (1953-1969) Earl Warren
Supreme Court Chief Justice (1953-1969) Earl Warren | Source

Here are some excerpts:

Democratic Mayor of New York City, Robert Wagner: Hate has reaped its harvest. Now we must not leave undone any of the great works he was doing,… (It should be noted that the great works referred to were mainly President Kennedy’s legislative agenda, which included a major civil rights law, that was still stalled in the Democratic controlled Congress with prominent Democratic Senators filibustering to block the civil rights legislation.)

Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren: — A great and good President has suffered mar­tyrdom as a result of the hatred and bitterness that has been injected into the life of our nation by bigots,…

Civil Rights activist, Paul Zuber —This is just more horrible proof of the break­down of law and order in this country.

According to James Piereson, these attempts to spin the assassination story are what give rise to all the conspiracy theory that surround the assassination.

Not surprisingly, the Soviet Union's propaganda machine was spinning the same American climate of hate theme in their coverage of the assassination. Their motive, of course, was to deflect the blame away from their association with Oswald and on to the American people.

CBS News Anchor Walter Cronkite Reporting of Soviet Reaction to Assassination

Foes of President Kennedy's Policies Expressed Sympathy for President's Family and Grief for Nation's Loss

Given the comments cited above by that era’s prominent liberals regarding the level of hate in the nation, one would assume that the slain president’s opponents, who were supposedly responsible for fermenting this hate would either refuse to comment or express the hate that they were accused of stirring up.

However, that is not the case as seen by the comments that President Kennedy’s political foes gave when asked by the New York Times.

Senator Barry Goldwater, a conservative Republican who was expected to be President Kennedy’s opponent in the upcoming 1964 election - It is both shock­ing and dreadful that a thing like this could happen in a free country. The President's death is a profound loss to the nation and the free world. He and I were per­sonal friends. It is also a great loss to me. Mrs. Gold­water and I offer our heart­felt sympathies to Mrs. Ken­nedy and the President's family.

George Wallace, Democratic Governor of Alabama and an opponent of President Kennedy and the Civil Rights Movement - We may disagree with people in public office because of philosophy and attitudes, but this attack upon the Chief Executive is an attack upon the American system and I'm sure that whoever did it had the uni­versal malice for all people of this country.

Ross Barnett, Democratic Governor of Mississippi and also a political foe of President Kennedy and the Civil Rights Movement - I am profoundly shocked and deeply distressed at the cowardly act.

Robert Welch, the founder and Chairman of the John Birch Society. In the 1960s the media and political establishment viewed this anti-communist organization as almost more of a threat to the nation than Soviet nuclear missiles. In that era liberals despised and feared Welch and the John Birch Society as much as they despise the Tea Party today.

Here is t Robert Welch’s comment: On behalf of the council of John Birch Society and our members and myself. I wish to express our deep sorrow at so untimely a loss to our nation of its youngest elected President and to con­vey more particularly to you and to all members of Presi­dent Kennedy's family our sincere and heartfelt sym­pathy in your overwhelming personal loss.

Lee Harvey Oswald was a Dedicated Communist and Believer in Marxist Revolutionary Action

Lee Harvey Oswald was an avowed communist who had moved to the Soviet Union, became disillusioned and then returned. His disillusionment wasn’t with communism itself but with the Soviet Union which did not live up to his image of the ideal communist revolutionary society.

Upon his return he focused his dreams on Fidel Castro and Cuba which he believed was a true communist revolutionary society. However, the Cuban government refused to issue him a visa to visit Cuba.

Oswald had originally traveled to the Soviet Union on a tourist visa. He then stayed in the Soviet Union past the visas expiration and pressured the Soviets into letting him stay by attempting suicide. Since he never had the opportunity to formally renounce his U.S. citizenship, he was able to return to the United States when he tired of the Soviet Union.

Lee Harvey Oswald posing  with rifle he later used to assassinate President Kennedy
Lee Harvey Oswald posing with rifle he later used to assassinate President Kennedy | Source

Many Liberals Believed Theory Behind Communism was Good

The Soviet Union may have been our foe, but liberals were certain that we could improve relations and co-exist with that nation. While many were not comfortable with the way the leaders were running the Soviet Union, they still believed that the basic ideals of communism were good.

This is why liberals were so uncomfortable about the fact that the president they had put their faith in had been killed by someone from their side of the political spectrum.

However, if the assassin’s motive was not political but was instead an act by a troubled individual who was drowning in the ocean of hate that surrounded him that would make more sense for them.

Strategy of Deflecting Responsibility Away from Oswald Led to Rise of Conspiracy Theories

While the hate spin succeeded in deflecting attention away from the assassin’s political views, it opened up a Pandora’s Box of conspiracy theories. In these theories Oswald came to be viewed as:

  • merely a dupe intended to disguise the existence of the real killer;
  • some kind of a double agent masquerading as a Marxist while working for either the CIA, right wing elements in the military, radical right wing groups, or combination of these;
  • an innocent bystander who happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.

The result has been the growth of a small investigative and publishing industry devoted to solving the supposed mystery of who really killed President Kennedy.

© 2013 Chuck Nugent


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    • Au fait profile image

      C E Clark 

      7 years ago from North Texas

      You say Kennedy served 3 years -- "When the historians get around to assessing his three years in office," -- when in fact he served as president from Jan. 20, 1961 until his death on Nov. 22, 19663. Fewer than 2 years.

      A lot of conspiracists are conservatives (Glen Beck is a rock star conspiracist religiously followed by other conservatives/conspiracists).

      Aren't the sealed records supposed to be unsealed after 75 years? Could be pretty interesting when that happens.

      Some people think it was JFK's intent to give African Americans equality that got him killed. Maybe it was all those hate groups coming together that are mentioned in remarks above, with the one thing in common -- getting even and rid of JFK -- that brought it about.

      It was never reported at the time that Oswald claimed to be a patsy, but other people did make that claim. He didn't seem to be operating on all cylinders, so maybe he was a patsy . . .

      It was a terrible day when it happened, and I hope I get to hear what is now sealed in the documents when that time arrives that they are opened.

    • misslong123 profile image

      Michele Kelsey 

      7 years ago from Edmond, Oklahoma

      Great topic choice. I think many people just crave drama and mystery - something they can be passionate about whether they have the facts or not. Often they look stupid for arguing without the facts but I think that's why unsolved mysteries are so fascinating. Excellent job. Michele.

    • Chuck profile imageAUTHOR

      Chuck Nugent 

      7 years ago from Tucson, Arizona

      lone77star - thanks for visiting and for your comments.

      However, while you raise some interesting points, I don't see any solid evidence to back the theories up. Further, if there was a conspiracy, I don't see what the conspirators actually accomplished other than killing the President. There was no change in government other than the Vice President became President just as Vice Presidents in the the past had quickly replaced a President who died or, in the case of three previous presidents, was assassinated.

      The fact that President Johnson, who replaced President Kennedy, immediately pushed through President Kennedy's stalled legislative agenda showed that there was no real policy change other than the fact that Johnson's legislative skills resulted in getting President Kennedy's tax cuts and civil rights programs enacted into law. So the question remains - what, in terms of how the nation was governed, changed, other than the name of the President, as a result of the assassination?

      Thanks again for your comments.

    • lone77star profile image

      Rod Martin Jr 

      7 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

      How delightfully naive.

      When the infamous E. Howard Hunt confesses on his death bed to being a part of a government JFK assassination plot, you have to take a step back and realize that conspiracies really do exist.

      The psychopathic elite behind the JFK assassination are counting on naive people like you with heavy burdens of Normalcy Bias to block out the awful possibility that their beloved government could do anything so evil. The Germans had the same problem nearly 80 years ago, when Hitler started his campaign of evil. Normalcy bias worked well then, too.

      JFK - A Conspiracy Theory in under 5 minutes

      Meet Lee Harvey Oswald, Sheep-Dipped Patsy

      Facts and questions are sometimes called "conspiracy theories" because they make those who can't believe evil exists in high places try to distance themselves from such topics. The label does it. That's pretty thin protection.

      Such facts, and the theories they give rise to, are a good thing. Awareness is a good thing.

      9/11 is another incident that gave rise to much speculation, because there were facts that didn't fit the official narrative.

      Here are some classic 9/11 facts that blow the official story out of the water:

      * WTC7 fell at perfect free fall for the first 8 floors.

      * Free fall means Zero resistance.

      * Solid steel Never offers Zero resistance.

      If you don't feel the hairs on your head rise up after reading those, then no amount of logic or fact will help you wake up.

      Free fall means Controlled Demolition. With CIA and other government agencies as tenants in the months required to prepare the building, 9/11 was indeed an inside job -- just as was the JFK assassination. Oswald was a patsy. He told the truth, just as Osama told the truth when he said he had no part in 9/11.

    • Mary McShane profile image

      Mary McShane 

      7 years ago from Fort Lauderdale, Florida

      Jack Ruby's friends and acquaintances were said to be mob related, and since he never had any real status in the mob, some people say choosing him to kill Oswald could be construed as an initiation or say, a proving ground for him to pass a test on the road to being accepted.

      I don't know how true that is any more than any one else, nor do I know if I believe it, but I think it does sound feasible. This period of our history will have more unanswered questions and be shrouded in mystery for years to come. As soon as the last of the players die, all opportunities (if there are any left now at all) will be gone. There will always be books and other media to speculate but unless someone credible comes forward and states emphatically and verifiably what happened, we are doomed to never know.

      Even with the release of files in 2014 and the rest in 50 more years, most likely they will be so redacted that we wont be able to make heads nor tales of them. I fear no one will care much except history professors and textbook authors at that point. Thank you for allowing me to comment on your hub. :)

    • Chuck profile imageAUTHOR

      Chuck Nugent 

      7 years ago from Tucson, Arizona

      Mary McShane - Thanks for your comments. I'm glad you enjoyed this Hub.

      Jack Ruby is still a big question. From everything I recall and from what I found researching this Hub, Ruby never revealed any other motive for his shooting Oswald. It just seems strange that if he was the fellow hired to silence Oswald so as to leave no trail, that he would kill Oswald in such a public manner inside a police station with no way to escape himself. This would have made him a loose end in the conspiracy.

    • Mary McShane profile image

      Mary McShane 

      7 years ago from Fort Lauderdale, Florida

      Good hub. I also wondered why we didn't see lots of interviews with Jack Ruby before he died. Some speculate he was a hired gun to take out Oswald because they knew he would tell all he knew when he was put in the box, despite the footage we see of him up until his death. You have lots of food for thought. I'm linking my hub to yours so visitors will follow the link here.

    • Chuck profile imageAUTHOR

      Chuck Nugent 

      7 years ago from Tucson, Arizona

      cheaptrick - as I recall the gun and other evidence were all linked to Oswald. Further, no one has yet come up with solid evidence linking anyone else to the shooting.

      The one exception that I have seen that makes some sense is indirect involvement by Castro's Cuba. Prior to the assassination, Oswald traveled to Mexico City in an attempt to get a visa to travel to Cuba. The Cuban government denied the visa but there is a possibility that they dangled a promise of a visa if he were to shoot Kennedy.

      Information revealed in the documents released by the Senate Church Committee in the 1990s, show that President Kennedy and his brother Robert were linked to the CIA's Operation Mongoose whose purpose was to assassinate Castro. From the records released, the plans those managing Mongoose came up with and tried to execute were comic failures despite their lethal intent. However, with President Kennedy seemingly bent on having Castro killed, it is likely that Castro may have tried to protect himself by having Kennedy killed first.

      This is not to say that Cuban agents assisted Oswald directly in the operation. However, given Oswald's unstable personality, the promise of a visa might have been enough for him to go through with his lethal act.

      Remember the attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II was committed by another unstable individual who was previously associated with active participation in some right wing political activities in Turkey. That individual was recruited and directed by the then communist Bulgarian secret service.

      Recent evidence has revealed that the Soviet KGB used the Bulgarian secret service so as to provide themselves with plausible deniability. It is thus possible that the KGB used Cuban intelligence for a similar type of operation in the Kennedy case. After all, the Soviets did allow Oswald, who was still an American citizen, leave with his Soviet wife and child during a time when it was impossible for Soviet citizens to emigrate from the Soviet Union.

      It is also worth remembering that, despite his political liberalism, President Kennedy was a staunch anti-communist which would have given Cuba and the Soviet Union a desire to see him killed as the assassination took place during the height of the Cold War.

    • Chuck profile imageAUTHOR

      Chuck Nugent 

      7 years ago from Tucson, Arizona

      Dee aka Nonna - thanks for visiting my Hub and for your comments. I'm glad you enjoyed this Hub.

    • Chuck profile imageAUTHOR

      Chuck Nugent 

      7 years ago from Tucson, Arizona

      Rock_nj - thanks for visiting my Hub and for your comments.

      You are correct in stating that there are other reasons, besides the theory by James Piereson that I discussed in the Hub, for the numerous conspiracy theories that surround Kennedy's assassination. One of these reasons is the fact that there are still thousands of pages of documents relating to the assassination that are still classified by the government.

      Jack Ruby is another question mark. He did have some minor links to criminal characters and appears to have been an unstable personality to some extent. But using a fellow, like Ruby, to kill Oswald, supposedly to silence him and cover the tracks of the conspirators, in a police station while surrounded by armed police and TV cameras broadcasting him doing it doesn't make a lot of sense as this left Ruby in custody where he could expose the rest of those behind the conspiracy. Since he never appeared have anything to gain from this act, other than execution or life imprisonment, his story about killing Oswald to "spare Jackie Kennedy the pain of having to travel to Dallas to testify in Oswald's trial" is probably true.

      I was in high school at the time of the assassination and I remember those times. Just like today, the left and their media allies did all they could to discredit and marginalize any group or person whose views were to the right of the Nelson Rockefeller liberal wing of the Republican party. Conservative Republican Senator Barry Goldwater's name was almost always preceded or followed by the words "right wing" in the media and conservative and anti-communist groups were almost always labeled "far right".

    • cheaptrick profile image


      7 years ago from the bridge of sighs

      No way did Oswald do it.The other side of the fence has been very well documented.Brushing it off as a conspiracy theory is an insult to a great man.

    • Dee aka Nonna profile image

      Dee aka Nonna 

      7 years ago

      This was a good article. It continues to be a mystery, to some degreee, and we all love a good mystery. At the time, and even today, there are so many unanswered questions. I am a history buff so I enjoy reading all the theories, background info, opinions, and watching the documentaries. Enjoyed reading you hub. Voted up and interesting.

    • Rock_nj profile image

      John Coviello 

      7 years ago from New Jersey

      There are other reasons why conspiracy theories surrounding JFK's assassination were formulated besides the political ones you cited. For example, the single bullet theory proposed by the Warren Commission that one bullet went through two people and wound up pristine on JFK's stretcher. The fact that Oswald said he was a "patsy". The fact that Oswald himself was assassinated by a person with mob connections. The fact that JFK had a lot of enemies from the mob to the military industrial complex that feared he would pull out of Viet Nam.

      I never even heard of these "liberals pushed the JFK conspiracies for political reason" angles until this past month, yet for many years I have thought there was more to the JFK assassination than just a single lunatic gunman.


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