A trifle over 62 years separated the assassination of William McKinley and that of John F. Kennedy. The American people had grown perhaps complacent in the thought that Presidential assassinations were a thing of the past, although Giuseppe Zangara could easily have assassinated President-Elect Roosevelt instead of Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak in 1933, and Puerto Rican terrorists came perilously close to assassinating Harry Truman in 1950. Nevertheless, the assassination of John F. Kennedy hit America hard.
Back in 1963 I was in second grade, but I was not in school. Sick with pneumonia, my mother had taken me to the doctor and he had prescribed penicillin. After getting my prescription filled my mother took me home. She turned on our television set and I planted myself on the couch to watch it. As we watched television we saw the initial news flashes that President Kennedy had been shot. This was on a Friday, and the remainder of that day and the weekend, my mother, father and I and my brother practically lived in front of the television set, riveted by the around the clock coverage, something unprecedented in this country before that dreadful day.
Conspiracy theories have flourished almost before Kennedy’s corpse was cold, a great many people unwilling to accept that a frustrated loser like Lee Harvey Oswald could have been the assassin of Kennedy.
Born in 1939, Oswald had a troubled childhood. A psychiatric assessment he received as a juvenile could be a summation of his life: Oswald the assessment concluded had a “vivid fantasy life, turning around the topics of omnipotence and power, through which [Oswald] tries to compensate for his present shortcomings and frustrations.” As a teenager he began to read about socialism and quickly became a convert to that doctrine.
Joining the Marine Corps at 17, he qualified as a marksman. His fellow Marines referred to him as Ozzie Rabbit and Oswaldskovich because of his Communist leanings. He was courtmartialed after accidentally shooting himself in the elbow. He left the Marines on a hardship discharge in 1959, claiming that his mother needed his support. Traveling to the Soviet Union he lived there until June 1, 1962 when he left for the United States with his Soviet wife and their daughter.
He and his family settled in Dallas where his mother and brother lived. In March 1963 he purchased a 6.5 mm caliber Carcano rifle. On April 10, 963 he attempted to assassinate retired U.S. Major General Edwin Walker at Walker’s home. Walker was a figure on the far right in Dallas. The attack failed and Oswald escaped without being discovered. Traveling to New Orleans in May 1963 he found work and attempted to set up a Fair Play for Cuba, a pro-Castro organization, chapter in New Orleans.
In September 1963 Oswald traveled to Mexico City and spent five fruitless days at the Soviet and Cuban embassies, fruitlessly attempting to get permission to travel to Cuba and the Soviet Union. The Cubans regarded Oswald as a nut and rejected his application to travel to Cuba.
On October 3, 1963 he was back in Dallas and on October 16 was hired by the Book Depository.
On November 22, 1963 at 12:30 PM, Oswald fired three shots from the sixth floor of the Book Depository, killing Kennedy who was passing by in an open motorcade and severely wounding Governor John Connally. During his attempt to elude capture, Oswald shot to death Patrolman J. D. Tippit with a revolver. Oswald was captured at the Texas Theater shortly before 2:00PM. During two days of interrogation, Oswald denied that he killed either Kennedy or Tippit.
On November 24, 1963 at 11:21 AM, as he was in transit from the Dallas Police headquarters to the county jail, Oswald was shot to death by nightclub owner Jack Ruby.
With that, the conspiracy theories were off and running, with some 42 separate groups being blamed for the Kennedy assassination. I have seen nothing to convince me that Oswald was not the assassin and that he acted completely alone.
What was the impact of the Kennedy assassination on American history? Probably minimal. The economy was in good shape so Kennedy was doubtless going to be re-elected in 1964, especially with newsmen not covering his constant womanizing and his addiction to painkillers from a back injury he sustained during World War II. Contrary to the imaginings of some liberal commentators, Kennedy was a cold warrior to his core, and the idea that he would have avoided the Vietnam War is fanciful.
Assuming that Kennedy had slaughtered Goldwater, a fairly safe assumption, he would probably have embarked on something like the Great Society in 1965, many components of which were actually stalled New Frontier initiatives, made possible in 1965 by the sweeping Democrat gains in Congress from the 1964 elections.
It is interesting to contemplate how Kennedy would have confronted liberal criticism of the Vietnam War. It is possible that he would have fought resolutely against it, and based upon his views up to his death that is a logical conclusion. However, I suspect that he would have been just as much a political chameleon as his brothers Bobby and Teddy, and he would quickly have moved left as the Democrat party moved left.
However this is all speculation. Due to the inner demons that drove Lee Harvey Oswald, the tale of John F. Kennedy ended abruptly at age 46, all his possible tomorrows being rendered matters of fiction only, and outside the realm of history.