Mark Bauerlein: Who (or What) Killed JFK?

Roundup: Talking About History

[Mark Bauerlein is professor of English at Emory University. His books include Literary Criticism: An Autopsy (1997) and Negrophobia: A Race Riot in Atlanta, 1906 (2001).]

My father heard the news from a guy in the next office. He was a graduate student in math at Berkeley, and his neighbor stepped inside the door and said, "Well, that's it -- that's the second one they've killled for pushing civil rights."

The assassination had just happened, information was sketchy, but for this fellow the narrative was already complete...

... "Who, exactly, were 'they'? And what did 'they' do?"

Those questions are posed by James Piereson in a great study of the assassination and its aftermath entitled Camelot and the Cultural Revolution: How the Assassination of John F. Kennedy Shattered American Liberalism. He answers by citing James Reston, distinguished columnist in The New York Times, who wrote on the assassination the next day. His piece ran under the header, "Why America Weeps: Kennedy Victim of Violent Streak He Sought to Curb in Nation." Reston explained that the killing signified something deeper than a lone gunman pulling the trigger...

... When the news came out that the right had nothing to do with the killing, that instead Kennedy was murdered by a communist who wanted the Civil Rights Movement to proceed, Mrs. Kennedy stated, "He didn't even have the satisfaction of being killed for civil rights. It had to be some silly little communist. It robs his death of any meaning." (Quoted by Piereson on p. 59.)

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