Monday, November 25, 2013

The Kennedy assassination: Oswald's motives

The 50th anniversary of John Kennedy's assassination focused a lot on the assassination itself. But it was also the end of his Presidency, and therefore became the occasion for airing, printing and digital reporting on Kennedy's Presidency itself.

There are certainly no shortage of theories about the assassination itself.

Edward Jay Epstein is one of the best-known Kennedy assassination researchers. He's convinced that Oswald was the one who killed Kennedy. But like pretty much everyone who's looked closely at the Warren Commission's work, he finds it seriously deficient.

In Who Was Lee Harvey Oswald? Huffington Post 11/22/2013, he looks at the leftwing politics that Oswald espoused and at his connection to Communist countries:

In light of this overwhelming evidence, the issue that ought to have concerned Americans was not Oswald's technical guilt but his dangerous liaisons abroad. Only eight weeks before the assassination he had excited FBI and CIA interest in his activities by renewing his contacts with Cuban and Soviet intelligence officers in Mexico City. Although these foreign connections remained of great concern to the two U.S. intelligence agencies, they were considered too sensitive to be aired, publicly in the emotional aftermath of the president's slaying.
These issues have always played a prominent part in research and arguments over the Kennedy assassination. In terms of ideological usefulness, a connection of the Soviet Union or Cuba to the assassination would obviously be helpful to the rightwing who opposed any kind of relaxation of tensions or stabilization of relations between the US and the Communist countries. An explanation of rightwing oil millionaires or the CIA being behind it would broadly be more favorable for liberal-to-left priorities.

There is evidence to support arguments on both sides. Epstein in that piece gives only arguments for the first side. And that is a real possibility, though the evidence is far from conclusive. One suggestive piece of information is Oswald's apparent attempt to assassinate Maj. Gen. Edwin Walker, a notorious rightwing fanatic in uniform in the early 1960s. (Colin Schultz, Before JFK, Lee Harvey Oswald Tried to Kill an Army Major General 10/04/2013)

But the evidence also suggests that Oswald may have worked as a counterintelligence operative for the CIA. John Newman discusses those indications in Oswald and The CIA (1995).

If these seem like two broadly divergent sets of possibilities, they convergence in the complex and often hapless US government plans to overthrown the Castro regime in Cuba, including assassination plots against Castro and other Cuban leaders. Those plans involved two Administrations, Eisenhower's and Kennedy's, and an unusual set of characters, including Cuban exiles, Castro sympathizers, the CIA and American mobsters. The CIA's desire to keep secret any indications that it had been involved in assassination plots against Castro was in itself a motive for them to withhold information from the Warren Commission, a desire which the Warren Commission was more than willing to accomodate.

One good point Epstein makes is that over the years, the focus on forensic questions around the assassination itself, over whether there whether there was more than one shooter and so on, have diverted focus from the most perpetrator who was clearly involved, Oswald himself:

The endless tangle of questions about bullets, trajectories, wounds, time sequences and inconsistent testimony that has surrounded the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and has obsessively fascinated, if not entirely blinded, a generation of assassination buffs probably never will be resolved.

Within this morass of facts, however, there is a central actor, Lee Harvey Oswald. His rifle, which fired the fatal bullet into the president, was found in the sniper's nest. His cartridge cases were also found near the body of a murdered policeman on the route of his flight. He was captured resisting arrest with the loaded murder revolver in his hand.
Nova recently did a special on the forensic questions around the shooting itself, Cold Case JFK 11/13/2013:

This film includes an account of forensic tests to examine the question of the so-called "magic bullet," one of the major questions that Robert Richter left open in his Nova special, Who Shot President Kennedy? (1989) narrated by Walter Cronkite.

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