America has unhealthy obsession with JFK

About a month from now will mark 50 years since President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas in 1963. This is commonly referred to as the 50th anniversary of the shooting, as though it’s a pleasant occasion to be celebrated with cake and champagne.

Our country really has a morbid fascination with the assassination of President Kennedy that seems to supersede any interest in his actual life or presidency.

Classes, books, movies and TV specials are devoted to exploring the fine details of Kennedy’s Nov. 22, 1963 trip to Dallas. Through these exhaustive analyses, we all have ingrained in our minds the few seconds just after noon that day when the presidential motorcade turned through Dealey Plaza, past the infamous book depository, the president suddenly slumped over and the first lady apparently jumped from the back of the limousine. If you want to see the actual moment at which he was fatally shot, just check out the Zapruder Film – it’s on YouTube.

We can’t get enough of it! On any given day, if one walks through Dealey Plaza one will find dozens of tourists gawking at the giant white X’s painted on the road, at the angle from which Lee Harvey Oswald shot the president, and at the area on the grassy knoll where hypothetically a conspiring assassin could have also shot the president. One will also find locals peddling JFK memorabilia and conspiracy theories.

I find the conspiracy theories the most shocking of all – the ideas that President Johnson, the CIA, the Russians, the mafia or some combination of them conspired to assassinate Kennedy is simply ludicrous. Yet, according to a CBS News report ten years ago (during the 40th “anniversary”), 80 percent of Americans believe there was some kind of plot to murder the president.

Maybe the idea of a conspiracy is oddly comforting. It’s easier to accept that it takes an entire network of devoted evil-doers to kill a president rather than one crazed gunman. The Warren Commission found that Oswald acted alone; but good luck finding ten random people who believe that.

Regardless, Kennedy’s assassination is really one of the most shocking moments of the 20th century in America, on par with the attack on Pearl Harbor. Maybe that’s why we’re still so obsessed with it, even though most of us weren’t even alive in 1963.

This was certainly a moment that made America feel vulnerable. Although Kennedy was just one man, technically a public servant, he was also the embodiment of the United States at the time – young, handsome, forward-looking and thinking. To have him murdered on the street in Dallas was and truly still is inconceivable.

To top it off, the assassination took place during the early years of television. It was the first time in history that Americans could sit in their homes and watch a national tragedy unfold in real time. Our grandparents sat at home for four days and watched the first instance of 24-hour news coverage, of Walter Cronkite announcing Kennedy’s death to the world Friday, of Lee Harvey Oswald killed in a parking garage Sunday, and of three-year-old John F. Kennedy, Jr. saluting his father’s casket Monday.

These moments are canonized in American history now; everyone knows a rough outline of the story. In fact, the moment President and Mrs. Kennedy arrived at Parkland Hospital is now canonized in Mark Balma’s painting “Pieta” in St. Paul’s Cathedral in Minnesota.

As the so-called anniversary approaches, let’s all remember that it’s not a happy moment to remember but a necessary one. Let’s keep the morbid part of our curiosity to ourselves and be respectful of this history.

Welch is a junior majoring in political science.


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