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ISSUE 117 VOL 10 PUBLISHED 12/5/2003

Stoking the eternal flame

By Byron Vierk
Staff Writer

Friday, December 5, 2003

Forty years ago, on Nov. 22nd, one of the most culturally and politically significant events of the last half-century was played out in gruesome detail. President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the youngest, most popular, and arguably the most progressive man elected to that prestigious office, was struck down by an assassin in Dallas, Texas. His premature death had a broad and deeply resonating effect on the entire world; after forty years, the consequences of Kennedy’s assassination still seem to affect modern society.

The Kennedy assassination could not have come at a more pivotal time in the course of our nation’s history. In 1963, the civil rights movement began in earnest in the Deep South, the Cold War was at its nail-biting apex and America had just begun to send ground forces to Vietnam. It’s not illogical to assume that the world would be a very different place today had Kennedy lived.

The charisma and popularity of Kennedy was beginning to reshape the nation. Kennedy was a supporter of civil rights and was wary of a full engagement in Vietnam; in the eyes of most critics, he handled the tense Cuban Missile Crisis with extreme grace. After his assassination, the entire course of the century changed, and with it, the course of American politics.

While Kennedy enjoyed strong support, he also had his political enemies. Kennedy was the youngest president elected in United States history, but his youthful good looks were not enough to make him a universally adored leader. Many saw his leap from Senator to President as a consequence more of his bourgeois upbringing than his political ability. Kennedy was also a Catholic, another first for the highest American political office. These personal issues along with Kennedy’s progressive and liberal stance on the Cold War and civil rights attracted powerful enemies.

Many conspiracy theories surround the Kennedy assassination, and almost all of them have some evidence to backing them up. Nevertheless, one cannot ignore that a preponderance of evidence agrees with the court decision made almost forty years ago – Kennedy was killed by a single gunman named Lee Harvey Oswald.

Perhaps when the full government file on the Kennedy assassination is declassified in 2013, the picture will become clearer. Until then, the debate over a second gunman on the grassy knoll and the famous “magic bullet” will continue.

If nothing else, the Kennedy assassination was the first event in American history that truly bred suspicion and mistrust of the U.S. government. Since that time, many Americans have turned a more critical, scrutinizing eye toward governmental authorities and their practices. Some prominent examples of said trend include Watergate and the infamous Clinton scandals.

Why was evidence in the Kennedy case, including the windshield of the car carrying Kennedy and his wife, modified or destroyed? Why was Lee Harvey Oswald silenced so quickly by Jack Ruby? Why was Oswald allowed to defect to Russia while stationed in Asia as a U.S. Marine? Why was Oswald allowed to re-enter the country without facing prosecution? These and other questions tug at the imagination and plant seeds of doubt in many minds.

Everything from music to movies to political movements has felt at least someeffect from Kennedy’s death. Because it raises a considerable amount of political, social and moral questions, Kennedy’s assassination retains a cultural significance that cannot be overstated, both for Americans and the world.

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