One year, five months and three days from today we’ll observe the fiftieth anniversary of Jack Kennedy’s death. He died in a Lincoln Continental on Elm Street in Dallas. The time was 12:30 pm on November 22, 1963. An assassin blew his brains out.
Let’s be accurate: clinically speaking, JFK died in Parkland hospital about half an hour after he was shot. For practical purposes, he died in the car. The body takes a little while to shut down. He arrived at the hospital in time for the doctors at Parkland to pronounce him dead after he arrived.
It’ll be interesting to see what books about the assassination come out during the next year and a half. We have already seen a lot of good research published during the last ten years. We all hope the quality of upcoming books is equally good.
A recent book I’ve been reading on my Kindle is titled The Girl on the Stairs: My Search for A Missing Witness To The Assassination of John F. Kennedy, by Barry Ernest. This book deserves a review of its own, but I want to mention it here to introduce something else I’ve been thinking about.
If you pick up The Girl on the Stairs, you’ll see quickly how much time Ernest spends evaluating the Warren report, both in his research and in his writing. He cares about his subject, and his treatment of the Warren report is as careful as any I’ve seen. He wants to understand why the Warren Commission wrote it the way it did, rather than some other way. The missing witness, Victoria Adams, is central to Ernest’s story, but the Commission’s report dominates his analysis even more.
If you pick up a couple of other books published during the last several years, Brothers by David Talbot and JFK and the Unspeakable by James Douglass, you’ll find references to the Warren report much more sparse. These authors take up the assassination in a different way. They are not as concerned with forensic evidence as is Barry Ernest.
The forensic evidence, so poorly analyzed by the Warren Commission, is an important part of the assassination story, but it isn’t the only part. It’s also not the most important. The most important evidence and the most important analysis, in any criminal case, is to tell a story that establishes motives for the murder. Douglass in particular takes care to do that. Forensic evidence can tell you what happened. It cannot tell you why it happened.
So what have I been thinking about? I’ve been thinking about motives for the 9/11 attacks. As we evaluate the evidence related to that crime, we want to analyze it so as to tell a story about why it happened. We want to know why all the people involved with the crime carried it out. Based on evidentiary analysis we have to date, we don’t know that.
I hope we can take a longer look at this problem in future posts.