Rob Reiner and I have a lot in common regarding the assassination of John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963 -- the awful anniversary of which is today. Reiner first learns about the assassination, as he tells us in the podcast he's doing with Soledad O'Brien, in his high school physics class, when he was 16. I first found out about the assassination in my calculus class, which I was taking as a freshman in the City College of New York, when I too was 16. (In fact, we were both born in March 1947 in The Bronx. I was in the "SP"s, which New Yorkers might recall meant that you skipped 8th grade, which would explain why I was a year ahead of Reiner.) We both read and were very impressed by Mark Lane's Rush to Judgement, the 1966 book that attacked the Warren Commission's conclusion that one man, Lee Harvey Oswald, had been responsible for killing JFK. And most important, Reiner and I both felt and feel to this very day that the Warren Commission and the American government has been lying to us all these years about who killed JFK.
To be clear about the impact that assassination had on me, Reiner, and who knows how many more Americans and people around the world, that assassination was "the end of the innocence," to quote one of Don Henley's best songs, about the end of a true love affair. All of us 16 and younger and no doubt at least some years older found we instantly had a new view of the world, a sad, wise, and cynical view, the moment we heard Walter Cronkite or whoever it was deliver this terrible news. Cynical because, well, it's tough to see your optimism shattered, leaving you feeling naive to have had it in the first place. No amount of Beatles and landing on the Moon could change that, and the murder of John Lennon in 1980 only reinforced that horror in the soul.
Reiner seeks, if not to remedy that (it can never really be remedied), at least perhaps to reduce it, by getting at the truth of what really happened on November 22, 1963. In the first episode of his podcast, which O'Brien helps him deliver, Reiner explains how and why the CIA came to loathe and fear JFK. He didn't back it up to its satisfaction when it tried to wrest Cuba from Castro, and he let that attempt end in the Bay of Pigs. He started working hard to get a real peace with the Soviet Union, when he saw how close we came to destroying our civilization in the Cuban missile crisis. Reiner tells us of the note the newly widowed Jackie sent to Khrushchev. That's all in the first episode. And in the second, we learn of the various attempts, from people ranging from Geraldo Rivera and Dick Gregory, and others I hadn't heard of, like Dick Russell, to get at the truth.
In the third episode, Reiner says "narrative" is a good word for what our government told us about the assassination, because so much of the government's story was not truth but fiction. Coincidentally, I've been thinking and reading a lot about alternate history recently -- and writing some of it -- and I found myself agreeing with the authors quoted in Jack Dann's Fiction Writer's Guide to Alternate History that a lot of our so-called real history is fiction.
And Reiner details how the findings of what he aptly calls "the most important autopsy in American history" were not only kept from the American people, but deliberately bent to support what the government didn't want us to know -- that more than one shooter was firing at JFK in Dallas 60 years ago. We learn that Dr. James J. Humes, one of the two pathologists who performed the JFK autopsy, burned his first autopsy report, presumably because it contradicted the "single bullet" theory that our government was pushing. Reiner, O'Brien, and the experts they interview systematically explain why the single bullet theory is absurd -- way too much damage was done to Kennedy and John Connally, who was sitting in the front seat of Kennedy's limousine. We also hear convincing testimony that some of JFK's wounds came from the front, obviously impossible if Lee Harvey Oswald, firing from behind, was the only shooter.
I'll be listening to every remaining episode of this important podcast. Its tone and intelligence scratch an itch that will always be there. I have no idea if Who Killed JFK? will address a question I've had since that day in Dallas when the curtain came down on my unbridled optimism about the good guys always winning. Why didn't Robert F. Kennedy, who remained Attorney General until September 1964, do everything in his power to find out what happened to his brother? Perhaps he would have, as President, if he hadn't been murdered himself in 1968.
Here's an interview I did with Walter Herbst about a book he published two years ago on this subject.
And here's an alternate history story I wrote, "It's Real Life," in which John Lennon was not murdered.
About the Creator
Novels The Silk Code & The Plot To Save Socrates; LPs Twice Upon A Rhyme & Welcome Up; nonfiction The Soft Edge & Digital McLuhan, translated into 15 languages. Best-known short story: The Chronology Protection Case; Prof, Fordham Univ.