Shortly after JFK’s death, in lamenting the demise of Camelot, columnist Mary McGrory said to Daniel Patrick Moynihan: “We’ll never laugh again.”
Moynihan, who was an Assistant Secretary of Labor then, said, “Heavens, Mary, we’ll laugh again. It’s just that we’ll never be young again.”
On Nov. 24, 1963 a live national television audience witnessed the murder of the assassination’s prime suspect, Lee Harvey Oswald. There was no doubt that Jack Ruby, a Dallas nightclub operator, was the triggerman. What made him do it is still being questioned.
However, please don’t get me wrong. I’m not here to say there had to have been a complicated conspiracy to kill the president and cover up the tracks. After he was dead, just because some people deliberately obscured related information, we don't necessarily know why. In some cases it was probably people trying to cover selected asses for a myriad of reasons.
On the other hand, I’m not saying there was no conspiracy that led up to the murder of President Kennedy. For this 50th anniversary remembrance, I’m skipping past the argument over whether Oswald acted alone. The point to this screed is that the secrecy that surrounded this dark episode poisoned the American culture in a way we need to recognize and think about today.
Tomorrow we need to do something about it.
The President's Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy, known as the Warren Commission, published its report on Sept. 24, 1964: Oswald was found to have been a lone wolf assassin. Which immediately unleashed the questioning of the Commission’s findings. Was its famous “single bullet theory,” which had one projectile traveling circuitously through two victims, great sleuthing?
Or was it an unbelievable reach?
In 1965 gunmen murdered Malcolm X in an auditorium in Manhattan. Three years later Martin Luther King was killed on a motel balcony in Memphis by a sniper. Two months after that assassination Robert F. Kennedy was gunned down in a Los Angeles hotel.
Unfortunately, the official stories on those three shootings were widely disbelieved, too. In the ‘60s more public scrutiny of how those assassination probes were conducted might have led to different conclusions. Even if more sunlight into those probes failed to produce different outcomes, at least Americans might have felt better about the good faith of the processes.
Instead, it seemed then the authorities generally believed the citizenry didn't really have a right to see the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Too often they decided the public was better off not knowing some things, as if we were/are all children. Of course, such secrecy can hide everyday malfeasance, as well.
That sort of thinking is what you can get during wars with spies lucking about. And, in the ‘60s the United States wasn’t just in the scariest part of the Cold War, the culture was very much still in the post-WWII era. Therefore the public had come to expect its government to withhold all sorts of secrets.
It took the rudest of revelations to snap us out of blithely tolerating an over-abundance of secrecy:
- The My Lai Massacre horrors.
- The publishing of the Pentagon Papers.
- The Watergate Scandal hearings.
- The Iran-Contra Scandal hearings.
- The bogus justification for invading Iraq.
Now we know we were wrong to have accepted the lies and cover-ups. Now, in order to trust official conclusions, we must see into the investigations. That means more public hearings. Now for democracy to have a chance of working properly, we need to know whose money is behind this or that politician. We, the people, can’t allow the fundraising and sausage-making to continue to be done in the dark.
Moreover, in 2013, we, the people, have no privacy. Our governments and plenty of large corporations already know all they want to know about us. They monitor our moves as a matter of course. To level the playing field we need more scrutiny of their moves.
In 1997 Sen. Moynihan’s book, “Secrecy: The American Experience,” was published. In the opening chapter he wrote:
In the United States, secrecy is an institution of the administrative state that developed during the great conflicts of the twentieth century. It is distinctive primarily in that it is all but unexamined. There is a formidable literature on regulation of the public mode, virtually none on secrecy. Rather, there is a considerable literature, but it is mostly secret. Indeed, the modes of secrecy remain for the most part--well, secret. On inquiry there are regularities: patterns that fit well enough with what we have learned about other forms of regulation. But there has been so little inquiry that the actors involved seem hardly to know the set roles they play. Most important, they seem never to know the damage they can do. This is something more than inconveniencing to the citizen. At times, in the name of national security, secrecy has put that very security in harm's way.In the C-SPAN video here Sen. Moynihan and a panel discuss the book in 1998.
Sunlight is THE political issue for 2014. Fifty years after the murder that we baby boomers can still feel in our guts, it’s time to begin sweeping this country’s lumpy accumulation of secret dirt out from under the officially-tacked-down carpets. It's time to say NO to more cover-ups. It’s time to change our ways.
Single bullet theory?
Great name for a band.