We can't forget John F. Kennedy's assassination

If we do, our vision of what our democratic system is all about, already waning, will dim dangerously

Published November 22, 2018 7:00PM (EST)

John F Kennedy (Getty/Central Press)
John F Kennedy (Getty/Central Press)

Excerpted with permission from "The Last Investigation" by Gaeton Fonzi. Copyright (Reprint edition) 2013 by Skyhorse Publishing, Inc.

Gaeton Fonzi was an investigative journalist and author who focused on the assassination of John F. Kennedy. He worked as a reporter and editor for Philadelphia magazine from 1959 to 1972 and contributed to a range of other publications, including the New York Times and Penthouse. He was hired as a researcher in 1975 by the Church Committee and by the House of Representatives Select Committee on Assassinations in 1977. He published his findings as a Congressional researcher in The Last Investigation. Fonzi died in 2012.

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Despite the clamor of the last few years, all the books, the films and the articles, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy is being allowed to go quietly into history. We must not let that happen, not yet, not ever. I fear that if it does become mere history, our vision of what our democratic system is all about, already waning, will dim dangerously. And the system’s most elemental imperative will be forgotten: Our government governs by the consent of /all/ the people, not by a small group wit the power and resources to impose its own will. The wolves of oligarchy are waiting for that darkness.

I spent three years working for the government as an investigator of the Kennedy assassination, and many more before that as a member of the community of private researchers following the case. I have seen it from the inside and from the outside and I am deeply concerned. I know how your Government failed in its investigations, what your Government didn’t tell you and why, and what your Government was really doing when it told you it was investigating the assassination. I’ve seen how history has ben shaped for you without your knowing it. I believe, also, that unless we do something about it, history will continue to be shaped by powers responsible only to the priorities of maintaining power. And that is relevant to the way we live, both today and tomorrow.

I’m not the only one who is concerned. I still hear the strong, sweet, soft-edged drawl of marry Ferrell’s voice. I still see that remarkable white-haired woman stand before a microphone and raise herself to heights that belie her aging body. For three decades, Mary Ferrell has been a guiding star for those who have devoted a part of their lives to pursuing the truth about the Kennedy assassination. Mostly ordinary citizens like herself, they have flocked to her modest Dallas abode, a bright yellow house warmed with green plants and gentle rocking chairs on its front porch, and inspired by her enduring patience and guidance, they have struggled to extract those rare gems of truth buried in the mountains of government documents, investigative reports and private research papers she has accumulated. Mary Ferrell has never attempted to commercialize her efforts, nor has she shown a narrow-minded devotion to any particular conspiracy-theory. Her voice has authority; it commands respect.

I can hear Mary Ferrell delivering the opening remarks to a symposium of Kennedy assassination researchers in Dallas in October of 1992. This is what she said:

As the thirtieth anniversary of the assassination of President John F Kennedy descends on us, I am much concerned that we are on the threshold of a filler from which there will be no forgiveness.

We must win this struggle for truth… and do so very quickly, lest the assassination of President Kennedy flounder on some remote shoulder of highway, in a century whose history is on the way to the printer. In the next century this case could be relegated to obscure questions of high school history examinations…

Time is our most relentless and uncompromising enemy. But what happens during this conference can make a difference. Of course we will be scoffed at and demeaned by the media and the wagging fingers of Warren Commission survivors, scolding us for refusing to believe the conclusions of these honorable men…

But history teaches us that significant changes are often accomplished by small numbers of people, facing large odds. Many of them have succeeded in defiance of the government.

Thomas Paine, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Washington and their followers represented a tiny fraction of this country’s population. As it was with that tiny fraction, I have every confidence that you are representative of millions who share your view…that is what keeps us united in our cause. it is a view, according to the polls, which is held by the overwhelming majority of our fellow citizens—that a conspiracy and government-sponsored cover-up blotted out the rights of our citizens and the sanctity of the rule of law.

And that is what will forever be paramount among all of the issues which continually dog our deliberations. Issue about autopsy photos, magic bullets, pictures of Oswald which are obviously not Oswald, numbers and styles of coffins, and all the other issues, cannot eclipse the ultimate violation of the rights of citizens in a democracy designed for the people...

If we are truly living in the land of the free and the home of the brave, we’d better damn well prove it now…

Mary Ferrell’s remarks reminded me of reactions I had often gotten from people I met while working as an investigator on the case: “We won’t ever know what really happened, will we?” Or: “That’s a waste of money, isn’t it?” Or: “What difference does it make now anyway?”

It does make a difference. A President of the United States was assassinated three decades ago and our Government still tells us it doesn’t know what really happened. There is no doubt now that the murder was a conspiracy, it says, but it isn’t sure of anything beyond that. And yet, most of us—the polls say and the media reflect this—are not angry that our Government never told us what really happened. We don’t like it, but we are no longer very upset about it. Lord knows there’s enough to worry about today.

But we should be angry. The assignation of President Kennedy was a blatant affront to each and every one of us who believes that we, as individuals, should have some control over who governs us and how we are governed. That’s the bedrock of our democracy. We would have been very angry if someone with a gun had stopped us from going into the voting booth, impeding our freedom of choice. We would have seen that quite clearly as a direct attack against the democratic system—not only a flagrant violation of our rights but an outrageous personal affront.

The analogy is obvious: The conspiracy to kill the President of the United States was a conspiracy against the democratic system—and thus a conspiracy against each and every one of us. Our choice was denied. That’s why it very much still matters.

Understand this, also: The action that brought about the death of President Kennedy is directly related to where we have gone as a nation since then. It is particularly important to what is happening today. That single event prefaced the disintegration of our solid faith in government, fathering the now pervasive and enervating assumption that we no longer have control over our economic of political destiny. Its residue lies in the ashes of the Sixties—it burned out countries and burned out cities and burned out people—and in the debilitating social disparities and continuing civil conflicts of the last thirty years. The assassination and its aftermath bred rampant distrust and disrespect for all established institutions, and that outlook festers yet.

And now, we hardly give a damn when our own Government violates or ignores its own laws, as it has done with distressing regularity over the last two decades. An enormous public apathy greeted the Iran/Contra scandals; we were hardly stirred by the fact that hidden layers of government had pursued a secret foreign policy agenda, circumventing the law of the land, the Congress and the Constitution itself.

And still, it seems incredible that we’re not angry. The fact is, we know an effective democracy demands a populace ready, willing and able to get riled enough to pressure its elected officials into doing their duty in spite of themselves. Where is that anger now?

The Government has failed us. It is outrageous that in a democratic society, after two official investigations, our Government still tells us it doesn’t know what happened.

I hope this makes you angry about that. Very angry. If it doesn’t, we might as well let slip the grip on our individual freedom. It will be gone soon enough.

By Gaeton Fonzi

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