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Robert  Harper

Encountering the Ghost of JFK in Dallas

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Posted (edited)
 For the 50th in Dallas,  my wife and I traveled there for our first visit. The destination was Dealey Plaza. Riding through the city, from the airport, in a cab late at night, when we were coming up Main on the way to the Hotel Lawrence, I got goosebumps when I realized this was it. The next day we were pleased to see that the sign on the TSBD - as a Federal Heritage Building - mentions the "alleged" killer Oswald, unlike the plaque the City put up during this time at the Tippet kill spot which declared LHO a killer. We boycotted the 6th Floor "museum" since we have visited museums all over the world, and places that censor themselves are usually not worth a visit.
 
 I tried to hop up on the "pedestal" where Abraham Z stood, and couldn't do it. I suppose I could have worked at it, tried it with back facing it and hoist myself up, grab unto the top and pull, if facing it. Thing was, it wasn't easy - and Rick McTague confirmed that condition on a recent thread. I think that started my wondering about Abe and why he ended up there and why he didn't flinch when shots were fired and why the police didn't get his film instead of Time/Life - who paid a million bucks (w/inflation) for it.  Anyway, the City took the asinine point of view that people would come there in 2013 to "celebrate JFK's life" rather than try to understand his death.   We filled out government forms to "get a ticket" but didn't. They had the area screened off and we heard the videos of JFK from outside the enclosure of the chosen ones.
 
The City did place a long and graceful brass/silver plaque along the top of the grass on the "knoll" which doesn't bombard you visually or disrupt the setting of the spot. It has a line engraved which JFK had hoped to speak at the Trade Mart that day, ending with "For as it was written long ago: "except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain."  Well, I don't know about the Lord's opinion on keeping Dallas, but his or her watchman never woke up.
 
As a city with major universities and cultural centers, it is foolhardy - to say the least - to ignore the death and repercussions of JFK's murder. It is also foolhardy to try and defend the Dallas police or DA office at the time of the killing. The "museum" should be a place of seminars and discussions and provide the settings that hotels and colleges have had to do for 50 years. Its bookstore should be packed with hundreds of titles -  and not only those with an imprimatur of dubious authority.
 
The ugly fact, and I am loath to even say it, is that the planners of this killing, won. Probably said to each other,"it'll take them 50 years to figure this one out."
 
Whatever structural forms were in place, it allowed this to happen. The system in place allowed this to happen. 55 years later there are unanswered questions. This wasn't the Philippines where Aquino steps off a plane, is shot by guy who is then shot by a military guy, all in about 10 seconds. Or Egypt, where guards step aside, and a security firm hired by the CIA are in control while soldiers open fire on Sadat. The USA program  was ingrained with the concept of "plausible deniability" personified by Bush I in Dallas and running the Iran/Contra affair. They got away with it.
 
The military autopsy, the phony "investigation" and the meek media coverage. The group that "won the war" wanted to keep their "defense" going--the OSS to the CIA; an Air Force Department, a NSC, new buildings,more employees, more power. It felt it had to own publishing houses and control the flow of information to the people. It felt answerable to no one when it started experimenting on human beings without their consent. A "world view" was established and pursued. NSA grew. Debt grew.
Within 10 years of JFK's murder, Nixon - with Dealey Plaza survivor John Connally as his Secretary of the Treasury - took the USA off the gold standard, shuffling the world economic system in the process; the military, the intelligence services and the banking establishment each got what it wanted; and over a million people were killed - unnecessarily - by ignorance, corruption and greed, in southeast Asia. There is no question that the latter is one of the lessons of Dallas and thankfully scholars like Prof Newman are not letting people forget that.
 
 It was just 30 years previous to this that the American oligarchy tried to recruit Gen Butler, to take over the Executive Branch. This two time Medal of Honor winner said that war was a "racket" to protect big business. The answer to that one? Change the armed forces to a "voluntary" system. Now war could return to being a racket without parents marching in the streets for taking their sons and having them kill and be killed for reasons unknown, but presented as a need of "national security." Preemptive bombings and hotel room assassinations,  torture, and use of military tribunals and prolonged detainment - concepts rejected by JFK -- became the new normal.
 
 And this is denied in Dallas. Why? 
 
A book I just read - published in 2016  by M.D. Brosio - aptly evokes this combination of experiences one encounters in Dallas. It is called The JFK Memorial and Power in America. When we visited this City memorial to JFK, it was empty, had a lot of concrete, and was somewhat depressing to visit. Things associated with JFK  had a grace or style or poetry about it, whether it was a book or a painting or a library. We didn't get any of that sitting in there for a few minutes and left.
 
 The photo by Robin Hill - who photographed Philip Johnson's famous "Glass House" in Connecticut, originally drew me into the book. I have attached an image of the cover of the book.
 
The memorial sits across the street from the Renaissance Old Justice Building, of red stone. On that roof is displayed symbols traditionally associated with power: the turret of the Castle, the obelisk-the symbol of power and renewal and the wyvern - a two legged, eagle taloned, bat winged creature with a deadly stinger at the tip of the tale. Since 1849 such figures - called "dragonets" guard the seven gateways to London.
 
 The first half of the book informs about the 3 generations of Cabell Dallas mayors, describes the denial of  construction funding by the city, county or State. and the raising of the seed money by the children of the schools in Dallas. The Memorial opened in 1970 and no member of the Kennedy family attended.
 
The second half deals with the perspective I first associated with Professor Gibson's book Battlling Wall Stree,t which has been echoed and enlarged by Peter Dale Scott, James Douglass and David Talbot, among others. It also evokes the shadows of the imagery displayed on the building by the shifting sun. A loner or "the mob" or Castro couldn't pull that killing and that cover-up, off. Lots of favors had to be called in; lots of loyalties had to be tested, military orders predominated, national security evoked. They had done it before; they simply did it here this time. Entrenched interests do not always play nice. The influence of the Rockefeller family and its associations; the power of the financial community, and the strategy of the military and diplomatic leaders was one of confrontation,not accommodation.
 
Brosio realizes that one can appreciate a work of art after encountering it; that learning the history behind the planning of a memorial or the reflection after exposure, can enrich the aesthetic encounter. Normally, I'd say that if it doesn't grab you when you first encounter it, it likely won't do anything to you afterwards. But that hasn't always been the case. Wallace Stevens wrote in a poem that he didn't know which to prefer: the "beauty of inflection/or that of innuendo; the blackbird whistling/or just after." It took the Whitney museum's special show of Jackson Pollock to enable me to "get" him, while the MET show on Andrew Wyeth did the same. It took a class discussing Joyce's Ulysses to open that up for me and many hours of listening to Philip Glass to "get" him.  After reading this book, I can imagine re-visiting the memorial, whereas in 2013 the thought of doing so, was anathema to both of us.
 
The Memorials architect, Philip Johnson, was chosen by Jackie Kennedy and seconded by Dallas resident Stanley Marcus. Johnson had flirted with fascism when younger; he knew the appeal of mass hysteria to authority; he was groomed in the camp that believed anything - including Nazis - were preferable to a Communist. He also was deeply embedded in the Rockefeller culture - as was George McBundy and Dean Rusk and Walt Rostow and Henry Kissinger  - through his long association with the Museum of Modern Art. When Brosio writes of Johnson's own take on the Memorial--on its stillness, its suggestibility, its use of light and shadows, its particular use of those 3 symbols of power on the top of the adjoining building, we get a sense of what JFK's death might have meant in a  world of good and evil with a thirst for domination and power.
 
 We can place a vehicle on Mars, but we can't untangle the 1960's killing machines? American justice took a punch in 1963 and it hasn't gotten up off the floor since. The revulsion and apathy of people; the sense of corruption and hypocrisy; the loss of idealism and the lubrication of the system by the 1% for the 1% continues. This American awakening of sorts, occurred in Dallas and Los Angeles and Memphis over a 5 year period, and Philip Johnson wants you to encounter that and think about it. In that respect his Memorial is comparable to Maya Lin's Vietnam Memorial a stark and hidden gem that can sneak up on you as you're looking for it. My first thought upon running into it, was that it was a version of a JFK Memorial itself; it would not exist had he not been killed.

M.D. Brosio JFK3 a.jpg

Edited by Robert Harper

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Wow, what a great piece, Robert.  Anyone who invokes both Gen. " War is a Racket" Smedley Butler and Gibson's Battling Wall Street in the same JFK essay wins kudos from me.  I'm rushed for time now, more latter.  Thanks.

 

Dan

 

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Posted (edited)

The Dallas JFK memorial looks like a monument to stonewalling.  It has that Lego-dots motif to show you how it clicks into other bricks in the wall.

Edited by David Andrews

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When I first saw the JFK memorial I was stunned.  There was this 4 sided box or 4 walled trap.  I thought surely this is a joke put up by the good folks of Dallas to symbolize how JFK was trapped and killed in Dealey Plaza.  Jackie Kennedy was supposed to have something to do with the construction or picking the architect.  I read somewhere she never visited the monument.  I wonder why? 

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Robert

Wonderful essay ... expressing so many thoughts that all of us hold, plus painting a vivid picture.  It reminds me of my first visit to Dealey Plaza in the early 1990's and how I was struck by the smallness of the layout and its cold stark features.  I share your curiosity about Zapruder ... how he got on that pedestal, why he was there in the first place, and what became of his controversial film.  Something feels very wrong about Zapruder's entire story and the film's subsequent provenance.   I too was disappointed and unimpressed by the TSBD Museum.   I have never seen the Memorial and appreciate you pointing out its origin and story.  Being 13 years old at the time of JFK's death - and watching my father cry in sorrow (he took me by train from Philadelphia to JFK's inauguration and to his funeral) - I  can only imagine what a better world it would've been with him as our leader. JFK had extraordinary charisma and gave us so much hope ... more so than any President since.  America is a big and complex country, one that sorely needs the leadership and vision exemplified by John Kennedy.

Thanks for sharing,

Gene

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Robert,

 

The other day, I thanked Gene Kelly for being erudite.

 

You have made this a loftier place to come and visit for a while.

 

Thanks,

 

Steve Thomas

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Gene. I was 12 when JFK was killed.

Unlike your father crying at the news of JFK's death, my boozing, wife beating, racist JFK hating stepfather did not. Although even he was somewhat stunned by this event.

His loss was not having a main person to rage and curse at ( that *******  commie, queer, n****r lovin Kennedy! ) every night after work while watching the nightly news until he'd get so plastered he couldn't talk/yell straight or keep his red, bulging with anger eyes totally open.

But even at 12 years old I was a precocious reader of current events and I was aware of and felt myself the inspiring energy of JFK.

JFK's murder ( and Oswald's which I saw live on TV just two days later ) was very traumatizing to me at the time.

Like G. Kelly says regarding Robert's post - "Wonderful essay ... expressing so many thoughts that all of us hold..."

And echoing Steve Thomas's words..."You have made this a loftier place to come and visit for awhile."

That goes for both Robert Harper and Gene Kelley.

 

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Joe/Steve

Thanks for the compliment.  I think our experiences as sons (both good and bad) somehow may have prompted our later day interest in JFK and his murder.  My dad was no saint either, but he surely loved JFK.  I'll also share that, in 1960, I was ten years old and a 5th grade 'safety' (if you recall that role) at a Catholic school in Philadelphia.  JFK was campaigning in October 1960, just before the election.  His motorcade came down Route 30 (Lancaster Avenue), right past my grade school in West Philly, on the way to a speech at Temple University.  All of the Catholic nuns were out and cheering wildly (something that JFK sometimes tried to avoid given the religious biases of that time) ... he was the unprecedented first Catholic President and a source of extraordinary pride and excitement for our community.  I was out in the street - ensuring students didn't cross or get hurt - when the motorcade drove by ... close enough to touch him.  How exciting, and I can still feel the energy of the crowd today.  I have never seen more enthusiasm for a presidential candidate since.  What a great loss for all of us.

Gene

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On 7/29/2018 at 10:28 PM, Dan Doyle said:

Thanks.

 

On 7/30/2018 at 5:54 AM, Joe Bauer said:

Bravo

 

On 7/31/2018 at 4:29 PM, Steve Thomas said:

Thanks,

 

On 7/31/2018 at 2:04 PM, Gene Kelly said:

Thanks for sharing,

I think of the compliments from this Forum, as Portia did of mercy or as Jesus did of charity - that they are "doubly blest" since  they "blesseth him that gives and him that takes."
 
 It is precisely because I read this Forum for so long, that I joined to comment on it. It is now 6 months since I posted my first thoughts and I continue to learn and appreciate the work, thoughts and memories of those who contribute here.We share a sense of  what really would make America great again, and it involves concepts like those expressed in  the words  repentance and atonement. The recent posts by Messrs. Bauer and Kelly about experiences with their father figures was evocative and emotive. That JFK is at the center of each is also very telling.
 
 During these past 6 months, I have parceled out some personal information when it seemed appropriate. My recent - perhaps most definitive personal information, was on Ron Bulman's thread on RFK Jr's book. This information built the structure of the Commencement Address I gave at my alma mater in 2007-- as it did my life. I think it is as appropriate here:
 
  As one of nine children myself - whose ancestors also came from Wexford County and who also lived in Massachusetts and New York and Washington DC growing up, I might add that he evokes a sense of the authentic.

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Posted (edited)

Robert, wouldn't it be an interesting story to tell about the day JFK died to share the experiences of many children and what they came home to and experienced with their families reactions, especially their parents, on that day through evening and perhaps the following weekend? 

If Gene's sharing and mine were as you say evocative and emotive,  I can imagine what a truly interesting take on 11/22/1963 it would be to compile a much broader assemblage of many other similar true life experiences through the innocent and unbiased eyes of other children across America regards what they experienced with their families upon returning home from school that day. 

It would be fascinating to me to hear more of what children of different income classes, geographical areas, religious backgrounds, genders, ethnicities and colors remember experiencing and feeling and hearing from their families on this day and following weekend like Gene and I shared.

The high emotion drama of this experience ( how the parents reacted especially ) was so real and powerful as Gene and I can attest. I think we can all agree that it profoundly effected many of the children who experienced it the rest of their lives like it has us.

This particular child/parent JFK day reaction experience as seen through the eyes of children and their untainted and unadulterated innocence reveals a deeper, more touching and more emotionally honest perspective of how the JFK assassination truly effected us all.

The reactions to JFK's death by the parents of children as told by these children and what these children felt themselves about what they saw and heard from their parents and their own feelings at the time would make an interesting essay, book, documentary ...maybe even a play?

But perhaps the JFK event is too far in the past for most people to have much interest now-a-days.

 

 

Edited by Joe Bauer

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Something that I've always pondered ... the contemporaneous ascent of the Beatles, right at the time of the JFK assassination.  I was 13 years old when the British Invasion hit the USA ... what a phenomenon. Obviously there was musical genius to the Beatles and they were well on their way before JFK's murder.   But I would argue that America was in need of a happier story and a serious pick-me-up.  Writers point out that A Christmas Gift for You From Phil Spector and With the Beatles both came out on the same day as the assassination of President Kennedy ... one of the "twisted ironies in the history of popular culture".  Lester Bangs, in a famous essay on the British Invasion from The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock and Roll, wrote that “it was no accident that the Beatles had their overwhelmingly successful Ed Sullivan Show debut shortly after JFK was shot”.  Critic Ian MacDonald, argued that:

“When Capitol finally capitulated to Epstein’s pressure and issued "I want to hold your hand' in December of 1963, the record’s joyous energy and invention lifted America out of its gloom, following which, high on gratitude, the country cast itself at the Beatles’ feet.”

No event has endured more than the Beatles’ arrival in the United States in February of 1964, where they performed before 70-some million Americans on the Ed Sullivan show, soothed an injured nation in the wake of the assassination, and saved rock and roll in the process  (Ref: "The Questionable Connections Between Camelot’s Demise and Liverpool’s Ascent" by Jack Hamilton 11/18/2013 Slate). 

In an NPR article “Remembering JFK and The Beatles' perfect timing” by Mike Flanagan written by Mike Flanagan in 2013, he stated that by November of 1963, the Fab Four had basically conquered England.  Ringo had joined in August of '62, “Love Me Do” was recorded that September, “Please Please Me” was released in January ’63, “From Me to You” in April, and “She Loves You” followed in September. The second album With the Beatles was released on November 22nd and “I Want to Hold Your Hand” comes out one week later. He goes on to write:

But one week after the assassination, America was in a deep, grieving funk. America was in dire need of some serious joy.  The Beatles did come along at a perfect time, but what they brought would have happened with or without the American tragedy.  The atmosphere was ripe for fun, no question.  But more than JFK’s murder, the stagnant music business in general was in need of an overhaul.

 

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