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JFK Assassination Affected Nation 50 Years Later

JFK Assassination Affected Nation 50 Years Later

It was 50 years ago on Friday that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. He was fatally shot while traveling in a motorcade in Dallas, Texas, on November 22nd, 1963.

Many Americans were shocked and saddened by the fatal shooting of the President. Hood College History Professor Len Latkovski says JFK and his wife, Jackie, represented youth and vigor in the White House. "His presence, his character--the public character--was one of great hope and promise for a lot of people," says Latkovski. "And such lines, and such statements, as in his inauguration address 'ask not what your country can do for you; but what you can do for your country' that seemed to resonate with people."

He says many Americans felt their hopes were dashed by Kennedy's assassination.

The Kennedy Administration had a rough start in 1961 with the Bay of Pigs Invasion and other problems, but, Latkovski says, JFK turned things around with his actions during the Cuban Missile Crisis the next year, when the US found out that the Soviet Union placed missiles in Cuba, aimed at a number of American cities. "This was a very, very serious conflict with the Soviets. But he handled it very well with a very risky blockade of Cuba. That's an illegal act, but he was able to do it," says Latkovski. He also says Kennedy gave then Soviet leader Nikita Khruschev a way out of this crisis before it could escalate  into a nuclear war.

Like today's political leaders, JFK had his own enemies. But Latkovski says even they were shocked when Kennedy was assassinated. "That assassination was just such a shocking, wrong, troubling event," he says. "In a country of such great hope and democracy, and yet a person can be the leader of the country can be gunned down. That was a shock, a tremendous shock, even for people who were not particularly supporters of Kennedy."

After Kennedy was assassinated, police in Dallas rounded up Lee Harvey Oswald, whom they identified as a suspect in the murder. But the government never got the chance to try Oswald because he was shot and killed while being escorted from a police station. Americans saw that shooting on live TV at the time.

However, Latkovski says the case against Oswald was very weak. He says there is skepticism "that someone could fire that rifle three times that quickly and that accurately from that distance." In addition, there were problems with the commission set up to investigate Kennedy's murder. "The Warren Commission did not do a thorough enough job," says Latkovski. "It really starts with the FBI Director {J. Edgar} Hoover's insistence from the very beginning that it was Oswald. And in doing that, they missed the investigation of other possibilities, other leads."

The Warren Commission was chaired by then-Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren.

Professor Latkovski says the assassination still reverberates across the nation, even a half-century later. "At the very heart, we're a democracy. And we want things determined in a democratic way. And the most undemocratic way is someone to be killed, to be gunned down."

Hood College has archives on the Kennedy Assassination complied by Frederick County resident Harold Weisberg, who died in 2002. It consists of more than 250,000 pages of documents, including materials from the FBI, CIA and the US Department of Justice, along with newspaper and magazine articles. Weisberg is also the author of numerous books on the Assassination, including "Whitewash: The Report on the Warren Commission Report," which came out in 1965, after the Warren Commission issued its report.

Weisberg never said he knew who killed JFK, but felt the government had done an incomplete job in investigating the assassination.

"He's {Weisberg} determined to challenge the account of the government. And using the Freedom of Information Act, he can get those documents, even though some of them are heavily redacted, and compile this huge archive which is now available to anybody around the world. It's digitalized," says Latkovski, who has gone through the archive.

Many of the documents are available at www.jfk.hood.edu.

 

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