John F Kennedy's assassination 50 years on

John F Kennedy's assassination 50 years on

HE remains the most famous member of the Irish Diaspora, a world figure who was respected, loved and admired. He was also feared, particularly by the Soviet Union and disparate factions in the US.

Although John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s reputation has been tarnished over the decades as revelations about his extra-marital affairs and drugs excesses have emerged, he remains a charismatic figure and the subject of much what-iffery: what if he had not been assassinated?

Would America, and the world, be substantially different, and better, places? There are as many answers to that as there are to the question of who killed him and why.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy was the first Catholic to hold the office of President of the USA, although not the first with Irish roots.

The death of Kennedy 50 years ago today on November 22, 1963 was transmitted round the world faster than any previous single news item – and almost overnight the conspiracy theories began: that it was a coup d’état orchestrated by the CIA and the military, that it was the Mafia, or the Ku Klux Klan – even Ulster loyalists at one time came under suspicion.

Everyone, it seems, had good reason to kill the young president: the communists in Russia, China, Cuba; the Israelis because of Kennedy’s dismissal of that country’s nuclear weapons programme, and the Federal Reserve because of his idea for a new US dollar backed by silver.

Whatever the truth, the fact that the assassination of Kennedy became a defining moment in the 20th century is itself staggering.

Because the president’s forebears were from poor Irish emigrant stock who had somehow clawed their way up from abject poverty in Wexford to become one of the most famous families in the world.

As President Kennedy himself put it to the assembled Dáil Éireann 50 years ago in June 1963: “If Ireland had achieved its present political and economic stature a century or so ago, my great grandfather might never have left New Ross, and I might, if fortunate, be sitting down there with you.”

Six months later JFK was fatally shot by a sniper while travelling with his wife Jacqueline, Texas Governor John Connally, and Connally's wife Nellie, in a presidential motorcade in Dallas.

In 1964 the Warren Commission (established by President Lyndon B. Johnson) concluded that Kennedy was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald, acting alone. Oswald in turn was killed by Jack Ruby before he could stand trial. Ruby also acted alone.

In contrast to the conclusions of the Warren Commission, the United States House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) concluded in 1978 that Kennedy was probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy.

The committee stated that there were at least four shots fired, only three of which appeared to be fired by Oswald, and that there was "...a high probability that two gunmen fired at the President”.

However, new research into the assassination dispels any claim that a second gunman was at the scene of the crime. That being so, it seems markedly less likely that the assassination of Kennedy was part of a wider plot.

But one serious anomaly remains — on the one hand no serious evidence has ever emerged to support the conspiracy theory; conversely, it seems unfeasible that such a marginalised and hapless individual as Oswald, with a history of mental instability, was able to kill the most powerful person in the world with relative ease.

Further, it was presumed up to that point that the US president was the best-protected figure on the planet.

The chances are, at this long distance away from the event, the exact circumstances of President Kennedy’s death will never be known.

In a postscript, C S Lewis, the Belfast man who wrote The Chronicles of Narnia, died on the same day as Kennedy was assassinated, November 22, 1963. Needless to say, that’s another connection that has made its way into the chronicles of conspiracy theorists.