999 Words

Truth & Consequences: notes on the assassination of John F. Kennedy

Frame number 313 of the grainy eight-millimetre strip of motion picture celluloid that we now commonly refer to as the Zapruder film is particularly shocking viewing.

It reveals the precise moment of direct impact from a sniper’s bullet that apparently caused then President of the United States John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s head to explode.

Against the unassuming cool green backdrop of an adjacent lawn, and competing for attention with the First Lady’s hot pink pillbox hat, an aerosol spray of blood-red organic matter bursts unmistakably from Kennedy’s right frontal lobe, splashing several feet into the air and onto his Lincoln’s rear seat and trunk. The blast jolts Kennedy’s body back and to the left, slumping lifelessly into his horrified wife’s lap.

In the subsequent frames, Jacqueline Kennedy recoils, screaming in shock, climbing unconsciously over the back of the Continental limousine to collect pieces of her husband’s brain. The cursed movie is further possessed by a haunted aura, the low-resolution film stock imbuing its images with additional dispassionate ghostliness.

Scarcely had a more grisly scene been captured on camera — and of such an important historical event.

The sprawling consequences of John F. Kennedy’s assassination are still felt in today’s politics and culture. And though doubts abound around who actually committed the murder, and why, there is virtually no doubt that crazed, lone gunman Lee Harvey Oswald was not the sole culprit.

Intuition, inquisitiveness, and logic dictate that there is more to this story.

No shortage of speculation circulates theorizing the conspiracy that would have necessarily existed given a second sniper. Oswald acting entirely alone remains the sole argument against conspiracy, and that story’s increasing unlikeliness — and the US government’s persistent doubling down on it — gave credence to skepticism about Oswald’s possible guilt, innocence, complicity, allegiances, and whether his was the shot from Frame 313.

©️ Sixth Floor Museum

The director Oliver Stone’s 1991 film JFK presented a fictionalized version of the only real case for conspiracy around Kennedy’s murder to be brought to trial in the US: Louisiana District Attorney Jim Garrison’s investigation of the prominent New Orleans businessman Clay Shaw. When Garrison’s spending of taxpayer funds was called into question, he began financing his operations through a shell organization of wealthy patrons called Truth and Consequences Inc. Surely only another conspiracy can effectively identify a conspiracy.

Oliver Stone’s epic picture not only posited a conspiracy theory; it postulated every possible conspiracy theory — from the FBI, to the CIA, the US military, the American mafia, and even anti-Castro Cubans all on some level involved. The movie became a parody of itself, a stand-in for conspiracy, the subject of Seinfeldian satire.

Nonetheless, Stone followed up his blockbuster in 2021 with a deep-dive documentary series called JFK: Destiny Betrayed. In it, Whoopi Goldberg and Donald Sutherland doggedly narrate audiences in painstaking detail through every facet of Stone’s original movie, providing confirmation, with little self-congratulation, that he was right.

Chillingly, he was right.

Oliver Stone’s 1991 film might be the finest film ever made about another film. Because even though JFK features memorable performances by a who’s who of A-list Hollywood actors — the legendary Willem Dafoe shows up to deliver one solitary line — the Zapruder film is its real star.

The public in the 1960s was only vaguely aware that this key piece of evidence existed, which Time-Life held in its secret vault, and which required no expertise to examine, and which proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that there was more than one shooter.

Due to the film’s chronological nature, it was obvious that two shots occurred too closely together to have originated from the same rifle. And because of its camera position, it was incontrovertible that the bullet that killed Kennedy, the strike exposed in Frame 313, originated from the front and to the right.

Now, 60 years later, another documentary which interviews the surviving Parkland Hospital doctors, who were the first to attend in Dallas to Kennedy’s fatal wounds, is the latest piece of media to show us what we already knew. An entrance wound was discovered and then quickly refuted in Kennedy’s trachea, indicating shots fired from the front.

In the Zapruder film, we can clearly see Kennedy clutching his throat moments before the fateful Frame 313 flips by. Add now to the laundry list of experts who have contradicted America’s official story the front-line workers who tried first to save Kennedy’s life. Yet another conspiracy to prove the conspiracy.

The question as always was neither who nor how, but rather, why: Why was John F. Kennedy killed? As history slumbers on, it becomes all the more evident.

Kennedy was pushing for the normalization of diplomatic relations with Russia, and Cuba; he was planning on defunding the Central Intelligence Agency and had terminated three of its key leaders; he was busy negotiating the return of combat troops from Vietnam; he opposed colonial rule of the Belgian Congo, and Algeria; he supported the Civil Rights movement and equality for Black Americans; and Kennedy encouraged a free and autonomous Palestinian state. He might not have been the perfect US president. But by all indications, John F. Kennedy, had he lived, would have been close.

Though no family name is more synonymous with conspiracy, one of the measures of a public figure’s endurance is the number of buildings, monuments, and boulevards named after that person. West of Saint-Urbain, one block Montreal-south of Sherbrooke, we have our own President Kennedy Avenue. It stretches past Place-des-arts and skirts the lower end of McGill University, winding up behind the bookstore Paragraphe, where it abruptly ends.

The upshot is that anyone can abruptly end. Kennedy’s assassination was not only a message to America, but to the rest of the world, too. Any leader, of any nation, no matter how democratic, capitalistic, fair, or free, can be liquidated.

Where murder prevails, chaos replaces reason. Until reason is restored, there can be no true democracy, and there will be no peace.◼︎

Cover image: Andy Warhol, Jackie (1964), detail, © The Andy Warhol Foundation.