Johnson Administration

Who Killed Cock Robin and JFK?

Cock Robin and John F. Kennedy are distanced by time and reality: Cock Robin the fictional subject of a poem from the 1700’s, John F. Kennedy the factual President of the United States in the early 1960’s. While both engage the imagination, they are separated by something else—confession. The sparrow owned up to killing Cock Robin. Nothing so simple occurred with the Kennedy assassination. Here we are, days away from the 50th anniversary of his death and there remains an almost 50/50 split in public opinion over whether Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone, or in consort with others. One thing is certain. JFK was not killed by the sparrow.

Conspiracy theories can be fun. But they are often unenlightening. In the case of JFK, the possible conspiracies are so disparate as to be simply dizzying. Although not unimportant, the question of who killed Kennedy should not consume us fifty years after the fact. If Oswald was the sole assassin, case closed. But suppose he did not act alone. Why should it matter now? Most likely, any co-conspirators are long dead. Far more significant than who killed JFK is the effect his death had on the nation.

It has been suggested that the Kennedy assassination is the most significant event in modern American history. Perhaps that is hyperbole, but the statement sustains its own argument, for momentous changes emerged as a direct result of 11/22 (to use a current type of acronym).

On a practical level, there has been an explosion surrounding the president’s security in terms of personnel, equipment and expense. Additionally, poor communication by the Johnson Administration and the Warren Commission, left a diminished respect and trust of government in general. More philosophically, though, JFK was not the only casualty that November.

The days of Kennedy have frequently been compared to Camelot, the early 1960’s seen as another legendary time of hope and idealism. JFK was the symbol of a country rising from the ashes of war, reborn in youthful vitality. His death shattered this newfound innocence as effectively as the betrayal of King Arthur by Guinevere and Lancelot destroyed Camelot. In many ways Kennedy’s assassination scarred the American psyche leaving wounds unhealed to this day. Wounds that have grown only deeper over the years.

Kennedy understood that we are part of a bigger picture, a bigger world. In Germany, in solidarity with that world, he declared, “Ich bin ein Berliner” (I am a Berliner) Today, we have become more insular. We see only America. Within that America, we see only ourselves and we trust no one, not even each other.

During the Kennedy Administration Americans shared a common vision and purpose. From his oft-quoted inauguration address, “And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country”, to his challenge to reach the moon within a decade, no president since, not even Ronald Reagan, has so united or stirred the common imagination. To the contrary, we seem to have very little in common these days. Arguably, we have not been this polarized since the Civil War.

In the early 1960’s America was birthing a rising and enviable middle class. Today that middle class is disintegrating. The disparity between rich and poor is greater by orders of magnitude. There is little concern for one another as our political world and daily life are turned into self-centered greed and a disdain for the less fortunate. Who is left to lead, to call forth our better selves? Is it any wonder that today seems so forlorn, that we look back so longingly on America’s Camelot?

Nothing since JFK’s death, not even revelations of his personal or professional weaknesses has managed to steal his image from the heart of the nation. John F. Kennedy has passed into the world of myth and legend, his memory still evoking a world of hope and idealism. He is honored best by reaching for the same future he envisioned and worked for.

The end of the poem reads:

All the birds of the air
fell a-sighing and a-sobbing,
when they heard the bell toll
for poor Cock Robin

We, like the birds of the air, are a people left a-sighing. Mourning our president, our loss, ourselves. So what does it matter who killed JFK? Whoever it was, we must not let him kill our dreams as well. Maybe it was the sparrow after all.