During 1963-68 the USA was shaken by assassinations of its three most promising and popular leaders. The overall impact was in terms of a big loss to forces of peace and civil rights, and a boost to forces of foreign aggression and domestic injustice. The three lives lost were those of President John F. Kennedy followed by the loss 5 years later of prominent civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. and Presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy.
On November 22, 1963 President John F. Kennedy, the popular and young President of the USA, was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. The youngest US President died at the age of only 46. Two days later the man accused of this assassination, Oswald (who had been denying any role in this) was also killed. Since then there have been widespread allegations of some wider planning behind these two killings (as well as of a local police official).
Various polls reveal that 60 to 75% of US citizens do not believe the official version of Oswald killing Kennedy on his own. In 1979 the United States House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) concluded that Kennedy was probably assassinated in a conspiracy and that Oswald did not act alone.
After returning from the funeral of President Kennedy to France, President Charles de Gaulle confided to his Information Minister Alain Peyrefitte ( as described in the latter’s book L’etait de Gaulle) , “What happened to Kennedy is what nearly happened to me. His story is the same as mine…The security forces were in cahoots with the extremists…But you will see. All of them together will observe the law of silence. They will close ranks. They don’t want to find out. They won’t allow themselves to find out!”
Despite the huge cover-up, researchers have over the years exposed very widespread official efforts to tamper with evidence, ignore evidence that is not in line with official line, and intimidate witnesses. In fact a very large number of witnesses whose testimony may have gone against the official line have died in mysterious circumstances. Lists of over 50 such witnesses have been drawn up by researchers and published.
It is extremely difficult to believe how the police could have failed in the elementary duty of transferring Oswald to a nearby jail, how someone running strip clubs and known to be close to criminals was allowed to gain entry in police premises and later get so close to someone who had been accused of assassinating the President of the country. This man, Jack Ruby, was allowed to kill Oswald when he was surrounded by policemen and in broad daylight, in the presence of reporters, covered live on TV!
On the day of the assassination many serious security lapses were noticed and a local police officer who was courageous enough to draw attention to this faced several threats later. Earlier monitoring of related intelligence and action based on this was also found to be deficient. The HSCA Report stated- The secret service was deficient in the performance of its duties. Robert Blakey, Chief Counsel of HSCA stated that they were not able to conduct an appropriate investigation of the CIA as it had obstructed the availability of important information to the HSCA and also to the official Warren Commission, including information relating to plots to kill Cuban President Fidel Castro. Senior officials tasked with implementing the law enacted in 1992 for transparency on Kennedy assassination papers confirmed in writing that the CIA had obsructed the efforts for unraveling the truth.
Many researchers and books on this subject have pointed the accusing finger towards the military-industrial complex, powerful intelligence officials, mafias and hostile politicians who opposed the increasing tendency of President Kennedy in recent months to favor an agenda of peace, disarmament, reducing nuclear weapon threat, decreasing hostility with the Soviet Union. These forces and mafias were not happy also with his increasing emphasis on civil rights, curbing racism and the strong legal actions, led by the President’s brother– Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy– against organized crime. The role of the military industrial complex and intelligence agencies was also emphasized in Oliver Stone’s popular film JFK (1991) which has been an important part of this discourse since its release.
Therefore the cover-up attempted by the official Warren Commission has been badly discredited by now. The former CIA head Allen Dulles who had been fired by President Kennedy had been put in as one of its key members. Member of US Senate Select Committee Senator Richard Schweiker had called it “one of the biggest cover-ups of history.”
Martin Luther King Jr. emerged in the 1960s as the most prominent civil rights activist of the USA, as the most visible symbol of black resistance and struggles. His powerful oratory and inspiring struggles were attracting not just the black population but an increasing number of other supporters as well–all those who stood for justice, equality and peace. With the passage of time, King went one step ahead and emerged as a more committed anti-war activist– he raised a strong voice for ending the Vietnam War. At the age of only 35 he became the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.
This alarmed and enraged powerful persons in the military-industrial complex (about whose escalating clout and dangers President Eisenhower had warned with great foresight in his farewell speech) and the intelligence agents and politicians colluding with it. Hence the hostility towards him arising from his civil rights actions was further aggravated. It was in these conditions that attacks against him were stepped up by powerful forces. One effort was to depict him as a communist enemy of the USA. Another was to depict him as a man of loose morals in personal lifel. The FBI sent him blackmailing letters which sought to put pressure on him to give up his public life and even intended to increase the pressure on him to such as extent that, as King himself stated, he would be driven towards suicide.
When all this failed, Martin Luther King was assassinated on April 4 1968. He was only 39 at that time.Imagine what he would have achieved if he had been allowed to lead his full life. The establishment presented this as the work of one assassinator Ray and this view was persisted with for several years despite most glaring loopholes. Dexter King, son of Martin Luther King Jr, later considered this to be “the most incredible cover-up.”
Corretta Scott King (wife of Martin) and other friends of Martin continued efforts to expose the cover-up and bring out the truth of this most tragic assassination. Finally in December 1999, a jury in Memphis, Tennessee, reached the verdict that Martin Luther King Jr. was killed as a result of a conspiracy involving the FBI, CIA, US Army, Memphis Police and the mafia. This verdict came after a 5 week trial and examination of 70 witnesses. Corretta King called this verdict “a great victory for justice and truth.” Judge James Swearenges deserved great credit for this, as also attorney William Pepper. The jury exonerated Ray, who however had already died in prison by then.
Robert Kennedy, younger brother of President John Kennedy, also served as Attorney General during his tenure. During this time he was known for his strong and determined assault against organized crime and mafias. Subsequently he bacame stronger in his commitments for civil rights and peace. When he and his wife attended the funeral of Martin Luther King Jr he was the one white political leader who received the most welcome and appreciation of people assembled there. In 1968 after a lot of reluctance and dithering he finally joined the Presidential race. He was the candidate who appeared to be getting the most support of the minorities, the poorer people, the youth dedicated to peace and justice. When he scored some important victories, he was assassinated on June 6, 1968. He was only 42 then.
This was described as the act of one Sirhan Sirhan acting alone, but there were many loopholes in the official explanation of events. John Pilger, prominent journalist present at the site, pointed out evidence relating to the presence of more than one killer. Another prominent witness mentioned 12 to 14 shots being fired.
These three assassinations and the failure to answer several very significant questions relating to these over a period of more than five decades points to the compelling need to strengthen the forces of justice, peace and democracy so that such tragedies are not repeated in future.
Bharat Dogra is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include Planet in Peril and Man Over Machine.