I was headed home to Amsterdam from Los Angeles when I came across a daring decision. What do I want to watch on a 10 -hour flight? I was really not into watching fantasy or superhero movies. And, as Alec Baldwin’s character on The Hunt for Red October once said, “I can never sleep on a plane.”
So there I was, stuck on a tube for ten hours, having to put up with two obnoxious Dutch mother-son pairings who could not seem to stop talking for the entirety of the trip. To my delight, KLM did provide some non-fiction movies. I could not remember the other movies I watched during that flight, but one of them was Oliver Stone’s masterpiece, JFK.
As a student of history, the name John Fitzgerald Kennedy is not a foreign name for me. When I was in middle school, I watched the History Channel’s The Kennedys and became fascinated with the family. That show is where I first came to know about the other Kennedys besides John. The show portrayed Bobby Kennedy, the father Joseph Patrick Kennedy, John’s wife Jacqueline Onassis, and also Ethel Kennedy, wife of RFK. Of all the Kennedys depicted on the show, JFK was the one who intrigued me the most.
John F Kennedy was no ordinary man. This is a man who rescued his squad after a Japanese boat destroyed the boat he was commanding in Guadalcanal. He was a man who encouraged Americans to do what they could for their country — an inspiration for younger Americans during the turbulent 1960s. He was also a man who stood up against racism and fought for civil rights. Kennedy fought with his own health issues in order to serve his country, becoming a Congressman from Massachusetts, later a Senator from the same state, and all the way to the Oval Office.
Throughout his journey, he fought the skepticism of others regarding his ability to lead the country, and he was able to convince people through his memorable speeches. He was never afraid to go the extra distance to do what he believed was good for the United States. This was best exemplified by Kennedy pushing for civil rights legislation during a period when segregation was still alive.
President Kennedy took office at the height of the Cold War. He oversaw a momentous moment in history in October 1962, when we came close to thermonuclear war with the Soviet Union. We may never know what would have happened during the Cuban Missile Crisis, had a leader other than Kennedy been in office at that time. Kennedy’s cool head and leadership skills were prominent during the crisis. The military suggested airstrikes on Cuba, but Kennedy and his team chose quarantine in the Cuban waters.
Besides Cuba, Kennedy also had to deal with rising tensions in Vietnam. At first, Kennedy continued the Eisenhower Administration’s policy of continuing to fund the South Vietnamese. However, Kennedy realized the potential for a full-scale war in Vietnam. For the time being, Kennedy prioritized sending only military advisors and special forces to Vietnam. During that time, the Vietcong were becoming more and more prominent in Vietnam, and by 1963, Kennedy realized that the US had no business being there, and he planned to pull out. With National Security Action Memorandum 263, he authorized the withdrawal of US troops.
To summarize my overview of the man and his achievements, I’d like to share a speech in which he said the following words that are still timely today:
“So let us not be blind to our differences, but let us also direct attention to our common interests and the means by which those differences can be resolved. And if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. For in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s futures. And we are all mortal”
Back in the present, I watched the movie JFK. As a thirteen-year-old kid, my understanding of the Kennedy assassination was that he was killed by Lee Harvey Oswald. I had no doubt that Oswald pulled the trigger, and I simply believed whatever the Warren Commission told us in 1964 to believe.
As a twenty-one year old, however, I began to question the conclusion and begin to doubt Oswald’s involvement in the assassination. The movie JFK is the only movie that could make me go sleepless for days at a time, simply thinking about who was involved in Kennedy’s assassination. The names David Ferrie, Clay Shaw, Jim Garrison, Lee Harvey Oswald and Jack Ruby stuck in my head throughout my flight home. The movie was mind-blowing.
Stone stipulated that there was a conspiracy between the CIA and the military-industrial complex to assassinate the President. Only now do I fully realized that the CIA and the military-industrial complex did indeed have motivation to kill Kennedy. Kennedy was angry at the CIA for allegedly “lying” to him, while the CIA felt that Kennedy had embarrassed them in the Bay of Pigs incident. The military did not like the way Kennedy handled the Cuban Missile Crisis, as well as his threats to pull out of Vietnam. Whether they actually conspired or not, we will likely never know. I do think however, that there is enough evidence to make us doubt the government’s transparency and honesty with the American people. I would encourage people to watch the film and come up with their own conclusions
As I’m writing this right now, I ordered three books on this topic that would surely fill my summer. When President Trump released the first files of JFK’s assassination in October 2017, it gave everyone hope that after 54 years, we could finally know the truth. However, Trump bowed to the demands of government officials to not release the documents on grounds of “national security.” There are things our government is hiding from us.
I believe Kennedy’s assassination led to the way we see government these days. Not trustworthy, filled with power-seeking and greedy politicians who are acting on behalf of powerful lobbyists. The Warren Commission report that was widely refuted, and the government’s attempts to discredit Jim Garrison in his investigation seemed to provide a basis for citizens not really trusting their government anymore.
Kennedy’s assassination was also followed by serious mistakes by the US government. Vietnam, where millions of Americans died. Watergate, where the public trust in government continued to deteriorate. Iran-Contra in the Reagan Administration, Whitewater and Lewinsky in the Clinton Administration, and the Bush Administration’s terrible handling of both Hurricane Katrina and the subsequent financial crisis. Then the domestic surveillance leak by Edward Snowden during the Obama Administration, and now the innumerable scandals of the Trump administration.
JFK’s assassination ruined the country’s optimism and belief in the government after World War II, and I believe the effect is still being felt 56 years later. The public’s trust in government was never really restored. The Area 51 event being widely discussed in the media lately should be seen as a sign that younger generations have had enough of the secrets that our government is holding.
As a member of the Millennial generation, I do believe that the government must be transparent and honest, and must be held accountable for its actions. Politicians should be more like Jack Kennedy — someone with integrity, values, idealism, and the courage to do the right thing.
In JFK, Jim Garrison spoke a line that was later followed by a brilliant speech, delivered magnificently by Kevin Costner. He said “An American naturalist wrote, “A patriot must always be ready to defend his country against its government.”
Costner proceeded to delivered the lines that made him emotional. It is one of the best speeches I’ve ever heard in a movie:
Tennyson wrote, ‘Authority forgets a dying king’. This was never more true than for John F. Kennedy, whose murder was probably one the most terrible moments in the history of our country. We, the people, the jury system sitting in judgment on Clay Shaw, represent the hope of humanity against government power. In discharging your duty, in bringing the first conviction in this house of cards against Clay Shaw, ‘ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.’ Do not forget your dying king. Show this world that this is still a government ‘of the people, for the people, and by the people’. Nothing as long as you live will ever be more important.
He stared at the camera, breaking the fourth wall, and said:
It’s up to you.