I don’t always cry at sad movies, but sometimes I do. I almost always cry when I’ve watched one particular movie, though — and this one less than 30 seconds long. I’m talking about the infamous “Zapruder film” that inadvertently recorded the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963.
I was alive at the time, but just a baby; thus too young “to remember where I was” when I heard the news — though I understand that some sociological studies have confirmed the phenomenon that people who were old enough commonly really did remember exactly where they were when they got the news that the President of the United States had been shot. It’s testimony to the entire U.S. populace that day experiencing something like large-scale PTSD.
I did my doctoral studies in Dallas, TX, and, when we lived there, we often made Dealy Plaza and the school book depository museum there one of the regular stops we made with family and friends who came to visit and wanted to tour Dallas. “Was there really just one shooter?” was a question that intrigued me for a while; the Oliver Stone film that promoted a wider conspiracy theory (with multiple shooters) came out when we lived in Dallas. Since then, though, I’ve come to believe that the Warren Commission’s investigation concluded correctly — that truth can be stranger than fiction; and in this case, one ex-marine, trained as a marksman, named Lee Harvey Oswald, got off three shots from his sniper’s perch in the school book depository; and that one shot went through the President’s neck and hit Governor Connelly seated in front of him, and one shot (the last shot) was a devastating fatal shot that struck the President in the head. (Click here for one of the best summaries of forensic analysis of this— which analyzes the Zapruder film particularly.
I’ve also come to believe that some of what fuels greater conspiracy theories — besides the prima facie unlikelihood of two bullets doing what they apparently did — is what Robert Dallek (author of An Unfinished Life) observes: “It is very difficult for [people] to accept the idea that someone as inconsequential as Oswald could have killed someone as consequential as Kennedy.” This point is also what fills the events of November 22, 1963 with such grave tragedy.
Reflecting on these events today prompts several musings and observations:
Look at the faces of the President and First Lady and the crowds earlier that day. No one foresaw such tragedy looming just moments away. Nor do we know what a day may hold — one reason why God’s word instructs us not to boast about tomorrow. . . .
President Kennedy (and his brother, Robert) are now memorialized vividly in not only U.S. history but in the national psyche. This is understandable, even appropriate to a degree, even if the memories preserved smooth out some of the rough edges or make them larger than life. The gruesome public death of such persons of such ideals is not just tragic, it’s a reminder of how fragile are our ideals — our very lives really — in this life.
What adds to the tragic irony of the Kennedy assassination is that he was the youngest president, at age 43, ever to be voted into office. That such youth and vitality, such promise such hope, could be so abruptly dashed is still hard to take. Even 50 years later. And yet, here surfaces a point that both Ecclesiastes and Jesus makes: if you merely dream about what might have been, you are engaging an exercise in futility. Both John and Robert Kennedy encouraged dreaming big, but recognized this point, too, that dreaming is not enough (especially when they engaged the civil rights challenge).
Finally, the tragic, violent death of youthful men of such noble ideals cannot help but inspire some unrealistic messianic dimensions around them. Let us remember these men well and fondly; let us hold up the best of their ideals and further them.
But let us also not forget that there is only one Messiah. John and Robert Kennedy themselves would concur with this. Messiah Jesus is the One in whom to invest our hopes and dreams ultimately, and only Him. And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:6)
The purpose of this blog will be to expand the influence of our faculty, maintain contact with our graduates, and invite other friends to think with us about important biblical and theological ideas.