JFK’s legacy should be more than assassination conspiracies

Photograph courtesy of Grizzly Staff

Tom Bantley

thbantley@ursinus.edu

In a move that surprised many last week, President Trump announced the release of classified documents to the public pertaining to the assassination of late US President John F. Kennedy. Trump initially wanted to declassify more documents, but due to pressure from national security units he only declassified 2800 records. About 300 documents will be held under review for at least 6 more months in order to gauge their effect on state security. The President later claimed he would release all of the documents, but this has yet to be seen.

Starting on Oct. 26, Trump started to work with the National Records and the Records Administration to trickle out some of the newly declassified documents. Many were hoping to find a bombshell or a smoking gun in the declassified documents, such as Ted Cruz’s father being in the grassy knoll or being the Zodiac Killer, but no such revelations were found. While declassified CIA documents and conspiracy theories may excite many Americans, there is more to John F. Kennedy’s legacy than an assassination event that traumatized a nation. Kennedy should be remembered for more than his assassination: His memory should challenge Americans to be the best they can be.

That is not to say that these documents aren’t interesting. Even though there is nothing in the 2800 documents that contradicts the initial findings of the Warren Commission in 1963, the documents do include some hair-raising details about the assassination. According to both ABC and CBS news, interesting facts include that a British reporter claims to have received advanced warning of the assassination through a mysterious anonymous phone call a half-hour before the assassination happened, that there was no clear answer concerning Lee Harvey Oswald’s relationship with the CIA, and that there were James Bond-esque plots created by the CIA to assassinate Cuban leader Fidel Castro. The documents also revealed the fact that J. Edgar Hoover was eager to convince the public that Oswald was the killer who acted alone. The big question that remains up in the air regards Lee Harvey Oswald’s experience in Mexico City and what influence communist regimes may have had on Oswald.

While the arguments over the Warren Commission and the validity of conspiracy theories will continue to light fiery passions among many, these passions should not burn brighter than the impact President Kennedy left on the US. Kennedy is, perhaps, the most admired post-Second World War American president because of what he inspired in the American people. What made Kennedy memorable to so many was the way he challenged the American people to rise above petty differences and be a better version of themselves. JFK promoted an ambitious vision for a 1960s where the United States could improve the economic life of more of the population, promote civil rights, have a positive influence on the world with the Peace Corps, and put a man on the moon. Most of all, JFK’s more important legacy should be that he inspired confidence in Americans to tackle a world where dramatic, often unsettling, changes were taking place.

The ambition set forth in Kennedy’s inauguration on January 20, 1961 to embrace a challenging world contrasts the United States’ current political climate. We have a crisis of leadership and a waning confidence in the universal institutions of our society. President Trump exemplifies this crisis through his incompetence and irresponsible governing of the United States. The United States is the most divided it has been in a generation and Trump is a product of that division. Many Americans dream of returning to a past utopia that never existed with the inspiration of  Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan, and this fantasy is undermined by his failure to lead maturely and competently in the White House.

The most productive way to remember Kennedy’s legacy would be to embrace the bold ideals he challenged America with in the 1960s and to apply bravery, intelligence, and science to the global challenges our nation grapples with today. Instead of promoting drama and expecting praise for releasing Kennedy documents, Trump could best preserve Kennedy’s legacy by challenging the American people to stand up to important issues such as climate change, healthcare, education, economic reforms, race relations, and other controversial social issues.

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