The bullet that blew apart the magnificent head of John Kennedy passed within inches of his wife, Jacqueline. She remembered the horror in slow motion, a quizzical look on his face as a fragment of his skull flew backward. The Zapruder film shows her clambering onto the limousine's trunk in a desperate effort to retrieve the bone fragment and put their life all back together. Clint Hill, her Secret Service bodyguard, vaulted onto the trunk and pushed her back down to the seat. She took Jack in her arms. The scene, she recalled, was "all blood and roses." She was only 34, suddenly the single mother of two small children, feeling full of dread and loneliness.
Now on the 50th anniversary of his presidency and on Nov 22, the 48th of his murder, there are fresh revelations. The recent release of taped conversations -- Jackie interviewed by an historian only months after the assassination -- gives us a deeper insight into a woman who through out her life seemed as mysterious as Mona Lisa. In her lifetime she only gave three interviews. The first one was with journalist Theodore White seven days after Dallas. She told him that the Kennedy presidency was Camelot, a "brief shining moment" in the life of the American republic.
This idea has provoked all manner of vituperation; the most recent from essayist Christopher Hitchens. Hitchens accuses her of the greatest crime in the eyes of an upper class Brit. By choosing an image from a musical to idealize the Kennedy presidency she was 'lowering the conversation' -- she was 'low brow.' Hitchens accuses her of everything but witchcraft. He waited until she was dead to slander her. It would have been a sight to witness Jackie taking him on. Wrote Nikita Khrushchev after dining with her at the Vienna summit: "Don't mix with her; she'll cut you down to size."
For five decades most of the journalistic establishment has contended that Camelot has only a dark side. Certainly the coverage of these interviews is more of the same, focusing on her pithy put downs of the rich, of the powerful. But there is much more. The tapes reveal JFK did not trust his military to follow presidential commands. She describes CIA director Allen Dulles "cracking up" after the failed Bay of Pigs invasion. JFK, for his part, wept when he realized so many Cubans died due to CIA and military incompetence.
Listening to the eight hours of the Jackie tapes one comes away with the overwhelming feeling that this was a love story for the ages. At the height of the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, when a nuclear strike on Washington seemed only hours away, she told Jack she would not be shipped off to a bomb shelter. "I just want to be with you, and I want to die with you, and the children do too -- than live without you."
Afterwards she confessed to a friend that she contemplated suicide after the assassination. "Was it so wrong to want to join him?"
Nothing journalistic scavengers say or write lowers the intense admiration that most Americans -- and millions around the world -- still have for the Kennedys. After the murder, more than 1.5 million wrote letters of condolence. Jackie saw that every one was answered. The question burns brightly: Why are so many journalists and now historians, so terrified of challenging the official story of the assassination?
I wrote and directed four films for the fifth estate on the killing, the greatest murder mystery of the 20th century. One show drew the largest audience in fifth estate history. People are hungry for what happened. The crime is ripe for unraveling. Even 50 years later it is not too late. For a roadmap read the brilliant book JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why it Matters.
JFK was murdered because he tried to change the world. He was killed because he confronted the National security state, negotiating a nuclear test ban treaty with the Communists. He was assassinated because over and over he chose not to go to war, over Laos, over Berlin, and twice over Cuba. His next crime was going to be pulling out of Vietnam, a process he had already begun with an October 1963 order to start withdrawing troops. This was the last straw for his generals and the CIA. They accused him of treason. At least one senior CIA agent, the Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt, confessed on his deathbed the assassination was a coup d'état.
There are excisions in the Jackie tapes. One possible cut is dramatic. An August 2011 news story under the byline of Liz Thomas and carried by the Daily Mail said the tapes contained a bombshell: "Jackie Kennedy believed that Lyndon B. Johnson and a cabal of Texas tycoons were involved in the assassination of her husband John F Kennedy. " This was missing when the tapes and transcript were published, but if it is true, Jackie was not alone. Evelyn Lincoln, JFK's long-term personal secretary, wrote that she believed there was a conspiracy involving LBJ and the FBI's Hoover. So did LBJ's lawyer. So did LBJ's mistress, Madeleine Brown.
In his book, Brothers, the Hidden History of the Kennedy Years, David Talbot, founder of Salon.com, discovered that Robert Kennedy felt he had pieced together the assassination conspiracy within weeks of the murder. Bobby called Jackie and the family together to reveal his findings. He said that the CIA and the military carried out the execution, with the involvement of what we might now call Texas oil oligarchs.
Within weeks of the murder, Robert and Jackie dispatched William Walton, a confidant and adviser, to Russia to carry the same message to Khrushchev, JFK's partner in detente. The message said these forces would be untouchable until there was a new president in 1968, hopefully Bobby.
Campaigning for the presidency in 1968, Bobby told a student audience that if elected he would use the powers of the presidency to reopen his brother's murder. Was that his death warrant? A few days later, on the night he won the California primary, Bobby too was murdered. It is no wonder Edward Kennedy ever breathed a dissenting word about his brother's murders. Jackie was always careful, but once she did wonder about their Secret Service driver, how he let the car come to a complete halt in the crossfire, only tramping the accelerator after the headshot had been delivered. "He might just as well have been Miss Shaw," she said, referring to her children's nanny.