If, like me, you are a fan of politics and American history, check out Oswald's Ghost, which premieres tonight on PBS's American Experience. (Check local listings.) I received an advance copy of the documentary and found it fascinating.
Using a wealth of archival material, much of it never before publicly seen or heard, director Robert Stone chronicles America's 45-year obsession with the pivotal event of a generation. Quietly implicit throughout the film is a haunting parallel to 9/11 and its aftermath.
Oswald's Ghost explores, in part, why Americans are so determined to believe in conspiracies. According to the documentary, 70 percent of all Americans believe that JFK's death was the result of a conspiracy. The film suggests that we are not comfortable with the nerve-racking randomness of life, so we try to create order where there is none. Historian Robert Dallek asks, "How could someone as inconsequential as Lee Harvey Oswald have killed someone as consequential as John F. Kennedy?"
According to a PBS press release:
Throughout the 1960s and beyond, Vietnam and the Kennedy assassination became merged psychologically into a vast wellspring of mistrust and disillusionment. With the subsequent assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy in 1968 and the revelations of President Nixon's constitutional subversion in the early 1970s, the last hopes of American idealism were shattered. A decade after JFK's death, America's political culture was changed almost beyond recognition.
On a side note, I think the statement above is true for the mainstream, but most people of color, given our history in America, had no idealism to be shattered in the 60s. I've always thought it is a past that includes a government and its citizens working against us that explains why so many black folks seem willing to jump on conspiracy bandwagons regarding everything from purveyors of fast-food fried chicken, to high-profile designers to the AIDs epidemic. Someone should do a documentary about that.
Of course, as they say, just because I am paranoid, doesn't mean that they aren't out to get me.
Early in Oswald's Ghost, as I watched a battered and frightened young Oswald being led by policemen while proclaiming his innocence; as I once again viewed the Zapruder footage from Dallas that seems to contradict the official report on Kennedy's death; and as I listened to the list of people with motive to harm the president--from Castro to the KGB to the Mafia to the Vietnamese; I was certain, as I always have been, that the true story of the assassination is shadier and far more shocking than we have ever been told.
But then I learned some things I had not previously known: How Oswald left his wedding ring behind, neatly wrapped, when he left for his job at the Texas School Book Depository the morning of November 22, 1963; how he may have taken a shot at a Texas senator weeks before turning his gun on Kennedy; how he was far smarter and more wily than history has given him credit for--no patsy he. Suddenly, I wasn't so sure that President Kennedy's assassination hadn't been simply the work of one disturbed young man with random events seemingly on his side.
I am intrigued by the 60s. Born at the dawn of the 70s, I've always felt like I missed the good stuff--the music, the revolution, the social change and the free love (Really bummed about missing the free love...). All I have of the era are history books and the memory of the framed pictures of President Kennedy and Martin Luther King that hung on the wall when I was little. Oswald's Ghost allowed me to experience, for a moment, the turmoil, emotion and confusion surrounding one of the 60s defining moments, and it made plain how that moment in time affects my country's psyche yet today.
Learn more about American Experience and Oswald's Ghost.