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Writers on Kennedy

What we think about when we think about JFK

By Jordan Smith, Fri., Nov. 22, 2013

Jordan Smith
Jordan Smith

'A Need for Something'

If it hadn't been for the multi-part documentary titled The Men Who Killed Ken­nedy, which Roger Mudd hosted on the History Channel, I would have gone through life not questioning the idea that Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone shooter who assassinated the president.

Writers on Kennedy

Maybe it was Mudd's authoritative voice; I was powerless to resist. The series offers a gamut of possibilities about what really happened that day in Dallas: from the Grassy Knoll to Castro, and everything in between. What caught me was the Carousel Club, the joint owned by Oswald's killer, Jack Ruby. As I recall, the episode included interview footage with a woman who'd worked there and who said she'd been with Ruby and Oswald, drinking and smoking at the club just days before the shooting.

Could a plot so secret be discussed so sloppily in a Dallas strip club? For years afterward, I was absolutely certain that one of the myriad conspiracy theories simply Must. Be. True.

Now, I don't know. People assure me that's all just a bunch of talk, that it was Oswald and Oswald alone. I trust them, and I believe them. But there is also a part of me that really wants the conspiracy to be true – a part that has a need for something far more sinister and more complex to be the source of such an act. What I really want is a reason to reject the far scarier truth: that we are all just that mortal, and just that vulnerable.


Jordan Smith is a Chronicle staff writer, reporting on criminal justice, women's health care, and many other things.

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