Writers on Kennedy

What we think about when we think about JFK

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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