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40 years later, questions remain about JFK's assassination

November 16, 2003|by TAMELA BAKER

tammyb@herald-mail.com

Some have described the assassination of John F. Kennedy as the event that caused America to lose her collective innocence.

The aftermath of the young president's death has haunted the nation almost as much as the murder itself. "To my mind, it's still the most important political assassination of the 20th century with questions still unanswered," said Leonard Latkovski, a history professor at Hood College.

Scholars still seeking answers gathered on the Hood campus Saturday to talk about what is - and isn't - known about Kennedy's death, during a symposium sponsored by the school's history and political science department, its Weisberg Archive and the Hood College Center for Teaching Excellence.

Latkovski said the only other event of its kind that he was aware of will take place at Pittsburgh's Duquesne University next week.

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Speakers included several associates of the late Harold Weisberg, an early critic of the official Warren Commission report, which concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald killed the president in Dallas, and that he acted alone.

Like Weisberg, who gave books, photographs and more than 250,000 copies of government documents relating to the assassination to Hood, all the speakers disputed the Warren Commission's conclusions. Clay Ogilvie, co-director of the Weisberg Archive, noted that a memo written by Deputy Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach after the subsequent murder of Lee Harvey Oswald instructed officials "to convince the people that Oswald did it and would have been convicted at trial." Ogilvie said the memo "identified the policy" for the Warren Commission.

He said prevailing issues at the time of Kennedy's death - the Cold War with Eastern Europe, attempts to desegregate the South, the previous year's missile standoff with Cuba and the trouble already brewing in Vietnam - had convinced Katzenbach and others that "we don't want to appear to be in disarray." Ogilvie said President Lyndon B. Johnson warned the Warren Commission that "if you don't come along with us, it could mean nuclear war."

David Wrone, author of a new book an the Abraham Zapruder film that caught the bullets striking the president as his motorcade passed, said evidence obvious in the film alone showed the federal government's findings were wrong. He said it appeared that two or more people shot the president, and that neither of them was Oswald. "The Warren Commission knew about it, and had to lie about it," he said.

One positive outcome of the speculation about Kennedy's murder has been the strengthening of the Freedom of Information Act, whereby anyone can obtain government records - with some exceptions, said attorney Jim Lesar, who worked with Weisberg to obtain his documents. And it's those exceptions that keep scholars guessing.

Asked how much information on the assassination was still being withheld, Lesar said "the short answer is there's no way of telling."

Hood plans to make it easier for anyone to study the documents that are available and reach his or her own conclusions. Ogilvie is working to get all the documents on line, and said he hopes that within two years they will all be available at the archive's Web site, www.jfk63.org.

In the meantime, hard copies of the documents are available to the public at Hood's Beneficial-Hodson Library.

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