Back in the nineties I was Best Man to a friend of mine, an emergency physician who married a paediatrician in Dallas, Texas. The ceremony took place at 3 pm in a very elegant establishment in a leafy suburb of the city. I had some time on my hands in the morning and so I took off, as I recall with a charming bunch of the bride’s pals from Johns Hopkins Baltimore, and we went down to Dealey Plaza.
If you check out Dealey Plaza on Google Earth you will see that it is very little changed from November 22nd 1963, when JFK’s limousine rounded the corner of Elm and Houston and passed by the Texas School Book Depository. It was an odd experience, to walk on the same triangle of grass from which Mr Zapruder shot his cine film as the president and his entourage passed by; to stand on “the grassy knoll”; to ascend to the sixth floor of the book depository and look out of the same window that Lee Harvey Oswald chose as his vantage point, measuring angles. Whenever I visit a site of historical importance, already familiar to me from film or TV, I have the odd sense that I’m not at the real location at all, but rather on a kind of mock-up film set. Maybe the Apollo missions were filmed in a back lot in Hollywood. Have you seen Capricorn One? Clever movie. I’m a Conspiracy Theorist. After all, it only takes two to form a conspiracy. Maybe it’s just paranoia, but nowadays I automatically default to conspiracy. Everything is a deep dark labyrinth of deceit, intrigue, and treachery organized by the military-industrial complex. I read in The Herald on Friday that the Battle of the Somme was deliberately prolonged as a joint enterprise of Anglo-German arms manufacturers, and it seemed perfectly feasible to me.
Like everybody else, I can remember what I was doing when JFK was assassinated. I was at my aunt’s house in Glasgow. She told me the president had been shot. By the time I got home, he had died. I was only a kid, but I was aware that something momentous and world-shattering had occurred. I remember being glued to the grainy black and white pictures on the TV over the next few days, of Jackie in her blood-stained suit crawling over the back of the limousine. Was she trying to assist the secret service agent to get on board or was she just trying to get the hell out of there? It seemed utterly extraordinary to me that Jack Ruby should be able to shoot Oswald in the basement of a police station, live on TV. “I did it for Jackie,” said Jack. I distinctly remember thinking it was a set-up. Look at the film. That guy in the white suit with the stetson – he knows something is about to happen. I just thought America, the Wild West, was a lunatic asylum.
To my mind the most convincing explanation for November 22nd comes from an Australian criminologist who specialises in cold cases. His thesis is that Oswald fired his first shot and missed, then fired a second shot which hit both Kennedy and Governor Connally. At this point, a secret service agent in the car behind, realising something was happening, drew his firearm and accidentally discharged it, fatally wounding the president. You can see why the secret service might want to cover that up. It’s just such a monumental cock-up.
I thought of that theory this past week during the appalling events in Dallas, where five police officers have been shot and killed, doubtless in retaliation for the recent fatal shootings by police officers of two black men in Baton Rouge and St Paul. You might say these retaliatory executions were as much political assassinations as was the killing of JFK. As with JFK, the sniper shot from a high vantage point. Maybe Dallas will develop a reputation. Sniper City. Sniping is to Dallas as defenestration is to Prague. The difference between 1963 and 2016 is that while Oswald used a rather low-tech rifle (making a conspiracy theory all the more probable), the automatic weapons used last week turned the place into a war zone.
President Obama made a statement from Warsaw. He looked very weary. Has he got anything left to say about guns that he hasn’t said before? I gather he intends to visit Dallas but I think he should think twice about that.
The gun never solved a single problem in the world. The great tragedy of our century, of our young millennium, is that the west still buys into what a theologian has called “the fallacy of redemptive violence”. From our side of the Pond we look askance at the American gun culture. It seems that every other day a toddler finds his mother’s Saturday night special in her handbag and shoots her dead. Over here we think it’s all crazy but remember we’re joined at the hip. We “stand shoulder to shoulder”. After 9/11 our PM said something close to “I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” Thus, through a fog of fuzzy logic, dodgy syllogisms and non-sequiturs, we started dropping bombs on people, for no apparent reason. The entire British Parliament voted by a substantial majority to open Pandora’s Box. Sir John Chilcot has now told us it was all a Huge Mistake and now Parliament seeks to scapegoat one single, haunted individual.
Yet even now the Westminster village remains purblind. On the Andrew Marr Show the newspaper reviewers babble on endlessly about Mrs Leadsom’s fecundity and Mrs May’s (call it) aridity. Bread and circuses.
Next week, Parliament will debate the renewal of Trident. I see American gun culture, and Trident, as two ends of a continuum of violence. Most of us think the US should have a domestic small arms amnesty, yet Parliament will, I’m sure, vote to renew Trident. The only substantial voice against it (aside from Mr Corbyn if he’s still around) will be the SNP. But the numbers will not be enough. All the SNP will be able to claim is that, as with the EU referendum, this will be another material change of circumstances leading to a second Scottish Independence referendum.
Meanwhile, just as a toddler in, say, Orlando, is rummaging in his mom’s bag to find a fascinating shiny metal toy, a fifteen year old kid in north London, unusually good at computer hacking, sets himself the challenge of communicating with the submariners sliding out of Faslane, to see if he can get them to open the PM’s letter of last resort.
Just for the hell of it.