On this day in history, November 29, 1963, one week after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, President Lyndon Johnson established the Warren Commission to investigate the assassination. The Warren Commission was headed by Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren, who also had served as a progressive Republican Governor of California. Among the more notable members of the commission, were Congressman Gerald Ford (later President), Allen Dulles (former director of the CIA), and J. Lee Rankin (the Justice Department lawyer who had argued in favor of school integration in the infamous “Brown v. Board of Education” landmark school integration decision).
The Warren Commission’s report, which was issued on September 24, 1964, has been questioned, criticized and scorned by critics, politicians, and average citizens ever since. The commission found that altogether three bullets were fired on the day of the assassination. The most questioned and rebuffed finding was the “Single bullet theory,” which stated, in effect, that a single bullet struck the President’s neck, exited his throat, and lodged itself in Governor John Connally’s chest, also striking his wrist. Critics have asserted that in the infamous “Zapruder film”, the bullet appears to strike the President from the front. Critics also have questioned the forensic credibility of the “Single bullet theory,” maintaining that it is virtually impossible for one .38 caliber bullet to do that much damage, and go through all that human body tissue, including bones, before finally lodging itself in Governor Connally’s chest.
The Warren Commission offered no possible motives for Oswald’s actions, nor did it provide any reasonable explanation for the motives of Jack Ruby, who shot and killed Oswald as he was being moved to another location. The commission concluded, quite simply, that both Oswald and Ruby had acted alone, did not know each other nor have any connection with one another, and were not part of any conspiracy. Additionally, critics have pointed to the fact that observers heard shots being fired from the “grassy knoll” along the parade route, and that those shots would have struck the President from the front as his motorcade was approaching the knoll. This seriously puts into question the commission’s findings that all the bullets were fired by Oswald from the sixth floor of the Dallas School Book Depository Building, facing the motorcade as it moved away from the building, rather than from the front.
In light of the all of the sensational and implausible findings of the Warren Commission report, conspiracy theories have gained much favor among the American populace at all levels. In 1978, the House Select Committee on Assassinations conducted hearings and issued its own findings. The committee concluded that President Kennedy’s assassination “most likely” resulted from a conspiracy. The committee also concluded that both the Soviet Union and Cuba played no role in the assassination, nor did numerous United States government agencies, such as the FBI, the CIA, and Secret Service. The committee also concluded that neither organized crime nor anti-Castro elements were involved in the assassination. In the mid 1980’s, assistant attorney general William Weld issued a report that challenged the Select Committee’s findings. Weld concluded that there was no credible evidence pointing to a “second gunman,” and that there was no “persuasive evidence” supporting a conspiracy theory in the assassination.
Perhaps we will never know who was involved in the assassination on that fateful day in Dallas in 1963. But we do know that on that day, America lost her relative innocence and was changed forever. We know that a young, idealistic president was taken from us in the prime of his life. We know that this president left us with a legacy of commitment to public service and a call to duty to one’s country. We know that at least for a time, as short as it was, we had a leader who believed that America’s greatest resource was its youth, and that its greatest bounty was its hope for the future. It is up to us, the heirs to his legacy, to see to it that President Kennedy did not die in vain.