Did Kennedy assassination investigation lead to mistrust?
NATCHEZ — The nation lost its president 50 years ago when John F. Kennedy was assassinated, and some Americans believe the resulting investigation wounded the country’s trust in its own government.
Jim Wiggins, history instructor at Copiah-Lincoln Community College in Natchez, said some loss of trust was created by the way the Warren Commission, appointed by President Lyndon Johnson to investigate Kennedy’s death, handled the investigation.
The Warren Commission ultimately determined Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in killing Kennedy Nov. 22, 1963.
“To this day, many polls have indicated that most people think it was some sort of conspiracy,” Wiggins said. “Most people think the Warren Commission did not come clean. This was a pretty major thing, this was the people’s elected president, and (the idea) the government would not fully investigate it or at least not tell the American public what happened is the perception.”
Wiggins said plenty of legitimate disagreement exists among historians on the idea a single shooter killed Kennedy, adding the majority of historians do not think a conspiracy exists.
“My sense is most historians think there was no conspiracy, but the public thinks differently and that is where they think the government was lying to us,” Wiggins said.
In the American mainstream, Wiggins said prior to Kennedy’s death, the general idea was government was a force for good through the New Deal and World War II.
“It was not that (the government) never made mistakes, but generally speaking, it was doing its job well,” Wiggins said. “One interesting angle, and there is not universal consensus, but there is some serious evidence that suggests that Kennedy really had made the decision to pull the advisers out of Vietnam and would do that after the ’64 election.
“You could play a little game of what if, which of course is speculation, but what if Kennedy had not been assassinated, then you don’t have the doubt about the Warren Commission, then you don’t have American combat troops in Vietnam and, of course, then what got Nixon started on the taping of his enemies and the plumbers and so on was about Vietnam policy.
“You could weave a scenario for the next 10 years of American history would have been very, very different.”
Wiggins said, conceivably, had Kennedy not been killed, American mistrust concerning the Warren Commission, American involvement in Vietnam and the Watergate break-in could have been avoided.
Former state Sen. Bob Dearing said the Kennedy assassination and its fallout has been part of his political science teachings at Co-Lin in Natchez this week.
The adjunct professor said American innocence was lost that day, but he does not believe it is tougher today for residents to have a connection with their government, as opposed to during Kennedy’s term.
“I think the people that were old enough to understand what was going back then understood it, but it was a terrible, sick feeling,” he said.
Dearing said he was teaching fifth and sixth grade at the former Braden Elementary as assistant principal when news broke that Kennedy was killed.
“It was an awful experience to go through during that time,” he said.