Remembering Robert F. Kennedy and a time when political assassination was all the rage.
Fifty years ago, the third spectacular assassination that marked US history in the 1960s took place. Robert F. Kennedy was fatally wounded in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. This followed the assassination of John F. Kennedy and, only two months earlier, Martin Luther King Jr. In all three cases, the official account of the shooting by a lone wolf gunman has since been discredited, but history books and the media continue to repeat the standard account, with the occasional exception, such as this article from ABC News.
Here is today’s 3D definition:
The military-industrial complex’s most efficient means of eliminating political threats, providing the media will obediently repeat the official account to the point of drowning out the evidence obtained from other sources
Sirhan Sirhan apparently had a motive for killing Robert Kennedy. He didn’t, however, have the means of accomplishing the task. It required a weapon and the skill to use it effectively. Sirhan did have the weapon but not the skill. The team that staged the event apparently provided the skill and the supplementary weapon to get the job done. That, in any case, is what Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Paul Schrade — who was wounded in the same attack — believe. Other witnesses and investigators have found evidence not presented in Sirhan’s trial that point in the same direction.
The pattern is clear in all three political celebrity assassinations of the 1960s. An official story accused an individual whose own testimony was never recorded or permitted to exist (Lee Harvey Oswald) or simply wasn’t taken into account. The justice system refused to pursue other leads, and the media — though occasionally mentioning sources of doubt — consistently maintained that the official account was the only one to be treated as “historical record.”
It isn’t every day that, as author of The Daily Devil’s Dictionary, I can claim to have been a direct witness to history. On June 5, 1968, I was at a different hotel in Los Angeles, the Beverly Hilton, where the Eugene McCarthy campaign had organized its election night evening. I had worked for the Kennedy’s California campaign thanks to my mother, who was office manager of the campaign, but I was supporting the candidate I believed to be the more authentic “peace candidate.”
After Kennedy’s victory speech, I and the three friends I was with started walking through the corridors to go home when someone shouted that Kennedy had been shot. We returned to the main ballroom where there were TV sets so that we could watch the news. I was filmed by a television crew documenting the reaction of the McCarthy supporters. The footage appeared in the TV documentary, Making of the President 1968.
Robert F. Kennedy walks down the hallway on the fifth floor of the Ambassador Hotel. He is on his way to the Embassy Ballroom for his victory speech.
— RFK50 (@RFK50th) June 5, 2018
Both Kennedy and McCarthy represented the anti-establishment and especially anti-war side of the Democratic Party, reacting against Democratic President Lyndon Johnson’s commitment to prosecuting and intensifying the war in Vietnam. As former attorney general, and a member of a political dynasty, Kennedy was more establishment than McCarthy and some of us suspected not quite as committed to ending the war. But both candidates represented a similar political vision.
We expected Kennedy would win California and that a Democratic Convention in August would determine which of the peace candidates would get the nomination. France had just been through its May 1968 uprising, and the time was ripe in the US for our younger generation to make our mark on US politics, but in this case through a legitimate election. Needless to say, the very same vested interests that President Dwight Eisenhower warned about eight years earlier upon leaving office — the military-industrial complex — were not as eager as we were to accomplish that goal.
The authorities and the media convinced everyone, just as they had with the JFK assassination — that the killer had been identified and we could get on with our business. Many of us assumed that McCarthy was the remaining candidate who would represent the party and that the commitment to peace and reform would be at the heart of the convention’s new platform. The Kennedy campaign, instead of aligning behind McCarthy, immediately sought a replacement for the fallen senator: the relatively unknown George McGovern. And the party’s establishment fixed things so that, in the confusion, Vice President Hubert Humphrey would be the nominee, guaranteeing continuity with Johnson’s policies.
And, as everyone knows, the bitter divide of the Democratic Party that played out in spectacular riots at the Chicago convention ensured the victory in November of Republican Richard Nixon, leading to the further intensification of the Vietnam War.
Some people, looking back at the 1960s, can legitimately claim that the strategy of political celebrity assassination of the 1960s effectively assassinated democracy itself.
*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news.]
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