November 22 is a watershed date in US history. On this date in 1963, charismatic US president, John F Kennedy, was shot and killed in Dallas. And thus began the cult of JFK. Amazing to think that 55 years later, the death sparks heated debates with conspiracy theories never ending.
But why are we so obsessed with this US president? The reasons are many and to start with, we need to look at the sixties cold war period when Communism versus Capitalism friction reached the zenith providing a fertile ground for paranoia.
Wait a second, while JFK may be a political figure, the sustenance of his cult so many years later has to do a lot with the permissive social credo of the sixties that unceremoniously tore down tedious convention, allowing men and women to mix freely.
Well, for JFK ‘mixing freely’ is a bit of an understatement.
To be honest, he was the president who took politics and philandering with equal passion. With the Cuban missile crisis taking the world to the edge of nuclear Armageddon, he had every reason to live life to the full – let the end come, but not before the happy ending in bed!
The ‘live as if there is no tomorrow’ had an impact on many societies because with nuclear war appearing to be a possibility, everyone wanted to live like a hedonist.
As November 22 comes, there is always some new discovery about the JFK phenomenon which the world did not know. Sometimes, it’s a theory about who killed the president while at others, it’s some respectable senior woman coming forward to spill the beans about the naughty acts the president and she got up to in the White House when killing Castro was not being discussed.
Just joking, JFK actually wanted to reconcile with Fidel Castro, the Communist leader in Cuba, not too far away from the US mainland. Many political analysts suggest that it was this desire which led the Mafia to kill the president.
But why does JFK still matter today? It was fifty-five years ago, Castro is dead, Cuba is opening up to Capitalist ideas and no missiles are positioned towards the USA (at least, not that we know of).
The thing is, JFK is a cult and the mystery surrounding his assassination, his penchant for the opposite sex and the handling of the nuclear showdown with USSR continue to intrigue us.
The president who thrived on risqué encounters
Let’s be honest, a young handsome president in his early 40s, plenty of women, a liberal social atmosphere, the mass production of the birth control pill make a very heady mixture.
With all the power in the world, you just have to say: “I want to be a libertine!”
Most of JFK’s allure emanates from his clandestine affairs with other women. The paradox is, society denounces such behaviour in the general male but swoons over the saucy details with an air of dreamy approval when the person is someone in power and, good looking.
Notice the last part: good looking. Throw in a youthful presence topped with charm too because youth plus power make a potent blend.
Donald Trump is also accused of dissolute behaviour, though in his case, the common reaction is that of revulsion. The simple reason for antagonism towards Trump is that he lacks the finesse and, of course, is not young.
If JFK was deemed the ladies’ man then Trump is perhaps taken as an old lecher. The perception of the people plus the world is defined by how charismatic a president can be.
Charisma can make a grave fault seem a peccadillo. Remember, Bill Clinton and his intern Monica Lewinsky?
The antics with the cigar were certainly deviant, but most took (overlooked) it as a man getting a little naughty.
Clinton lied and then was forced to admit the affair but the world forgave him, in fact, women seemed to love him more.
The Southern charm worked perfectly – after all, man is not perfect and can make some mistakes!
JFK also had a torrid relationship with Marilyn Monroe, who committed suicide. The possible link of the president with the killing spawned several theories adding to the enigma of the JFK cult.
JFK had countless other relations, though the White House press department of the time maintained a carefully choreographed ‘family man’ image.
Reportedly, once JFK told British PM Harold Macmillan that if he did not get laid for three days he got a headache.
True or false, this lothario concept has endured, adding to the louche appeal of Kennedy.
It’s the killing that still baffles
We all like an absorbing crime thriller! And JFK’s death refuses to become just another forgotten assassination. The suspense compounded when the alleged killer, Lee Harvey Oswald, said before being killed by a night club owner Jack Ruby that he was a ‘patsy’.
The question as to why Ruby shot and killed him has fuelled countless theories. The most presented is the idea that the mob was behind the actual killing of the president, used Oswald as a scapegoat and had him killed in the end to stop the facts from being revealed.
Over the decades, the killing has been analysed countless times with high tech assessment of the photos during the shooting, showing a shadowy figure hidden in a grass hedge just in front of the car carrying the president.
Also, there has been plenty of speculation about a woman in a scarf or better known as ‘The Babushka Lady’. Some say this was a Russian spy holding a camera gun while others claim it was actually a man dressed as a woman. If either of this is true then there’s perhaps some unknown side to the assassination. Oswald actually deserted to the USSR and then came back allegedly after being disaffected with the socialist Utopia.
There are several aspects of the JFK killing that do not match up; with Oswald killed just two days after the assassination, theories continue to proliferate.
Some seem plausible as many others are downright absurd.
We don’t want the puzzle to be solved
With the speculation taking new branches every year, it seems that if the killing riddle is solved then the world will lose a salacious mystery. The actual plot behind the JFK killing should remain elusive because otherwise the cult will flounder and the racy accounts of JFK’s predilection for the opposite sec will cease to be bestsellers.
Harsh as it may sound, JFK, by being killed in mysterious circumstances plus his colourful private life and the Cuban Missile Crisis which he handled adroitly, coalesces to create a potboiler.
Do we want it to end? Hell, no! Now, tell me, what was that theory about Oswald being hypnotised by the Russians when he was in the USSR and sent back to the USA as a ‘sleeper’ agent?
Towheed Feroze is a news editor at Bangla Tribune and teaches at the University of Dhaka.