For people of my generation Dallas is famous for one thing, the assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy.
As a result of this event the course of my life changed. Possibly not as much as the time a drunk traveller for a wine company ran into the back of our old Wolseley on the highway outside of Royal North Shore Hospital and wrote it off, yet sufficiently that although I might still have children they would not have been the same children.
Kennedy was killed at the end of 1963, just as I was going to University and I've written about this before. Read more...
No doubt it's the same for every one of my generation. So the future of the world was entirely changed that day. For example, would Kennedy have pressed on in Vietnam?
Days before his own death he'd authorised the killing of the brothers Diem during the CIA sponsored coup in South Vietnam that made General Minh the virtual dictator and the Country began falling into chaos. Ho Chi Minh marked it as the day he won the war. It was not until a year later that we in Australia went 'All the way with LBJ' - the new President Lyndon Baines Johnson. As a result we needed conscription to increase the number of young Australian men who would get killed to keep Vietnam 'free'.
Along with thousands of young Americans they died for naught. Vietnam still isn't 'free'. Although, as I've reported elsewhere, it's now a pleasant place to spend a holiday, with seemingly happy, healthy and increasingly prosperous people. Read more...
Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza
(featuring exhibits on John Fitzgerald Kennedy's presidency; assassination and the site of the sniper's nest)
As every one of my generation knows: on 22 November 1963, as Kennedy's motorcade passed by, shots were fired from a sixth floor window of a book depository at Dealey Plaza and Kennedy's head blew apart.
Lee Harvey Oswald was very quickly caught and identified as the shooter. His mail-order gun was found hidden near the sixth floor window of the book depository where he worked. Around the shooter's window boxes had been moved into a makeshift wall to provide hiding place and a gun rest.
But before he could say much or be brought to trial he was murdered at point blank, in front of reporters, by Dallas night club owner and sometime mob associate Jack Ruby. It turned out Ruby had terminal cancer. To many this seemed suspicious and there have been so many wild conspiracy theories that I soon gave up listening to them.
There was an official enquiry that concluded that Kennedy was shot twice and Governor Connolly was shot once but Oswald had only managed to get off two shots. The first 'magic' bullet had hit both men, passing right through Kennedy. The second, the head shot instantly killed Kennedy. It required rapid reloading and re-aiming of a cheap bolt action gun. It was either amazingly skilled or, given that the first, much easier shot, had hit Kennedy in the shoulder, just extraordinarily 'lucky'. The testimony of witnesses, their photographs showing police running and the sound track on a home movie, that had recorded several rapid bangs, initially suggested that there had been more than one shooter, possibly from a nearby rise, topped by a wall providing cover, that came to be known as The Grassy Knoll.
The film producer Oliver Stone made a movie in which he explored this evidence, including new evidence about Oswald's possible recruitment, and concluded that there had been a conspiracy. A second enquiry was held that included a full reconstruction, complete with sound recordings of the echoes produced by gunfire. It again found that Oswald acted alone but unsettlingly, discovered that there had been evidence tampering by someone immediately following the killing. New (old) papers are about to be released by President Trump that might reveal the culprit but now Trump has reneged on his commitment to release them all. Why are we not surprised?
At the museum that now occupies the Book Depository you can see a video reconstruction of the presidential limousine coming slowly down the street towards the building. Kennedy is in the back seat of the open car, fully exposed. The screen is below the window adjacent to Oswald's so you can simultaneously see the actual scene. The most extraordinary thing is that Oswald had a clear and easy shot at Kennedy for almost a minute but didn't fire. He waited until the car had turned the corner and would soon be out of range. The final head shot, that hit Kennedy close to the centre of his head, was indeed worthy of a first class marksman using a professional sniper rifle, with full adjustment for wind and exact range. No wonder everyone who's ever fired a cheap bolt action rifle and looked at this reconstruction gets suspicious, including several men with military experience discussing it the day we were there.
The Kennedy Assassination - look at the relative size of the cars and people in the street.
A good shot with Oswald's rifle and scope might hit the guy by the near corner in the head
but what about the fellow in the blue shirt adjacent to the second shot? Remember the car was speeding away by then.
To see more detail click on 'Dallas from the JFK Museum' below
As the museum itself is keen to point out, Kennedy was not without enemies. In addition to a list of sins published by political enemies during the campaign that appears in the museum, old Joe Kennedy, the family patriarch, a very wealthy pillar of Chicago High Society, had an evil reputation for ruthlessness and possible Mafia connections. Kennedy and his brothers were wealthy playboys who didn't stop at handing women back and forth between them. They, no doubt, had more than one man after them on that ground alone. And Kennedy himself was happy to sanction assassination. Not only had he approved the killing of the Diem brothers in Vietnam just weeks earlier, but he'd also authorised several attempts on the life of Cuba's Fidel Castro. Then there was the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion that had alienated a lot of Castro's enemies as well. To that clamping down on the Mafia and forced desegregation in the South can add the Mob and the Ku Klux Klan or one of several other such white supremacist groups to the list. He'd also recently come to such verbal blows (expletives deleted) over price controls on the Steel industry that it too had led to unhappy investors and death threats. There's quite a long list.
At the museum we're invited to believe that Oswald was driven by such hatred that he took advantage of a serendipitous opportunity to shoot Kennedy. By chance he was already an employee at the Book Depositary. By chance he'd purchased a rifle and scope and suitable ammunition weeks before. By chance there was a convenient empty floor and well placed window with a big pile of boxes to hide his shooting position.
All this was exceedingly fortuitous because unless Oswald had inside knowledge he couldn't even have known that Kennedy was coming to Dallas, let alone the Presidential schedule, timing and route, that just happened to come past his workplace. To him it must have seemed amazingly providential. He couldn't have had more than a day or two to prepare, during which he had to plan the shooting, build his hide and smuggle in his gun. So to have hit Kennedy in the head and killed him with his hurried, longer range, second shot must have seemed miraculous.
At the time the Russian secret service, the KGB, had similar doubts and reported to Moscow that LBJ had ordered Kennedy's killing and that Oswald who, as it turns out they knew quite well, was a patsy, duped into covering for the real marksman somewhere else.
Given the strange delay in Oswald opening fire, that I noticed first hand, combined with just too many coincidences, then considering motive, means and opportunity, I'm starting to think that's a conspiracy theory with legs. There's certainly a strong smell of fish in that place. But it could be all the red herrings.
Whatever the truth may be about the killing, my main concern is that the museum fails to mention Kennedy's many failings. Andrew Jackson's got an airing at the Hermitage. In that way this one's like the Elvis Presley museum. As I said there, eulogising a pop star so as to build the legend, and the cash flow, and not to offend his sensitive fans, is one thing but to do it for a president is more problematic.
Kennedy's marriage is represented as close to ideal. Marilyn Monroe and his other women get scant mention and no mention is made of Jackie's almost immediate remarriage. No mention is made of his abuse of prescription drugs or even of his disability. But these are foibles compared to blatantly inventing the 'Missile Gap' in order to win the election, or deploying PGM-19 Jupiter medium range nuclear ballistic missiles in Italy and Turkey targeted on Moscow, thereby massively accelerating the 'Cold War'. Nor is admitted that the 'Cuban Missile Crisis' was resolved by giving Russia what it wanted: the removal of those missiles threatening Moscow. Although he was hailed as a hero at home that was hollow. It was in no way the victory for Kennedy that is suggested by the museum. Instead he had, for no sensible reason, taken the world as close to Armageddon as we have ever been.
Kennedy is most remembered for the second Berlin airlift, after the Wall was built, and the decision to go to the moon. He made several great speeches in these causes that inspired the world. Yet his brilliant speech writer, Ted Sorensen, goes uncredited, even though Kennedy himself was more than happy to acknowledge Sorensen as his 'intellectual blood bank'. And so it goes. The same thing applies at the Kennedy Memorial at Arlington where Jackie is buried alongside as if she was still his wife.
I was reminded of the Shakespeare memorial at Stratford that's engraved with his most famous lines. Did he pen all these himself or was he the entrepreneur who commissioned and owned the plays. In five hundred years Sorensen will be forgotten and the speeches will be Kennedy's alone. In this museum it's taken a decade or five.
Dallas Museum of Art
Dallas is not without culture and has another great art gallery - the Dallas Museum of Art - DMA that has a surprisingly large collection of impressionists in addition to more modern and more traditional European works. They also have more ancient gold - is it all in Texas?
George W Bush Presidential Library and Museum
Another museum to see in Dallas is the George W Bush Presidential Library and Museum. George junior is the son of a previous president and 'entirely on his own merit' became Governor of Texas. As Governor he managed two ground-breaking achievements:
- First, he gained praise in 'oil man' circles for being a sort of negative Robin Hood - seeking to privatise social services to the poor and the needy to help pay for Texas' biggest ever tax cuts.
- Second, he made Texas a leader among all the 31 states where capital punishment is still legal. By presiding over the execution of 152, mostly black men, he broke a United States gubernatorial record. It could even be a world record if it weren't for the superpowers of state sanctioned murder: China; Iran and Saudi Arabia. But then are their governors empowered to make such a decision?
Normally when visiting another country I try to refrain from commenting on people like governors. But this one went on to be leader of the 'free world' and through the ANZUS alliance thus involved Australia in several of his actions.
His museum is populated by a team of sycophantic volunteers who are under the impression that 'W' was the greatest President who ever lived. Certainly not as he appears to me: a simple man who managed, under the influence of others smarter than he, to stuff-up almost everything he touched.
Consider some of his famous Bushisms. They seem to be coming from a man who has no in-depth understanding of what he's been told to say:
"You teach a child to read, and he or her will be able to pass a literacy test.'' —Townsend, Tenn., Feb. 21, 2001
"I glance at the headlines just to kind of get a flavor for what's moving. I rarely read the stories, and get briefed by people who are probably read the news themselves." —Washington, D.C., Sept. 21, 2003
"I know what I believe. I will continue to articulate what I believe and what I believe — I believe what I believe is right." —Rome, Italy, July 22, 2001
On the economy:
"We need to counter the shockwave of the evildoer by having individual rate cuts accelerated and by thinking about tax rebates." —Washington, D.C. Oct. 4, 2001
"And so I'm for medical liability at the federal level." --George W. Bush, on medical liability reform, Washington, D.C., March 10, 2006
On international affairs:
"This foreign policy stuff is a little frustrating." —as quoted by the New York Daily News, April 23, 2002
"Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we." —Washington, D.C., Aug. 5, 2004 (Watch video)
"We shouldn't fear a world that is more interacted." --George W. Bush, Washington, D.C., June 27, 2006
"We spent a lot of time talking about Africa, as we should. Africa is a nation that suffers from incredible disease." —Gothenburg, Sweden, June 14, 2001
"The point now is how do we work together to achieve important goals. And one such goal is a democracy in Germany." --George W. Bush, D.C., May 5, 2006
"The war on terror involves Saddam Hussein because of the nature of Saddam Hussein, the history of Saddam Hussein, and his willingness to terrorize himself." —Grand Rapids, Mich., Jan. 29, 2003
"Do you have blacks, too?" —to Brazilian President Fernando Cardoso, Washington, D.C., Nov. 8, 2001
On law and order:
"For every fatal shooting, there were roughly three non-fatal shootings. And, folks, this is unacceptable in America. It's just unacceptable. And we're going to do something about it." —Philadelphia, Penn., May 14, 2001
So I prefer to believe he's simple, because he seems well-meaning - and the alternative is complicit.
The museum tells us that when elected his first mission, encouraged by his librarian wife, was to do something about the appalling state of literacy in the US. Contrary to an assertion in the museum, the outcome, as measured by qualified researchers, was that literacy improved not one iota, so we can give him an F in English. Then he decided the US was spending too much on space exploration and shut down most of NASA. Other scientific programs got similar treatment. That's an F in Science.
When the World Trade Centre in New York got hit by aircraft flown by Saudis, funded by a Saudi, he flew his Saudi business associates out of the country when other aircraft were still grounded. Then he cut back on the war in Afghanistan, where the culprit was probably hiding hosted by Taliban, trained in Pakistan, funded by Saudis. At the same time he was paying Pakistan billions, it was said to stop them using their actual nuclear weapons, he persuaded his allies (or did they persuade him?) to illegally attack distant Iraq, alleging possession of non-existent 'weapons of mass destruction' to justify this. Then he foolishly claimed to have won that war when it had hardly begun.
Not content with destabilising the middle east he then sabotaged his father's efforts to reach a rapprochement with North Korea and Iran, to halt their nuclear programs with diplomacy, by calling them members of the Axis of Evil and imposing sanctions that made them redouble their efforts.
Meanwhile his War on Terror was about as effective as his father's War on Drugs and could more properly be called the War for Terror as the war in Afghanistan escalated; stability in the Middle East crumbled; and sectarian differences in Iraq led to ISIS and so to many more terrorist incidents around the world.
It's odd to see W preserved in bronze alongside his father in the museum courtyard as the two men had a notorious falling out over the degree to which W had fallen under the spell of the 'neocons' in the White House.
When it was announced (with amazingly little fanfare) that the pugnaciously anti-Iraq war Democrat Kennedy had been awarded the 2003 George Bush Award for Excellence in Public Service, so many jaws dropped all over Washington that usually voluble politicians were only heard swallowing their real thoughts.
Since the current President Bush veered away from the real war against terrorism in Afghanistan and went a'venturing in Iraq, much to his father's dismay, just about everybody close to Washington politics has known of the policy schism between father and son.
It was politically and philosophically obvious. But people around Father Bush, a coterie of traditional internationalist conservatives who protect him like a wolf mother does her cubs, would heatedly deny any family rift -- and nobody spoke publicly about it.
Now it's all out. Father Bush has done it in his own preferred nuanced way -- the way Establishment gentlemen operate -- but he has revealed the depth of his disagreement with his impetuously uninformed son...
The ideological rift between father and son has been growing ever since George W. began focusing on Iraq and, with that obsession, proposed "theories" of unilateralism (America needs room in the world) and pre-emption (kill even your perceived enemy before he kills you).
But while family friends say Father Bush has made his disagreements known to his son, they clearly have not found fertile soil in this White House.
More curious, and in many ways depressing, is the fact that this President Bush has embarked upon a policy designed to counter, or even to wipe out, his father's entire political legacy.
The father lived his life in the service of moderate and intelligent internationalism. His manners were always meticulously courteous, as he wooed even critics overseas to see the American position. He was even-handed in the Middle East and thus brought the area to the verge of peace for the first time in history; he was capable of using force but preferred to do it supported by coalitions of friendly states, thus cementing international cooperation.
The son seems to have made posturing against his father's accomplishments and beliefs his life's work.
W has given way to a radical right that abhors international coalitions and manners; he mocks the world and denies any need for its help. He has led the Middle East to the nadir of its hope and possibilities, and he has led the United States to a moment in history in which we face asymmetric warfare from one end of the globe to another.
And above all, he has replaced his father's courtesy and good graces with an almost proud rudeness and scorn for others.
Why? I'll leave the question of "killing the father" to the psychiatric thinkers. Meanwhile, the tension between these two men reveals itself daily.
Georgie Anne Geyer, Boston Globe 10/18/2003
We saw an example of this in Korea where George Bush Senior was pictured laying a ceremonial rail tie on the proposed rail line from the South thought the North and on across china and Russia to Europe. It was a great thawing of North/South tensions. This was almost immediately undone when W came to power naming the North among the Axes of Evil and strengthened US military presence in the South. The North very legitimately feared invasion. They responded by stepping up their military capability, with the apparent goal of MAD (mutually assured destruction): threatening nuclear retaliation against US mainland cities. Read my remarks on Korea: Here...
Then came the Global Financial Crisis. Many countries road through this as an economic 'bumpy patch' but in the US people were ruined and left their homes with the keys in the letterbox. Many are still 'underwater'. The generally recognised culprits walked away unscathed.
Being underwater was not a euphemism for a lot of people in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina struck. But then as a result of Bush's equivocations the aftermath was mismanaged for month upon month. During the recovery negative social indicators like racial tension and school shootings rose sharply. As we clearly saw, much of the country is still recovering from the Global Financial Crisis.
But he's a great guy; self-disparaging about his many 'goofs'; with a charming smile; and a wonderful dinner companion. At least I can infer this by the very expensive necklace a Saudi gave to his wife, along with other generous gifts, properly declared and displayed in a showcase in his museum.
From Dallas we would fly to that unspellable town: Albuquerque in New Mexico. So it was time to say goodbye to yet another trusty car.