The reason why the concept of conspiracy is such a critical one and is so uncomfortable for many, is that it requires a motive. It would be implausible that someone would go to such lengths to plan the assassination, to involve so many people and to follow up with such a comprehensive cover up, if there was not a very good reason. Someone wanted Kennedy dead. There was no other explanation and therefore we would need to know why as well as who.
One convenient aspect of the Warren Commission’s version of events was that it did not need to readily address the subject of motive. Oswald was a loner, an unstable character with a history of unusual behaviour and associations with communist organisations. It was easy to justify the idea that he had decided one day to take this once-in-a-lifetime chance as the President passed by the window of the building in which he worked, to take a shot at him and carve his name in the history books forever. That is really as much as the Warren Commission said about motive. Oswald was a communist and therefore, with the fever of hatred against communism in the US coming out of the period of the McCarthy witch-hunt trials, it was easy to convince people that this was enough reason, for Oswald at least.
Unfortunately, Oswald survived the assassination and subsequent arrest and had an opportunity to speak to the press, albeit in somewhat restricted terms. When he did, he failed to fit the model of the mad assassin claiming his place in history. In fact he denied having killed the President, which was completely out of character for a militant. He described himself as a patsy and conducted himself, as far as he was able, with some decorum and dignity.
Kennedy was a modern president, the first of a new generation of presidents following the war. He was young, charismatic and charming. He was married to Jacqueline, who invariably upstaged him in the glamour stakes wherever they went, and their family was much admired throughout the world. They were the nearest thing the United States had to a royal family and conducted an intimate relationship with the American people.
However, Kennedy was an Irish catholic and he won the election in 1960 by the narrowest of margins, and it is now known, with the help of intervention by his father who used his contacts in organised crime to help ‘manage’ the election in a few key states.
Although he was popular with the many of the people, he was equally unpopular with others.
The Mafia had helped make Kennedy President. However, after the election, John and his brother, Attorney General, Robert, openly campaigned against organised crime. This was not a popular move with the Mafia, or indeed, the Director of the FBI, J Edgar Hoover. Although it is unlikely the Mafia initiated the assassination, there is little doubt they were involved, most probably with the mechanics of the process.
War had always been a profitable business for many US companies, a lesson learned during World War II in particular. With the combination of opportunity and the dread fear of communism in South East Asia spreading from China, there was much support for the escalation of war in Vietnam in support of the South Vietnamese regime against the Chinese backed Vietcong fighters from the North. The CIA had started to send ‘advisers’ to Vietnam and there was a strong sentiment to increase numbers there.
Kennedy was very well aware of the challenging times the French had had in Vietnam and was anxious to avoid an escalation of the conflict there. He could see it would very rapidly get out of hand and would probably be unwinnable. In fact, Kennedy had commenced the process of withdrawal from Vietnam with the issue of National Security Action Memorandum (NSAM) 263 in October 1963, just weeks before he died. The prospect of withdrawing from Vietnam and de-escalating the war was very unpopular with the CIA and the Pentagon in particular.
The CIA was a powerful organisation with ideas of its own as to how to manage relations with foreign powers. In particular, relating to Cuba and its relationship with the Soviet Union. Kennedy regularly differed in his view of the CIA’s strategies and this led to a breakdown in relations with the head of the CIA, Allen Dulles, who JFK fired from his post in November 1961.
The Bay of Pigs was a specific example of the falling out between the President and the CIA. Kennedy was not keen on an invasion of Cuba, but the CIA proceeded and when it became clear that the local people were not going to rise up against the Castro administration in support of the invasion, the CIA requested the President order air support to help the invading participants. JFK refused and the CIA and many others, felt deeply betrayed by this, although subsequently as the details of the invasion became public, it was clear the CIA itself was very much to blame for its failure.
Kennedy attempted to disassemble the CIA as he saw it as being out of hand and unaccountable, especially to him.
The biggest challenge of Kennedy’s administration was undoubtedly the relationship with the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War. Kennedy knew that nuclear proliferation was a dangerous trend in the East-West exchange and when the Soviets established a close relationship with the communist regime in Cuba and planned to site nuclear missiles on Cuban soil, it became an issue he had to stand up to Khrushchev about.
The Soviets were sending missiles to Cuba when Kennedy issued an ultimatum to turn back. Eventually Khrushchev backed down and nuclear Armageddon was avoided. However, many in the CIA and the Pentagon were angry that the President did not act more decisively and forcefully using US nuclear arms against the Soviets.
All along, Kennedy tried hard to diffuse the Cold War situation, seeking nuclear test ban treaties, and even contemplating trading the space race for better relations with the Soviets. All this made Kennedy very unpopular with many who saw him as weak and unable to stand up to their enemies.
All these policies Kennedy pursued and many more, made him very unpopular within the various state bodies who had assumed a lot of power for themselves.
Some might say that there were so many who were potentially motivated to see Kennedy be replaced, that perhaps there are just too many reasons why people wanted to see him removed.