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.
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.
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. 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.
After coming to office, the Kennedy brothers, John and Robert, the Attorney General, turned on their benefactors and underwent vigorous campaigns against the Mafia. As well as that, Kennedy was a reforming president, campaigning for the rights of minority groups, particularly in the very heated race issues, and seeking change in much of the corrupt and unaccountable parts of Government. All this made him very unpopular in many sectors.
People were polarised. Some loved Kennedy, while others saw him as a communist, particularly when he appeared to many to appease the Soviet Union and to tolerate the blatant and antagonistic activities of Fidel Castro. There was no worse thing to be in the United States in the early 1960’s than to be a communist sympathiser. Such sentiments were particularly strongly held in the south.
Perhaps the most defining issue was Vietnam. The CIA had started to install agents ('advisers') in South Vietnam with the intention of supporting the government of the south against the insurgencies of the Vietcong from the north. They were determined to make this their next theatre of action, and following the war in Korea, and before that, World War II, the Pentagon and all the so-called 'military-industrial complex' knew just how profitable war could be. Much has been said about the power of the military-industrial complex, but there is no doubt that these organisations and their faceless leaders had, and still do have today, much of the power behind the Government.
Kennedy was not at all sure about the wisdom of pursuing the campaign in Vietnam and had allowed increased presence there by the CIA with some reluctance. However, just before his death, Kennedy signed a declaration to commence a withdrawal of agents from South Vietnam. Although this would take some time, it clearly signalled the beginning of the end of the campaign. Some believe this was the final issue that decided the conspirators, and the fact that one of Johnson’s first actions as president was to overturn this memorandum of Kennedy’s, seems to indicate its key significance.
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.