Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Search for the Truth

X (Donald Sutherland): Fundamentally, people are suckers for the truth. And the truth is on your side, Bubba.

I had a lot of things on my mind in December 1991.

I was about to receive my master's degree in journalism from the University of North Texas.

That alone would have been enough to warrant most of my attention, but, earlier in the year, I learned that an old friend of mine in Arkansas had been diagnosed with a particularly aggressive variant of cancer, and I put my academic plans on hold while he waged a losing battle with that disease.

Mercifully for him, I guess, that battle was over rather quickly. I drove back to Arkansas to be a pallbearer at his funeral that August, and I resumed work on my master's a few weeks later. I took the final class for which I needed credit, and I took the comprehensive exam, clearing all the remaining hurdles before receiving my degree on December 14.

That night, I attended a post–graduation party that was given by some younger people who had received their B.A.s that day — and who had been my students when I worked as a teaching assistant.

At the party, I remember discussing with several people the approaching premiere of Oliver Stone's newest film, "JFK."

I cannot remember a time in my life when I was ever too preoccupied to talk about the Kennedy assassination.

Like many people, I have long been fascinated by the Kennedy assassination — especially, I suppose, because it happened in Dallas, where my parents grew up, where my grandparents lived most of their lives and where I have observed many of the milestones in my life.

That's part of what I have tried for many years to reconcile — the fact that a city that holds so many valued memories for me could have been the scene of one of the greatest tragedies in American history. I guess it makes the Kennedy assassination that much more personal for me.

And, like most Americans, I want to know the truth. I don't believe I have been told the truth, and I would like to know what the truth is before I die.

Perhaps L. Fletcher Prouty, the former Air Force colonel who served the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President Kennedy, could have told us the truth. He was the inspiration for the character of X, the informant who met with Kevin Costner in "JFK."

X seemed to know more than he was telling — even though he told Costner quite a bit. And, in his life, there were certainly times when Prouty seemed to know more than he was saying.

My impression of Prouty, who has been deceased for 10½ years, is that he believed (whether he had evidence to support it or not) that participation in the Kennedy assassination and/or its coverup was consistent with a pattern of behavior that he witnessed within the intelligence community.

The existence of the "Secret Team," as he called it in one of his books, combined with his stated belief that the Kennedy assassination was a coup d'etat, may well have made it possible for other secret groups (i.e., Nixon's "Plumbers" in the 1970s and Oliver North's covert sale of weapons to Iran and diversion of the profits to Nicaraguan Contras in the 1980s) to do things in the future that Congress had not authorized them to do — things that, frequently, were not only outside congressional oversight but outside the law as well.

I fear I am nearing my limit of major mystery resolutions, though. I was a teenager during the Watergate era, and I always wanted to know the actual identity of Deep Throat. The truth about that became known several years ago.

There are other mysteries that I would like to see resolved before I die, and the Kennedy assassination is one of them, perhaps the most prominent one. But I am increasingly skeptical that it will ever be satisfactorily resolved.

Like the fates of D.B. Cooper and Jimmy Hoffa, it is tumbling into the dustbin of history.

What I really liked about "JFK" was that Stone tried to put all the questions that had been raised over the years — in articles, books, documentaries — into a single coherent package. And, to be fair, a few have been answered.

But many, many more have been raised.

"What is past is prologue" appeared on the screen at the end of the film.

That is a line from Shakespeare's "The Tempest," which was written about 400 years ago. It is engraved on the National Archives Building and, in the modern interpretation, it means that history influences the present.

But in Shakespeare's day, it had a somewhat different meaning — the past had led the characters to the verge of a murder. It suggests that those who commit heinous acts are fulfilling destinies over which they are powerless.

I have never believed that we were powerless to learn the truth about what happened here nearly 50 years ago.

But, as the search for truth has gone on these last 20 years, I have wondered if that truth will ever be fully revealed.