Murder begins in the heart and its first weapon is a vicious tongue." - Henry Farrell
I just finished reading book titled "Dallas 1963" by Bill Minutaglio and Steven L. Davis that is due for release on Oct. 8. There are a number of new examinations of John Kennedy's murder in Dallas 50 years ago, but this one pays a special attention to the cast of characters who contributed so much to JFK's death without actually pulling a trigger to do it.
Many people warned Kennedy not to go to Dallas. The city had degenerated to a viper's nest of irrational right wing extremism fueled by that monstrous sense of superiority that the state of Texas lays claim to. If sheer land mass was the only requisite for measuring greatness, they might have a case.
The limitations of local bombast was never so vividly illustrated on a national stage as it was by Texas governor Rick Perry's abbreviated run for the presidency in 2012. Mr. Perry evidently hoped that swagger would suffice during his campaign, even if he couldn't name offhand all the things he was going to eliminate when he became the Big Foreman on the Ranch. The GOP wasn't appreciably more successful running the Lord of the Manor as its standard bearer, but Mr. Romney certainly mirrored where the party's heart is comfortably enthroned more accurately.
Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson had been verbally assailed in Dallas in 1960.
Outside of the Adolphius Hotel, where LBJ was scheduled to speak, the Johnsons were besieged by a group of upscale Junior League types, dubbed by history as The Mink Coat Mob. Texas congressman Bruce Alger's assurances that Mr. Johnson had acceded to the eventual communist takeover of America - threatening its glowing promise that members of the Junior League were constitutionally meant to wear mink coats - had goaded the screaming women into their hysterical fury.
Mrs. Johnson's gloves were snatched out of her hands and thrown in the gutter. When the future First Lady started to reply to the vile epithets, her husband placed his hand over her mouth and told her just to keep walking. Ever the savvy politician, Johnson even instructed his entourage to disperse. The next morning, all the newspapers showed the Johnsons calmly walking through a shrieking melee and the entire world extended its sympathy, as LBJ knew it would. Even Dallas was embarrassed, no small accomplishment at that particular moment in time.
The Johnsons were treated cordially in comparison to the reception that awaited Adlai Stevenson, who was the object of the lunatic fringe's wrath because he was the current United States Ambassador to the United Nations.
The U. N. was an especially volatile subject amongst the super-patriots in Dallas, who held that American exceptionalism should hoist it above being bound by decisions made by a body that represented the international community. It was, in its way, just an obvious expansion of their attitude about Texas' exalted place in the firmament of less-worthy states.
Mr. Stevenson remained admirably civil during his speech while he was relentlessly heckled, interrupted, and sneered at by an audience especially assembled for that purpose. He was spat upon and physically assaulted as he attempted to leave the Dallas Memorial Auditorium. When he finally made it to the relative safety of his car, he posed a reasonable question to no one in particular, "Are these human beings or animals?" Adlai Stevenson joined the growing chorus of people warning John F. Kennedy to steer clear of Dallas.
If an ex-Marine turned nomadic malcontent named Lee Harvey Oswald fired the bullets that ended the president's life, Oswald had found the perfect ground for bringing his simmering rage to a boil in Dallas. Through perceptions distorted by greed, prejudice, and sanctimony, some the city's most prominent citizens constantly stoked and exploited the irrational anger.
Among the cast of characters in what would prove to be one of the most tragic and traumatic events in the country's history was a billionaire oilman, a Baptist preacher who ranted against the evils of integration ("They are not like us!"), the publisher of the Dallas Morning News, whose invective-filled tirades against Kennedy greeted the city every day, and a disgraced general from the United States army, who emerged as the anti-Kennedy faction's hero-in-residence and would later serve as the inspiration for General Jack D. Ripper in Stanley Kubrick's "Dr. Strangelove," a legacy he richly deserved.
The one common component that fueled the determination of this disparate and destructive crew was hatred. Whether it is directed towards blacks, gays, communists, Muslims, Catholics, Jews, or the poor, hate is the oxygen upon which the extreme right flourishes. If it seems unfair to blame the stage upon which a bad play is presented, other American cities have been the sites of political assassination in America. None of those cities has experienced such an irrevocable association of a terrible event and the place where it happened. There were good people in Dallas in 1963, who were horrified by the bluster and bullying of people like Ted Dealy and Edwin Walker. But, they stood by and allowed a tidal wave of hatred and hysteria to engulf their city. Fifty years later, Dallas is still paying the price.