Death of a President
Fifty-two years ago today, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, 35th president of the Unites States, died instantly when he was shot in the head while riding in an open limousine through Dealey Plaza in Dallas, Texas.
It was an act of terror committed by a deeply troubled and dis-affected young man, Lee Harvey Oswald, which sent shock waves around the world.
Oswald fired three shots that day, the first considered a “ranging” shot, the second entering through Kennedy’s upper back and exiting through his throat and the third, a shot to the rear of his head.
Robert Caro, the bestselling author, notes that Kennedy prized irony and would have seen it in the fact that he was wearing a back brace that day which kept him upright after the second shot and positioned for the final one.
The Terrorist Archetype
Oswald is of a type seen in many, if not most, incidents of terror, then and now.
Some characteristics are both obvious and nearly universal: male and in their twenties.
Those demographics also sum up the Paris attackers, Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, John Wilkes Booth andÂ Leon Frank Czolgosz, president McKinley’s assassin, and many more including Charleston shooter Dylann Roof.
The ones we know the most about, Booth,Â Czolgosz, Oswald, McVeigh, and Roof, all come from either broken and/or chaotic homes lacking stability and often rife with violence and emotional turmoil.
The Turn to Violence
Many people grow up in troubled homes but do not turn to apocalyptic violence as an outlet.
What makes twenty-something males so predisposed?
Perhaps, those in their twenties are searching for a “life framework.”
Many find it through some combination of education, career, family and friends.
Some do not and just drift benignly along.
Others, urged on by some inner energy, turn to violent thoughts and then actions.
What is the genesis of that inner energy or disposition?
Oswald found profound personal cohesion in Marxist writings.
McVeigh’s was militia ideology.
Booth’s was his conviction that the south could be resurrected.
Roof’s was racial hatred.
For them, violence offered a path of certitude.
And, a lust for notoriety must also play a role.
The Final Spark
More than a few people entertain thoughts of violence yet never act upon them.
What psychological imperative propels these young men to acts of violence, including suicide?
The next Oswald, McVeigh or Roof (or Parisian killers) is out there right now and their motive, as bizarre as it may be, is fully formed in their minds, that we know from experience.
All they require is the means and the opportunity.
Both are readily available in the form of weapons and venues.
If you had someone in your life who espoused violent and apocalyptic ideas would you act to stop them or would you simply look the other way?
That’s the question we all must ask.