Through the Past Darkly
by Richard Girard
Under the rules of a society that cannot distinguish between profit and profiteering, between money defined as necessity and money defined as luxury, murder is occasionally obligatory and always permissible.Lewis H. Lapham (b. 1935), U.S. essayist, editor. Money and Class in America, ch. 4 (1988).
Do not be misled by the fact that you are at liberty and relatively free; that for the moment you are not under lock and key: you have simply been granted a reprieve.RyszardKapuscinski (b. 1932), Polish journalist. "A Warsaw Diary," in Granta, no. 15 (Cambridge, England, 1985).
A shocking crime was committed on the unscrupulous initiative of few individuals, with the blessing of more, and amid the passive acquiescence of all.Tacitus(c. 55–c. 120), Roman historian. The Histories, bk. 1, section. 28, on the assassination of Emperor Galba.
On the eve of the fortieth-fourth anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, I paused to reflect on the lessons we might learn from our cursed past, to help guide us in our uncertain future. I also thought of what we lost that awful November day, and how much we had left to lose if we do not seize the future with our hands and stop the Bush Regime's attack on our rights.
If you were alive-and at all aware-you know where you were when you heard the news. I was in my first grade classroom, getting ready to go home for lunch, when the principal came on the intercom to tell us that President Kennedy had been shot. A few minutes later, we were all told to go home: school was being canceled for the rest of the day.
I raced the three blocks home, arriving just in time to hear Walter Cronkite tell the world that President Kennedy was reported to be dead. A few minutes later, came the official announcement from Dallas that John Fitzgerald Kennedy, thirty-fifth President of the United States, was dead.
John F. Kennedy's assassination that dark November day was especially traumatic for me. My own father had died a couple of years before, and President Kennedy had grown to occupy the niche in my little boy's heart of an imaginary surrogate father. During the Cuban Missile Crisis, I remember telling my mother not to worry, I knew that President Kennedy would get us through it safe and sound. I spent the next four days in that monstrous November of 1963 glued to the TV set, mourning inwardly at the death of this star-crossed man, his death having changed me, as it had changed the country, forever.
Eleven years later, I was up late one summer night watching Geraldo Rivera's Goodnight, America, when the Zapruder film was shown for the first time on national television. Until that moment, I had believed the Warren Commission's Report, but the Watergate investigation had already served as a catalyst to begin questioning the veracity of government and its pronouncements. As a result of that late night TV show, I became somewhat obsessed with the murder of President Kennedy. I, perhaps naively, hoped to see the case solved in my lifetime.
More than thirty years later, I am still waiting for President Kennedy's murder to be solved, conspirators arrested, and justice served.
Some things have changed. In 1974, I would never have dreamed of believing President Johnson had anything to do with President Kennedy's murder or the subsequent cover up. Now, with the recent revelations concerning LBJ associate Malcolm "Mac" Hall (a convicted murderer), and the identification of his fingerprint (a thirty-four point match, when a ten point match will get you the gurney and the needle in most states) on one of the cardboard boxes in the "assassin's nest" at the Texas School Book Depository, my opinion of LBJ has changed. I now believe that Lyndon Johnson may have known in advance of the plan to murder President Kennedy, and certainly aided in the cover up, for whatever reason.
Of course, if I had known the history of the Roman Republic as well in 1974 as I do now, I would like to think I would have been more than a little suspicious of LBJ from the outset.
Cui bono? Who benefits? This was the question Romans asked themselves when skullduggery in any form reared its head in the Republic. And like the United States for the last forty years, the answer was always the same: the (Roman) Power Elite. The patricians and the equites or knights of Rome's "First Class" thought that their birth had given them an inherent right to plunder the State, exploit the middle class, and marginalize the poor. Empires are, by their very nature, parasitic. Depending on subject nations for basic materials upon which your nation's well-being depends-whether grain for the Romans or petroleum for the United States-is not only insane, but suicidal. When the Roman Senate permitted the gradual elimination of the Roman and Italian yeoman farmer class (during the series of wars of "self-defense" that stretched from 264 B.C. right down to the destruction of Carthage in 146 B.C.), they also destroyed the basis for their domestic grain supply.
Wealthy Romans acquired the holdings of these absent and dead farmers and converted them to more profitable uses, such as vineyards and animal husbandry, worked by an ever growing multitude of slaves. Rome became almost wholly dependent on the grain provided by Sardinia, Sicily, Africa, and Egypt. This led to dire consequences during occasional slave revolts, frequent droughts, or any time piracy reared its ugly head in the Mediterranean.
Additionally, it made it increasingly difficult to recruit new legions, since a Roman legionary was supposed to provide his own armor and weapons. The dispossessed farmers lacked the wherewithal to do that. It was only after the Romans and their allies lost eighty thousand soldiers at the Battle of Arausio, that the consul and military reformer Gaius Marius began recruiting Rome's poor, making the state pay for the legionaries' arms and armor.