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Who killed JFK?

| Thursday, Oct. 24, 2013, 8:55 p.m.

Fifty years ago this November, something happened that became a “flashbulb moment” for every American alive at the time and old enough to remember anything. The indelible photographic images — a fixture in books, movies and television but also recounted in minute detail by millions who recall precisely where they were and what they were doing when they heard about President Kennedy's assassination — have been passed on to succeeding generations.

The youngest elected president at the height of his powers was gunned down on the street of a major city, his head exploded by firepower in full view of his wife and eventually the nation.

Everything changed in an instant. An administration elected by ballots was silenced by bullets. The policies of the United States would be transformed, some for good but others, most notably our future in Vietnam, to our great detriment. The line of actual and likely presidents was shuffled; how many of John Kennedy's nine successors would have arrived in the Oval Office had he lived to serve two full terms?

Like Dec. 7, 1941, and Sept. 11, 2001, Nov. 22, 1963, created distress and nightmares for millions, but long after the immediate personal effects had faded, international consequences of massive proportions would flow for years.

The importance of that awful day in Dallas cannot seriously be disputed, but few agree on the roots of the day itself.

Humility is the most underappreciated virtue and the one least applied to the study of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Everyone has a theory — so many theories, some more credible than others.

Many researchers and authors appear convinced that they have the absolute truth. But I have a different view: No one — no matter how intelligent or learned — knows for sure all that happened, and why it happened, on Nov. 22, 1963.

• The murder of Lee Harvey Oswald guaranteed it.

• The mistakes made by the Warren Commission compounded it.

• The lies and misleading statements made by high officials and important agencies of government further assured it.

• The deaths of the vast majority of those connected to Nov. 22 over the past five decades makes it even more difficult to declare the case closed. The trail, once hot with possible directions for investigation, has long since cooled.

• The continuing refusal to release the many thousands of pages of documents relating to the case — 50 years on, when it is hard to believe that America's security interests would be damaged — also makes it impossible to reach fully reliable conclusions.

There is only one prediction I can make with certainty: A hundred years from now, there will still be books written and documentaries proposing theories while sifting evidence about the Kennedy assassination. If you doubt that, then you should count the number of new Lincoln-related assassination materials that have appeared in recent years — almost a century and a half after the murder at Ford's Theater.

Larry J. Sabato is author of “The Kennedy Half Century” (Bloomsbury) and director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics. This op-ed is excerpted from a speech that Sabato gave at Duquesne University on Oct. 17.

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