AU class project of­fers millennials a new un­der­stand­ing of a dark day

The Washington Times Daily - - From Page One - BY NATHAN PORTER THE WASH­ING­TON TIMES

Though John F. Kennedy’s death took place decades be­fore they were born, at least one group of lo­cal millennials jour­neyed on a five-month project to go deep into the weeds about the shoot­ing that Novem­ber 1963 day and come to their own con­clu­sions.

From Jan­uary to May of this year, just over a dozen Amer­i­can Univer­sity stu­dents en­rolled in the gov­ern­ment course “Who Killed Kennedy” in­ves­ti­gated the 50-year-old mur­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion of the death of the 35th pres­i­dent of the United States and added a 21st cen­tury per­spec­tive to the ca­coph­ony sur­round­ing this de­bate.

“Within our gen­er­a­tion, there’s a big push to un­der­stand what would have hap­pened if Kennedy would have fin­ished of­fice,” said Payne Grif­fin, an Amer­i­can Univer­sity sopho­more and de­signer of the class web­site, whokilled­jfk.org.

The young stu­dents’ cu­rios­ity speaks to the last­ing power of unan­swered ques­tions and con­tro­ver­sies that sur­round the as­sas­si­na­tion nar­ra­tive to this day. Still, a ma­jor­ity of the stu­dents in the class ac­knowl­edge they were un­aware of many of the ba­sic de­tails when they be­gan the class.

“I was not very in­formed at all,” Mr. Grif­fin said. “I knew the ma­jor play­ers ... but I didn’t know as much of the story be­hind it.”

Kris­ten Pulk­ste­nis, a ju­nior ma­jor­ing in law and so­ci­ety at the North­west Wash­ing­ton school, had been in­ter­ested in the Kennedy as­sas­si­na­tion for some time, but even she ad­mits that she en­tered the class be­liev­ing that the Soviet Union had some­thing to do with the as­sas­si­na­tion, one of the most po­tent con­spir­acy the­o­ries that still cling to the as­sas­si­na­tion.

Mr. Grif­fin said most of the stu­dents en­rolled in the course merely to gain a broader un­der­stand­ing of this largely mys­te­ri­ous and in­creas­ingly dis­tant his­tor­i­cal event

The class was an hon­ors course, de­signed pri­mar­ily by AU pro­fes­sor Don­ald Ful­som.

Mr. Ful­som was a White House cor­re­spon­dent from the John­son through the Clin­ton ad­min­is­tra­tions, and he re­mem­bers very well the events of Novem­ber 1963. The strong mem­o­ries, he said, made him in­tent on ex­pos­ing his stu­dents to the con­tro­versy that has loomed over the pres­i­dent’s death since.

Through­out the se­mes­ter, a num­ber of peo­ple who have fo­cused on the de­tails sur­round­ing Kennedy’s as­sas­si­na­tion came in to speak with the class. They in­cluded Dan Moldea, an in­ves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ist who has ex­ten­sively re­searched or­ga­nized crime through­out the 1960s; Robert Blakey, a top of­fi­cial in the House Se­lect Com­mit­tee on As­sas­si­na­tions from 1977 to 1979; and Hol­ly­wood di­rec­tor Oliver Stone, cre­ator of the film “JFK,” which ww many of the doubts about the of­fi­cial ver­sion of what hap­pened in Dal­las when it was re­leased in 1991.

The cur­ricu­lum went deep into the weeds, ex­plor­ing the “Magic Bul­let The­ory,” the “Winnipeg Air­port In­ci­dent,” and the “Car­los Mar­cello Con­nec­tion,” among other pop­u­lar con­spir­a­to­rial ob­ses­sions.

Af­ter each speaker, the stu­dents would doc­u­ment how their opin­ions on the lead­ing per­pe­tra­tors in the as­sas­si­na­tion changed.

At the be­gin­ning of the course, 64 per­cent of the stu­dents were con­vinced that Lee Har­vey Oswald acted alone in the as­sas­si­na­tion. By the end of the project, 44 per­cent of the stu­dents be­lieved that Oswald and the Mafia were jointly re­spon­si­ble for Kennedy’s mur­der. Just 12 per­cent at the end be­lieved Oswald acted alone.

“We’d get all th­ese ed­u­cated in­di­vid­u­als and they’d all give a dif­fer­ent and per­fectly log­i­cal ex­pla­na­tion for what they be­lieved oc­curred,” Ms. Pulk­ste­nis said. “It’s easy to be­lieve that you could solve all the prob­lems if you have all the ev­i­dence ... but with this as­sas­si­na­tion it’s im­pos­si­ble.”

Mr. Grif­fin said that the big­gest sur­prise for him in this project was the large num­ber of unan­swered or con­tested ques­tions that still cling to the case. Ms. Pulk­ste­nis said that un­cer­tainty re­lates di­rectly to “the level we can trust our cur­rent gov­ern­ment, es­pe­cially with in­creased se­crecy.”

For the stu­dents, this project not only al­tered their view of the trans­parency and open­ness of their own gov­ern­ment, but also their view of academics.

Ms. Pulk­ste­nis notes how much of her ed­u­ca­tional ex­pe­ri­ence was rooted in in­tel­lec­tual ab­so­lutes — with very few ques­tions about the va­lid­ity of de­tails. This class project shat­tered that un­ques­tion­ing trust.

“Grow­ing up, sit­ting in math class, two plus two equaled four ev­ery time,” Ms. Pulk­ste­nis said. “This course, how­ever, con­fronted me with a prob­lem which had an an­swer that we just couldn’t find.”

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