A TV note for those of you that get the History Channel.
I’ve been watching a show called “3 Shots that Changed the America” tonight.
It is being repeated several times and is really worth watching.
It is a no commentary retracing of the assassination of President Kennedy up to the murder of Oswald, using film clips, reports, radio broadcasts from the day of the assassination.
It includes the original APB sent out over the Dallas police radio, the original discussion with the doctors and other immediate reactions.
What is most fascinating, of course, is how the police reports and the doctors comments (regarding Governor Connelly, his doctor, immediately after the surgery came out and said “he was shot by one shot from behind and above”) belie the conspiracy theories, but that the “man on the street” all jump to that conclusion.
In fact, the original report immediately says a shooter was seen in the window of the book depository by a white male and black youth.
What makes it so fascinating are so many of the news clips and live news coverage that have rarely, if ever been seen before.
What was fascinating to me, as an historian, was the seeming lack of knowledge of how often attempts have been made on, and even been successful, against the President.
Besides the two that everyone knows (Lincoln and Kennedy), James Garfield and William McKinley were also assassinated.
In addition two other Presidents who died in office were rumored to have been assassinated as well, possibly making the total 6.
Zachary Taylor and Warren G. Harding.
While Taylor’s body was actually exhumed to test for arsenic poisoning, it was decided that the level of arsenic found in his hair was not sufficient to have killed him.
However, Harding died in mysterious circumstances, with the Surgeon General specifically not agreeing with the common perception that he died of a heart attack. There was no autopsy allowed by Harding’s wife, who many believed to have been involved because of Harding’s infidelity. Harding’s administration was beset by scandal and there have long been rumours that in addition to his wife, other members of the cabinet may have been involved in order to change the discussion.
This theory still has sway among many historians.
However, just during my lifetime, EVERY President has had fairly significant attempts against them. Most of you won’t remember many of these but here are some of the more famous.
Nixon – February 22, 1974: Samuel Byck apparently planned to kill Nixon by crashing a commercial airliner into the White House. Once he had hijacked the plane on the ground, he was informed that it could not take off with the wheel blocks still in place. He shot the pilot and copilot, then was shot by an officer through the plane’s door window before killing himself.
Ford – There were 2 significant attempts on Ford, one of which I remember vividly and frightened me quite a bit. Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme who had been a member of the Manson Family was wrestled to the ground moments before Ford shook her hand in a crowd in Sacramento. She was holding a Colt .45 pistol. I remember thinking that the Manson reach would never end.
Interestingly, Fromme was just paroled this year, 2 months ago.
Sarah Jane Moore actually fired at Ford with a pistol from a short distance but a bystander saw her in the process and grabbed her arm causing her to miss.
Carter – A man was caught with a pistol outside an auditorium just before a speech and alleged that he was part of a conspiracy to kill Carter. He was released for insufficient evidence.
Reagan – obviously everyone remembers the Hinckley attempt. My memories were of staying up all night waiting to hear what happened and whether Reagan would survive.
Bush – Many do not remember the attempt by Sadaam Hussein and his security forces just after Bush left office, but a car bomb was smuggled into Kuwait but was discovered by the Kuwaiti authorities.
Of course, the significance of this attempt was that it caused President Clinton to pass the “Iraqi Regime Change act” making it the law of the land that Sadaam be overthrown or otherwise removed from office.
Clinton also launched a missile attack against Iraq’s intelligence headquarters in retaliation.
Clinton – There were two major attempts on Clinton. In one, a Cessna was actually flown into the White House, missing the building and crashing on the lawn, but the Clinton’s were not there at the time.
Later that year, 29 shots from an automatic rifle were fired into a crowd in the White House with the would be assassin being tackled to the ground by tourists.
Finally, Ramzi Youssef, who would later be convicted in the Trade Tower bombing, planned to blow up Clinton’s motorcade in Novenber of 1994 in the Phillipines but aborted the plan.
Bush – There were 3 very significant attempts. The first, the firing of a sophisticated handgun from just outside the fence of the White House. The would be assasin was shot by the Secret Service.
Next, in something that has received little attention, was a mysterious group who claimed to have an “interview” with Bush while he was in his hotel in Florida that morning.
Two facts emerged later. One was that Mohammed Atta, the ringleader of the 9/11 plot had spent considerable time “casing” that hotel, and the second was that the attempt was identical to the assassination method used to kill the leader of the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan, Ahmed Massoud, by Al Qaeda.
The next attempt was in Tbilisi, Georgia, when he was giving a speech with Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili. A live grenade with the pin removed was rolled on stage. Luckily for the two men, the grenade was wrapped tightly in a handkerchief which effectively kept the firing pin from deploying before it was discovered.
And now you know why I love history!