<I>Ellipses</I>... Exploring Depths of Experience in Arts, Letters, Science and Ideas
A Failure to Tell the Truth: A Conversation with Richard Billings, co author of Fatal HourGo Back to Table of Contents
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Billings: Perhaps that is the question we have to resolve. The only check now is the Justice Department, and after the House inquiry, I would say that there is a withholding of the truth in many branches of government under the rationale that such withholding is in the best interest of the people. Perhaps America is unique in that we are the first nation that doesn’t accept that policy totally; I don’t know. We’re certainly not, by any means, the first one to practice it. They all practice it. But there are certain elements in our government that really don’t believe in the democratic process, that think it’s only rhetoric, and when faced with an unscrupulous foe, it is all right to use fire to fight fire. But there is also the point that if you act criminally, you are no better than the crook you are supposed to be against. So in its simplest terms, the assassination of John Kennedy was a crime that has marked the whole era since, and it is an unsolved crime at the highest levels of power, and that is simply unacceptable. The involvement of organized crime and its connections to areas of the government is even more unacceptable. Still, as long as the solution that has been accepted stays intact, there is the hope of certain factions that general lethargy and complacency will bury a search for the truth.

Ellipses: Is this tactic a symptom of a culture dedicated to persuading popular opinion by numbing our senses through misassociation and sensationalism?

Billings: Maybe, if politics becomes totally advertising.

Ellipses: Does this element in our democracy dis-empower hope?

Billings: I don’t know the answer to that, but I suspect that hope is more complicated than that, just as truth is more complex than images or appearances. We sometimes in our culture give in to the expediency of cosmetic solutions. We wobble forward on the basis of frustration rather than reflection. Part of our energy is that we are somewhat unfulfilled.

Ellipses: Are you personally optimistic or pessimistic about our possibilities of becoming more reflective, more oriented toward seeking the truth?

Billings: I am hopeful. We can resolve our unresolved conflicts without violence or more trauma. Our problems go far deeper than the Kennedy assassination. We were in trouble before Kennedy; the fissure was already there. The whole Kennedy event brought it out, but it was there. We’re not beyond it.

Ellipses: Are we closer to resolving these conflicts in our generation?

Billings: No, we’re not.

Ellipses: Would resolving the Kennedy conflict be part of that bigger resolution?

Billings: It would help.

Ellipses: Do you think we ever will resolve the Kennedy assassination in particular?

Billings: I think we will. I think there will be new revelations-- although maybe not in our lifetime.

Ellipses: Is the opportunity of the Kennedy assassination to turn a lock in the heart to understand the bigger problem?

Billings: That’s a very good point. We need a deeper examination of what our purpose is, what it is we are protecting, and what it is we should be protecting.

Ellipses: Was the Kennedy assassination in this sense bigger than the event itself? Did it say something about the nature of a deeper problem?

Billings: I think it was enough of an event to create an enormous exposure to a deep-seated problem in what composes our policy in government--and what we expect from government and from ourselves. Kennedy was a popular president, but now I tend to think he was due to fail. He seemed to carry tragedy with him long before he was shot. Perhaps it was just our tragedy, a reflection of our times.

Ellipses: Would we be better off as a people, spiritually and psychologically, had he not been shot?

Billings: No. We were in trouble as a people before he was shot. And maybe because of the Kennedy assassination, we might have learned something more about why we are in trouble. That is the value for us now. That is the legacy by which the tragedy can still help us create a braver future...

Epilogue: At the conclusion of our conversation with Richard Billings, what became apparent was the note of poetry and of classical tragedy in Billings’ sensitivity to the Kennedy Assassination and its importance to the integrity of a democratic state. In Fatal Hour, organized crime, government agencies, covert policy, and a desire for justice evoke all the great themes of drama, which trace their origins in Western tradition back to ancient Greek theatre. Like the oracles of classical drama, Richard Billings steadfastly holds that both political and personal success must be defined, finally, in moral terms, and that in the life of nations, our definitions of failure and success must become more than material fulfillment or the possession of property and position. Billings makes clear that we have not reached the point at which we gauge our lives by the standard of moral failure or moral success. A criterion of moral success is not simply acting moral, but having the courage to tell the truth to both ourselves and others when confronted with moral failure. In that courage of self-confrontation and examination, seeking the truth becomes one of the hallmarks of a nation’s growth and a nation’s potential greatness. Billings’ courage and poetic spirit continue to seek that aura of authenticity that bestows upon a people, or a nation, such humility, and thus such greatness.

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