As Christmas draws nigh our thoughts turn to family and friends and, for some of you, perhaps even the birth of Christ and all that represents.

While my mother departed this planet comforted by the certainty that she was going to be joining my father in the hereafter, I have no such belief.

However, if I’m wrong and find myself cast into some form of conscious existence after I break free of these earthly bonds, I hope it brings with it the answers to the big questions that have plagued my life — like who shot JFK and why?

There’s been a flurry of TV documentaries about this tragic event lately and this has had the effect of casting my mind back to the time of my political awakening, that heady age when I began to take notice of who was doing what to our planet and my own role in all of it.

Frankly, I don’t care about tales of his infidelities, or drug use, or even the dubious way in which his father might have amassed wealth, as far as I’m concerned John Kennedy — and his brother Bobby —represented things I want to believe in and those responsible for their demise represented everything I despise.

And I’ll never believe their killers operated alone.

It’s easy to be dismissive about anyone who uses the conspiracy word since such themes are often the obsessions of those at the extreme right or left of politics, or the perennially paranoid. However, seeing JFK’s assassination analysed again in these recent docos has done little to change my view that there must have been some form of conspiracy and the only question can ever be: Who was responsible and why?

Some might well view those years in the 60s through rose-coloured spectacles, since it was a time that spawned the Beatles, Dylan, flower power and a fairly universal wave of social consciousness; but when JFK, Bobby and Martin Luther King where killed in short order because of what they stood for, it was — for many of us — the end of innocence.

It made us question those who governed us in way we never had before. And the shadows of doubt grew longer with each vacuous denial from the powers that be.
Unfortunately, with J. Edgar Hoover ruling the roost in the FBI, there was no chance of an unfettered, unbiased investigation.

As for the Warren commission, not even LBJ believed their version events.

Given that these killings — and running sore of the Vietnam War — proved cathartic for Americans and undoubtedly accelerated the civil rights and anti-war movements, you might be tempted to call John, Bobby and Martin martyrs, but to me they were collateral damage in a war that still rages today.

This is the war between well meaning people who want to do the best for us all and darker forces whose motivations are self-serving in the extreme.

Those of you who bother to read my annual rants will be well aware that I’m convinced any serious probe into the activities of George ‘Dubya’ Bush’s evil empire, including the Princes of Darkness, Cheney and Rumsfield, and companies like Haliburton, would make Watergate look like a schoolboy prank.

I won’t say they are guilty of conspiracy so much as the manipulation of the truth — they distorted reality to suit their own purposes.

And it still goes on.

This is not so much to do with the right and left of politics as it is to do with rights and wrongs of human behaviour and absolute corruption fuelled by an insatiable greed for money and power.

Significantly, Barak Obama was the first US President since the 60s to have the effect on me JFK did. So much so I was convinced he, too, was sure to be assassinated. Luckily he still walks among us, although there’s no doubt he’s now being politically assassinated and set himself up as a target for this from the outset.

I said at the time of his election that I wished Obama’s catchcry had been ‘Yes, we can try!’ instead of the doomed certainty of ‘Yes, we can’, which has now come back to haunt him. This is largely because people seem to have forgotten he used the ‘we’ word in his campaign slogan. He never said I can he said We can, and he always said it would take a bipartisan approach to fix America and this would require the support and cooperation of all citizens as much as both sides of politics.

Okay, so he was naive in his aspirations. Idealistic you might say. But that’s what I admired and still admire about him. As well it’s what I loved about JFK.

After all it was Kennedy who said, ‘Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.’ That, too, was wishful thinking, but it was admirable in its intent nonetheless.

Fact is, if we continue to dismiss idealists as naïve dreamers — as many do — we have to accept that the way forward lies in the words and actions of cynical realists who will assure you the only way to maintain peace and power is to have the biggest and best weapons, which is most often a futile course by any measure.

As it is trillions of dollars are spent every year fighting against evil forces apparently inspired by one man — Osama Bin Laden. Trillions of dollars spent on war when a fraction of that amount could solve the misery of countless millions of people all around the world in so many ways. Not least the people in America who are paying for these wars in every way.

So, sadly, here we are hundreds of years after the Crusades in which Richard the Lionheart fought Saladin and we’re still caught up in a Holy War of sorts.

I know I sound like a stuck record when I go on about this but are any of you happy about this never-ending scenario?

9/11 took place almost a decade ago. Without wishing to ignore the bravery or the lives lost since then, do you feel we have achieved any form of retribution or made any progress towards world peace with military action in Iraq and Afghanistan?

Bin Laden remains free and Al Qaeda thrives.

Do you think Iraq is better off today or that we will actually win the war in Afghanistan? Won’t their people hate us no matter what we do?

Do you ever stand back and ask yourself, what do we expect to achieve with all of this? What kind of war are we waging? Is it territorial or philosophical? Do we seek revenge, justice or victory?
Even the Hawks among you would have to admit that it’s costing far too many lives to do little more than harden fanatics against us.

Okay, I know we’re dealing with people of a suicide bomber mentality and I haven’t forgotten Bali or the ever-present threat of a repeat of this cowardly action.

Nevertheless, I can’t believe the occupation of Islamic countries in anyway lessens the likelihood of terrorist action. I’d argue it ensures it. And I simply don’t buy the argument that by punishing those who support Al Qaeda and the Tailban we are preventing them from training more terrorists. On the contrary I’d argue we’re simply fuelling the recruitment drive.

And if we can’t find Bin Laden, what hope do we have of destroying all his training camps, which, let’s face it, might well be anywhere and everywhere in the Muslim world.

What would happen if we just walked away, returned home, and looked after matters in our own back yard? Would the terrorists rise up and take over the world? Let’s not forget we lost the war in Vietnam — literally departed with our tail between our legs — and the dreaded ‘Reds’ didn’t spread out across Asia and devour democracy as we were assured they would.

I have absolutely no idea how the tensions in the Middle East will be solved. Seems to me Israel will never accept Palestine and vice versa. And as long as this conflict exists — and Israel persists with its expansionist mentality — it will always fuel a fanatical response. However, Palestine will never invade Israel because that country is a serious nuclear power and their actions to date suggest they’d use this in a heartbeat.

The roots of so many of the world’s conflicts are based on prejudices that have lasted through history and wars have done little more than cost lives and inure hatred. The Middle East impasse is all of this and more.

I’m a pacifist but if you invaded my country and threatened my life and the lives of those close to me I’d fight back. I’d do so despite your assurances that your presence was in my own best interests.
You would never gain my trust with a gun in your hand.

I have to believe that’s how many people in occupied countries feel today.

None of us should forget that the invasion of Iraq was built on lies. There were never any weapons of mass destruction and Al Qaeda was not at that time active in Iraq in any significant way. (Albeit that they are now). As for Saddam … he was evil for sure, but he’s long gone now and I’m fairly certain history will show that he was irrelevant in the big picture. Not to those he oppressed, tortured and murdered in his own country, of course, but to rest of the world he was little more than a flimsy excuse for bad behaviour.

Today, as 2010 draws to a close, I don’t know what we are fighting for, or why, anymore than I know who killed John F Kennedy.

I wonder how much will have changed by the end of next year?

Will we still be fighting the futile fight and still be haunted by JFK, Bobby, Martin and every other poor soul who lost his or her life in a valiant effort to promote peace and prosperity on Planet Earth?
Because, my friends, they are the real Ghosts of Christmas Past.

And unless there’s a fundamental shift in human nature and we miraculously find a way to actually learn from history, they will haunt us forever.

And, as I say goodbye now, I’m left wondering whether one day in the future, Julian Assange will be among them.

I wish you and everyone you care about, all the very best for the Festive Season and the year ahead.

John Hanlon, December 2010