Schieffer: How Dallas refused to erase history

A recent photograph captures the view from the sixth-floor window of the Texas School Book Depository - now the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza - in Dallas, Texas.
Carol Highsmith/Library of Congress

(CBS News)  When I arrived in Argentina in 1983 to cover the war with Great Britain over the Falkland Islands, I was told Argentina had no reliable history.

Each of the country's leaders had rewritten history to play up his accomplishments and play down (or eliminate) whatever his predecessor had accomplished -- a frequent habit of totalitarian leaders.

In the days after Oswald shot the president, the first reaction of many in Dallas was to bulldoze the Texas School Book Depository, as if that might somehow erase the whole thing and the fact that it had happened here.

Instead, community leaders decided to make it into a museum and a center for scholarship about one of America's most terrible weekends.

They recognized that a democracy requires an accurate history, without which we cannot understand how we came to be what we are.

There had been threats of demonstrations and even violence from scattered right-wing hate groups before Kennedy came to Dallas. But his reception in every city, including Dallas, was overwhelmingly friendly.

The man who shot him was anything but a right-wing zealot; he was an itinerant loner, a loser, and a failure who had defected to the Soviet Union. He was not from Dallas, or of Dallas.

Yet, for years, in the minds of many it was somehow Dallas' fault.

It was not, and the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza has helped us understand that.

We may never understand why Oswald did it, but the assassination could have happened in any city in America.

Complete coverage: JFK Assassination - Includes galleries, articles, and streaming video of CBS News' original broadcasts from four days in November 1963.

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    Bob Schieffer is a CBS News political contributor and former anchor of "Face The Nation," which he moderated for 24 years before retiring in 2015.