Forty Years of Conspiracy Theories

Today is the fortieth anniversary of the John Kennedy assassination, and I’m more tired than ever of the annual trip down memory lane. When the September 11 attacks occurred, they were widely compared in their psychological impact to Kennedy’s murder. The comparison was ridiculous–the terrorist attacks were 1,000 times more significant–but it reflected a typical boomer self-absorption. Many people of our generation will never let go of the assassination as a psychological moment, however much or little it may have meant historically.
What drives me crazy about the assassination retrospectives is the fact that conspiracy theories have become deeply rooted in the popular imagination. I saw a poll this morning indicating that 61% of Americans believe there was a “cover up” in connection with the assassination. As to what or who was covered up, one theory seems to be as good as another.
In fact, there is no event in the history of the world that is as thoroughly known and understood as the Kennedy assassination. Of the fact that the crime was committed by Lee Oswald, there is no possible ground for doubt. If the Kennedy assassination is mysterious, then every other event in the history of the world is more so.
Gerald Posner’s Case Closed was viewed by many as putting an end to the debate when it was published in 1993. Posner’s unique contribution is an excellent brief biography of Lee Oswald. An even better book on the nuts and bolts of the crime, in my opinion, is Jim Moore’s Conspiracy of One, published in 1990. Moore is a former conspiracy buff; he owned a copy of the Zapruder tape as a boy and was involved in setting up the exhibit on the 6th floor of the Texas Book Depository building. For more than twenty years he obsessively researched the assassination, pursuing one conspiracy theory after another. In Conspiracy of One, he describes his own intellectual odyssey and provides the most knowledgeable, dispassionate dissection of the evidence ever written. The conclusion is blindingly obvious: Oswald did it.
DEACON adds: I have never doubted that Oswald did it. But from the moment Jack Ruby killed Oswald, I thought that Oswald probably acted on behalf of others. Until I read Posner’s book. Now I agree that this was probably “a conspiracy of one.”


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