November 23rd, 2007

Forty-four years ago: the mother of conspiracy theories

Yesterday was Thanksgiving. But it also was November 22 and the forty-fourth anniversary of the assassination of President Kennedy. Here’s a piece on the subject, summarizing some of the reasons it’s become clearer and clearer over the years that—despite the fact that the event has spawned countless conspiracy theories—the ever-mounting forensic evidence is that Oswald alone shot Kennedy.

That doesn’t stop conspiracists, who ignore the evidence they wish to in order to emphasize discrepancies that don’t exist. OF course, even if one is convinced Oswald shot alone, there’s no way to prove that Oswald planned alone. The book Case Closed, which I read when it first appeared, presented an exhaustively detailed and convincing argument for the fact that there was no conspiracy whatsoever involved in Kennedy’s death. If you haven’t read it, you may want to give it a try.

[See this for my reminiscence about Kennedy's assassination.]

16 Responses to “Forty-four years ago: the mother of conspiracy theories”

  1. Trimegistus Says:

    I wasn’t born then, and it’s difficult for me to understand why Kennedy’s death caused so much of a change in how people thought. Compare that to 9/11 — for every person like Neo who changed, a dozen only became more hardened in their previous beliefs.

    Was it simply that the Kennedy assassination came after a decade of relative tranquility, or was there something unique about it?

  2. DC Says:

    Case Closed is older than Vincent Bugliosi’s book, “Reclaiming History” which is likely better. (I’ve only read part of Case Closed and none of the other book)

    Studying the Kennedy conspiracy was one of the things that help me deprogram myself from liberalism. There are parallels between the style of the conspiracy books and the little propaganda books by Chomsky like “What Uncle Sam Really Wants”

    Here are some timely links which relate reaction to the assassination to liberalism. James Piereson has a new book which is summarized here:

    here is an interview with Piereson, he says 911 is less important!:

    This link deals with the assassination and the theories, he likes to use the word “truther” alot:

    Key things to remember about the assassination:

    Oswald got his job through a series of coincidences that clearly had nothing to do with a conspiracy.

    The “pristine bullet” aka the magic bullet, was certainly fired and deformed.

    All recovered bullet fragments came from the same type of ammunition, if not the same batch.
    (that’s my recollection of what Case Closed says)

  3. Occam's Beard Says:


    Let me weigh in before the nutjobs show up.

    The Kennedy assassination turned our world upside down much more than 9/11, in my opinion. There was real fear that JFK’s assassination was the opening salvo in a Soviet attack (LBJ, for example, believed this). No President had been assassinated since McKinley, in 1901. TV coverage was non-stop, and the whole country was paralyzed. (Take Princess Di’s death, mix it in with that nitwit JFK Jr.’s demise, multiply by about 10^8, and you’ll have a glimmer of appreciation of how people felt.)

    Then, a few days later, the assassin was himself murdered. This was in an era where TV programs showed married couples sleeping in twin beds, Elvis had been banned for swinging his hips, illegitimacy was a scandal, and Hollywood stars were patriotic (yes!). It was hard not to think that the whole world had gone crazy, and that there was no telling what would happen next.

    Two points. Interestingly, Kennedy, like Lincoln, wasn’t all that popular before his assassination. He was in Dallas to shore up support in a key state in what looked to be an iffy shot at re-election.

    Second, present days Dems should note, JFK would fall into the right-wing of the Republican Party today. Read his speeches if you don’t think this is true.

  4. Occam's Beard Says:

    To those not born then, the Soviet attack aspect probably seems a bit overwrought, but recall that this was just over a year after the Cuban missle crisis, when we came kissing close to nuclear war with the Soviets. So it didn’t seem so outlandish then.

  5. Richard Aubrey Says:

    Some years back, there was a theory that Kennedy was shot by a cabal of unemployed authors. An assassination conspiracy book could not not sell.

    As with MLK and Lincoln, the interest in great forces behind such things stems in part, imo, from the instinctive feeling that giants must not be brought down by pissants.

  6. Tatterdemalian Says:

    Kennedy was the first president to attain victory primarily on his good looks. Nixon had all the skills and all the experience, but the moment Kennedy and Nixon appeared on TV together, it was all over. The media saw Kennedy’s victory as proof that reality can be trumped by charisma, and that if even a political powerhouse like Nixon couldn’t touch their golden boy, nobody could.

    But Oswald did, and the media saw the writing on the wall… and has been in mad denial of it ever since. They lash out at all the ugly truths they saw in Nixon, wherever they can be found, and can’t understand why the most terrible truth of all – that all humans are mortal – can’t be wished away by all the beautiful leaders and all their devoted minions in all the world. They may not have officially declared war on Truth itself, but they nonetheless attack it wherever they can, even when honesty would be the better policy, even when continuing to uphold their lies becomes career suicide.

    Which, in turn, explains their sympathy for those who attack Israel the same way.

  7. Occam's Beard Says:

    Tatterdemalian, good point. It also dovetails nicely with the “Camelot” fantasy.

  8. DrSteve Says:

    It must be nice to be a consipracy theorist – you know what I mean, the conspiracy scholar or ‘scholar’. The person to whom there is no such thing as contradictory evidence – it all gets denied or accommodated into the thought-system.
    Ron Rosenbaum calls them ‘edgy enthusiasms’ and probably gets at why of it:
    1. To be enthusiastic is to feel touched by God – which must feel better than being lost, depressed, cynical…
    2. To be edgy is to be outside the mainstream, special, a non-dupe – better than seeing oneself as insignificant or one of the herd.
    (Probably we each have systems of views which looked at by someone who doesn’t share those views looks rather dodgy.)

  9. Occam's Beard Says:

    Another good point from DrSteve. I believe #2 predominates. The cognitively disenfranchised like to convince themselves that they are in fact quite clever (everyone else’s opinion of them notwithstanding), so clever they see through some cabal’s attempts to fool them. But they were too clever to be fooled. Yessir!

    The Kevin Trudeau infomercials hammer on this theme of wrong end of the bell curve populism (things “they” don’t want you to know about).

  10. Occam's Beard Says:

    Call it “the Fredo effect.”

  11. Trimegistus Says:

    Dr. Steve:

    You’re definitely on to something with the idea that being a conspiracy theorist gives one unearned “specialness.” I can remember late in the afternoon on 9/11/01 a poster on one of the newsgroups I read insisting that Flight 93 was really shot down by the Air Force and the stories about the passengers were just propaganda. He was so damned smug about how he knew the real truth and the rest of us sheeple were swallowing the official line. This while the rubble was still burning.

    But what puzzles me about the Kennedy assassination isn’t the pathological cases, it’s the mainstream. I guess growing up with the Iran hostage crisis, John Hinckley, the Challenger explosion, and then 9/11 itself means my generation expects more random evil in the world.

  12. Tatterdemalian Says:

    “But what puzzles me about the Kennedy assassination isn’t the pathological cases, it’s the mainstream. I guess growing up with the Iran hostage crisis, John Hinckley, the Challenger explosion, and then 9/11 itself means my generation expects more random evil in the world.”

    Parents inevitably pass their beliefs to their children, though these beliefs become more divorced from reality in every generation. The belief that reality can be changed through laws and/or wishes is a particularly durable one, and if not the source of the evils in the world, at least one of the primary vectors by which it infects people.

  13. kreiz Says:

    I read Posner’s “Case Closed” years ago. Bugliosi’s new tome looks exhaustive but unnecessary- Posner’s the man. (He’s also a very good writer).

  14. Teri Pittman Says:

    You might also mention the book by Marina Oswald. I believe the title is Marina and Lee. She clearly identifies him as the assassin. And he is so pathetic, you truly start to feel a little sorry for him. The woman that helped her write the book had actually met both Lee and JFK. That book, plus the Posner book, were what changed my mind about the conspiracy theories.

  15. Brainster Says:

    We’ve been taking on the 9-11 conspiracy theories at Screw Loose Change for the last year. My thoughts are that there multiple reasons for CTs to arise:

    1. As stated, that it makes the theorist feel special. They have knowledge that the rest of us don’t. This especially appeals to the young and the undereducated.

    2. Huge, earth-shattering events must have huge causes. It is unsatisfactory that Oswald turned out to be a schnook, and that 19 Arabs with box-cutters could cause so much havoc.

    3. Wishful thinking about consequences of the event. I think the Kennedy conspiracy theories partially arose because people wanted to wish away LBJ and the Vietnam War. Similarly, there are those in the 9-11 “Truth” movement who want to wish away Iraq and the Patriot Acts I & II.

    4. Entertainment value. Not to be ignored, in an era when Coast to Coast AM is one of the top shows on the radio.

    5. Anti-government paranoia.

  16. Jake Was Here Says:

    What you forget is that this young and virile idol of the American people was gunned down by a self-admitted Communist. The Left couldn’t imagine how one of their own could hate Camelot enough to put an end to it – they weren’t opposed to Kennedy, not very fiercely, so why would another fellow traveler kill him?

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