This essay by George F. Will reminds me that in about six weeks we’re going to be commemorating the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy’s assassination.
I’ve been dreading it for quite some time, in no small measure because the usual trickle of essays on the subject is going to become a tsunami. The occasion will undoubtedly bring all the conspiracy theorists out of the woodwork to parade their pet notions of whodunit and why and how.
I’ve written a few pieces myself on the subject of the assassination, and I probably will recycle some of them as the day comes around. But right now, prompted by the Will essay, I’m wondering about something in particular: how many people in this country today would be able to correctly identify the political affiliation of Lee Harvey Oswald as Communist? My guess is: not so many.
Will points out that the story of the Kennedy assassination started to be rewritten almost from the moment it occurred, and that even after Oswald was captured and known to be a dedicated leftist, the killing of JFK was often described as a story of the effects of right-wing hatred. That serves the approved narrative much better than the truth.
Although conspiracy theorists have their own manifold and sundry motivations for believing all the things they believe, part of the effect of the cacophony of possibilities is to absolve the true culprit—the far left—of responsibility, and to assign guilt to almost anyone other than the person who actually did it. The need is to blame the right, the government, the CIA, the FBI, the Vice President, the Mafia, the Jews (we couldn’t leave them out, could we?), Castro (at least he’s on the left), and even Officer Tippit, one of Oswald’s victims. And that’s just the tip of the conspiracy iceberg.
It’s not innocuous, and it boggles the mind that even now, when the evidence of Oswald’s sole guilt is so clear and compelling that it is virtually a certainty, polls show that the majority of Americans still doubt it. In fact, belief in his guilt was never very high at any point:
According to the AP-GfK survey, conducted in mid-April, 59 percent of Americans think multiple people were involved in a conspiracy to kill the president, while 24 percent think Oswald acted alone, and 16 percent are unsure. A 2003 Gallup poll found that 75 percent of Americans felt there was a conspiracy.
The Oswald-acted-alone results, meanwhile, are the highest since the period three years after the assassination, when 36 percent said one man was responsible for Kennedy’s death.
A pathetic lack of critical thinking, I’m afraid.
[NOTE: I fully expect an outcry of disagreement from people coming to this blog in order to spout their favorite conspiracy theories. I'm not going to reinvent the wheel, so I'll just refer them to some previous posts I've written on the subject (including comments): this, this, and this. Also please see the text of the Vincent Bugliosi tome about the assassination, Reclaiming History, the text of which is online and searchable. Read it, or at least selected parts of it, and you'll learn a great deal.]