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Friday 22 November 2013

JFK - The End of a Dream, the Beginning of a Fantasy

According to comedian Robin Williams, "If you remember the '60s, you weren't there". However, it seems that the majority of people who were old enough to remember can tell you where they were when the news came in that John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the current president of the USA, had been shot in Dallas, Texas. Whether or not this fact is always true is just one of the controversial points that is now part of the JFK legacy. This incident seems to have crystallized the dark cynical twist that much of the '60s optimism brought. Heroes of the civil rights movement, Martin Luther King and JFK's brother, Robert, would both also meet their ends by the bullet of lone lunatics. The appearance of more freedom for a youth that had seen their parents fight a bloody war would find themselves being conscripted into a 10 year war that would end in defeat. The '68 Summer of Love and the peaceful hippy movement that drove it would yield an ugly child in the form of the Manson Murders. The Beatles' psychedelic melodies were somehow checked by the dark foreboding of The Doors. However, like a prophesy of what was to come - the dream and the apparent destruction of that dream.

In the years that followed JFK's assassination a tapestry of ugly truths regarding the president's background and private life would only be overshadowed by a thick blanket of myth-making that has ended up convincing the vast majority of people that a conspiracy was behind the JFK assassination. During the week of the 50th anniversary CNN's Thom Patterson described it in his report on the events leading up to the important date:

Conspiracy theorists have been gathering to compare notes at special symposiums, like the one last month at Pittsburgh's Duquesne University. The event, which included Oliver Stone as a panelist, seemed more like a revival meeting at a Sunday house of worship than an academic conference, according to a reporter who was there. "Replace 'Amen' for 'That's right!' and it would have basically been a church," recalled Rebecca Nuttall."

This really is the nature of conspircism. It resembles religion and its motives are similar. They also fall back on many fallacies used by religious apologists. This include the "God of the Gaps" argument whereby any inconsistency immediately defaults as proof of their being a conspiracy. The JFK assassination that involved hundreds of eye witnesses and various complexities is ripe for this type of targeting. The believers seek a type of order. If there is order, even an evil order then there is hope. It can be exposed and undone. The thought of what the most compelling evidence shows us can be too much for them to handle. They don't like the idea that single individuals can cause huge disruptions and cause catastrophes. Yet history has shown us that this has happened all-too-often. It has also shown as that conspiracies, which happen all the time, are exposed pretty quickly. They usually involve small groups of people, and their exposure is at the mercy of the flakiest member. Someone always blows the whistle. Many of the silly plots and ideas of the tine have been shown up, including their involvement with mafia with plans to kill Fidel Castro. These are now a matter of public record. Even full scale actual government conspiracies, such as those orchestrated by the Nazis, came to light in a relatively short length of time. Unfortunately due to the complexity of the JFK shooting and the time it happened, creating a conspiracy theory is very tempting.

The likes of Gerald Posner and Vincent Bugliosi have done more than enough to succinctly debunk just about conspiracy theory offered, but more than anything prove the case for the lone Lee Harvey Oswald's guilt. This conclusion was also arrived at by crime historian Martin Fido who revised his earlier work, "The Kennedys". Fido's story is interesting and reveals the process of a good historian, a genuine seeker of the facts. Fido said he was originally satisfied with the Warren Report, but changed his mind when he was asked to investigate the killing for his "Murder After Midnight" radio programme and believed in there being a probable conspiracy. This was altered only after he was contacted by some of the conspiracy theorists. As he looked further into the various theories put forward he saw a similar pattern he was used to having previously debunked a lot of the nonsense ideas that have grown up around the Jack the Ripper mystery. Moved by Posner's book, Fido checked all his annotated material and found that it matched. He subsequently took back his earlier conclusion and wrote and read the audiobook "Who Shot John F. Kennedy?"

Harold Wiesburg's "Whitewash", published in 1965, is perhaps responsible for the slew of conspiracy theory books that followed. Wiesburg enjoyed a degree of deserved praise for the information he accumulated on the case. Even the FBI have on gone record to say that no one alive knows more about the assassination than Wiesburg. Sadly knowledge is nothing without wisdom. Fido noted that despite admittedly knowing far less information he can dismiss the writer's criticisms with ease. This is based on the faulty method of nit-picking details, usually based on hearsay, rather than looking at the larger picture.

Nevertheless, since "Whitewash" Wiesburg has published many books on the JFK assassination, but none have gained anything like the attention of his original. His attempt at debunking Posner's book did little to impress the sceptics. His original book does so much as put forward the conspiracy idea as offer a hefty critique of the Warren Report. It has been enough for the production of various conspiracy theories. These conspiracies generally blame either the Mafia, the KGB, the Cubans, the anti-Castro movements, the CIA or the US government.

I heard rumours of a conspiracy in primary school when "The Men Who Shot JFK" was being televised. It didn't interest me at the time. Years later Oliver Stone's "JFK" - which covers New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison's investigation and arrest of businessman Clay Shaw - caught my attention when it arrived on satellite television. Being a fan of Stone's work at the time I re-watched the film several times, mesmerized by the style of filming and the whole murder mystery drama. As time went on I realized a few things. Firstly Kevin Costner isn't a great actor. Secondly Jim Garrison's investigation into the JFK assassination was such a balmy example of pig-headed confirmation bias and possible homophobia that even many of the conspiracy theorists distanced themselves from his work.  

Later a friend asked me who I thought killed JFK. I responded that I didn't know, but didn't think it was Lee Harvey Oswald. He smiled smugly and said, "the driver". He showed me a video that made me become very suspicious about conspiracy theories in general. The video was produced as if it were an undercover film. Over a painfully long length of time the video apparently showed us the real Zapruder film that captured the assassination of JFK. In this version Kennedy's driver looks in the rear view mirror and shoots the president over his shoulder. This ridiculous revelation is stretched over a documentary that gives a lengthy account of the agenda of the New World Order, what many call The Illuminati. This is a shadow power believed in by the most off-the-wall conspiricists and it is regularly referred to by David Icke, an ex-footballer and politician who has declared himself to be the son of god and who puts forward the idea that The Illuminati are a type of hybrid reptoid that come form another world - he names the royal family and many political figures to be these reptoids in disguise.

Not long after seeing this film I bought Fido's book and finally I was given guidance that resembled the right way to study history. There are two major points that lead me to currently accept the view that Lee Harvey Oswald shot JFK and acted alone.

Firstly, I am satisfied that the science supports this conclusion. Penn and Teller's irreverent sceptical TV show, "Bullshit", provided a short demonstration of the ample time Oswald had to fire his shots off. "Mythbusters" conducted several tests that also proved the lone gunman theory. "Inside the Target Car" gave us the most conclusive experiment that proved all aspects of the lone gunman theory. The so-called "magic bullet" theory has also been shown to hold up against the derision one might initially have when thinking about a single bullet passing through seven pieces of living skin and two human beings before ending up in a virtually unblemished state. Physics seem to have borne out the single bullet theory once the angle of the shot is taken into consideration. Other tests have shown that the movement of the president's head is line with both ballistics and biology. Science trumps any manner of witness testimony.

Secondly, the nature of conspircism is in full play when arguments are made against the Warren Report. Just as anyone who supports the pseudoscience of Intelligent Design seems to be religious by nature, so it seems that anyone who calls into question the Warren Report conclusion believes there to be a conspiracy. The trouble is that for just about any of the conspiracy theories to be true would mean that a large number of people would have to be connected, and history has shown that people do not keep quiet for long. They also seem to only care for muddying the water. To be confident in a conspiracy theory you must be against all other theories. Many seem to want to believe in anything so long as it isn't the lone nutcase Lee Harvey Oswald pulling the trigger. This I feel is the crux of the matter and returns us back to the conspiricist's desire for order.

On 22nd November 1963 the god of chaos descended on Dallas, Texas, and the mortals scattered as they tried to assemble puzzles that did not exist.


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