45 years ago today, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald. Kennedy, the youngest man ever elected President, was 46. Oswald fired three bullets from a sixth floor window of the Texas School Book Depository as the President's motorcade passed through Dealy Plaza in Dallas TX. One bullet missed. A second bullet struck JFK, passed through his throat and hit Texas Governor John Connally. The third bullet was a fatal head shot.
Over the past four and a half decades, an incredible list of theories has arisen claiming that Kennedy's death was the result of some sort of conspiracy involving (among others) the CIA, the FBI, the Mafia, Cuba, USSR, the Military-Industrial Complex, the Federal Reserve, Richard Nixon, Lyndon Johnson, and J. Edgar Hoover. It's a veritable smorgasbord of conspiracies; choose just about any combination and you'll find someone who adamantly believes it.
A litany of phrases associated with Kennedy assassination conspiracy theories has entered into our lexicon: the Magic Bullet (sometimes called the Single Bullet), The Grassy knoll, the Three Tramps, the Second Gunman, the Lone Gunman, etc.
In his 2007 book Reclaiming History, Vincent Bugliosi, the famous prosecutor and author, looks at the entire assassination in minute detail. Almost half of the 1600 page tome is an examination and refutation of the various conspiracy theories including a look at some of the other 82 alleged assassins. It is an exhaustive and intricately researched work (including a separate CD containing end notes and source notes) and is mandatory reading for anyone with a serious interest in the subject.
Why do 75% of those surveyed believe there was some type of conspiracy behind the JFK Assassination? Aside from those suffering from Pathological Skepticism, I see three main reasons :
- Americans have grown suspicious of authority and jaded with government. Events over the past four decades prove that those in power will distort the truth and lie to suit their own ends. Starting with George W Bush's claim about WMDs in Iraq it is easy to draw a line of suspicion backwards to Richard Nixon and Watergate and from there further back to disbelief in the findings of the Warren Commission.
- If you lie with enough conviction and frequency, people will eventually believe you. Most of the conspiracy theories are based on distortions of truth, errors in analysis, sloppy research and outright lies.
- For many, John F. Kennedy was the symbol of a new era; call it Camelot or the New Frontier. He was young, smart, photogenic and he inspired a generation of Americans. He was a hero and we need our heroes to die in heroic ways; their deaths should have meaning. In short, we don't want them to be the random acts of lone gunmen; it doesn't fit into our perception of how things works.
We'll never know how different the World would have been had JFK lived to complete his first term and perhaps serve a second. Still, there is no doubt that the events of that sunny autumn day in Dallas affected our innocence. Some people just can't accept the utter randomness of it all.