Monday, March 12, 2012
A Conspiracy of One (or the confessions of an ex-conspiracy nut)
By time I graduated from High School I'd read a half dozen books and was quite convinced that Jack Kennedy had been killed by at least two gunmen. I knew about the famous snap back of the president's head after the fatal shot which conclusively established he was shot from the front right. I knew that Jack Ruby was all mobbed up. And I was fairly sure that Oswald had been swimming in the deep end of the pool with the CIA. What I didn't know, is that I was wrong. (See this video.)
I was committing a cardinal error by ignoring contrary evidence. But seriously, who cared? The Warren Commission was a whitewash. Right? No need to actually read any of it. People like Mark Lane and David Lifton had explained in great detail how the Warren Commission and the FBI/CIA had lied through their teeth to the American people and the commission was just a smokescreen.
So in a magnificent piece of irony it is Oliver Stone who should probably get credit for lifting the scales of conspiracy mania from my eyes. I saw his movie when it came out, and while I readily concede it was (and is) very entertaining, I was also deeply shaken by it. The problem is that I knew a great deal about the Kennedy assassination, probably (not bragging here but being honest) much more than the average person on the street. And I knew that factually his film was from start to finish a load of pure 100% gold plated bullshit.
It didn't take a social scientist to figure out that this movie was going to shape the public's view of the Kennedy murder on a scale and in ways that probably would never be correctable. And if we were relying on something as dubious as Stone's movie to advance the cause proving a conspiracy, then I felt we (conspiracy theorists) had crossed a dangerous ethical line. If Stone could make things up out of whole cloth how could we know others in the movement hadn't been doing the same thing?
The seeds of doubt had been planted.
Sometime within a year or so after that I secured a copy of the Warren Commission Report and became the only pro-conspiracy person I have met to actually read it. Wasn't it dry? No gin could ever touch it. If the government did nothing else it had come up with a sure fire cure for insomnia. But it was also fascinating and it was absolutely packed with facts not generally addressed by the advocates of conspiracy. There was the substantial body of eye witnesses who saw Oswald shooting from the sixth floor window. And others who saw him up close when he shot Dallas patrolman J.D. Tippet. The guns were all positively linked by ballistics to the two killings. His fingerprints were on them both as well as the boxes in the snipers nest. Much of this I had already known but it is usually glossed over or ignored by advocates of conspiracy. The WC laid it out in a manner that could not be ignored.
Were there errors and inaccuracies as many conspiracy advocates claim? Yes. But generally none that I could not dismiss as minor and the likely result of rushed editing. The Warren Commission had not converted me. But it had made it clear that I had been wrong to be taking all of my information from one side of a debate. And more importantly it convinced me that Oswald had definitely been involved. The evidence was too overwhelming.
I began going out of my way to read whatever I could find that was supportive of the lone gunman theory. And at the time those pickings were thin. One thing many people don't realize is that until about twenty years ago there was virtually no serious scholarship or works critical of the conspiracy theorists except the Warren Commission. Even so my position was shifting.
I was coming to a conclusion which has colored my prejudice against the modern fetish with conspiracy to this day. And that quite simply is believability. There is an old saying, often attributed to Ben Franklin that three men can keep a secret only if two of them are dead. To believe that Jack Kennedy was killed as a result of a broad conspiracy necessitates believing that a coverup occurred that would have had to extend through all of the highest levels of the government, and then down to more minor functionaries and law enforcement agents. The number of people who would have had to be involved, AND KEPT THEIR MOUTHS SHUT, would had to have been quite large. That was something I just could not buy into. It is inconceivable to me that so many people would be involved in a vast coverup and not one would crack with so much as a death bed confession. The same reasons made me doubt that most of the usual suspects (i,e. the mob or CIA) were involved. People who think the mob was that disciplined don't really know much about them. Someone would have talked.
Then there was the actual evidence. Time does not permit me to discuss each piece of allegedly pro-conspiracy evidence (I strongly recommend watching the linked video and the subsequent nine parts) but while still keeping an open mind; my opinion was shifting against conspiracy. More and more the "evidence" I had relied on to prove a conspiracy was being shown to be misunderstood, or just plain wrong. I was also discovering that at least some of the advocates of conspiracy, like Oliver Stone, were not above omitting, misstating or outright inventing facts when it served their purposes.
By the time Gerald Posner came out with his bombshell book "Case Closed: Lee Harvey Oswald and the Assassination of JFK (1993)," the first book to really discredit the conspiracy movement, I was already leaning in that direction. Posner pretty much pushed me over the edge. His book was not without some faults. But in general it laid out a damning case against Oswald and refuted most of the more common arguments employed by the pro-conspiracy crowd. Any residual doubts were utterly eradicated in 2007.
That was the year Vincent Bugliosi (the prosecutor of Charles Manson) published “Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy.”
Bugliosi's book is heavy reading, literally at 1600+ pages (using smaller than normal type font), don't drop it on your toes and remember to lift with your arms not your back. It is the product of twenty years of research, about twice as long as the Warren Commission and infinitely more exhaustive. In addition to the 1600+ pages are more than 1000(!) pages of end notes and citations that are mercifully on a CD. Some of the end notes run several pages in their own right.
The book is divided into a number of different sections but begins with one of the more readable minute by minute narratives of what actually happened on that incredibly sad November weekend in 1963. At a little over 300 pages that is a good sized book by itself. Then you are treated to something almost totally ignored by historians of the Kennedy assassination from both sides of the conspiracy argument, a monumentally detailed biography of Lee Harvey Oswald. How detailed? Bugliosi provides street addresses and detailed descriptions of every rundown apartment or boarding house he ever lived in from childhood onwards. And they were legion. The author presents what is certainly the first real biography of a young man from a broken home, with above average intelligence who grows up determined to become "someone." Oswald's discovery of Marxism at age 16 and how it turned a desperately lonely and impressionable young man into a political fanatic along with his entire sad and pathetic life is covered in such agonizing detail one is left feeling like some kind of sleazy voyeur.
Much of the rest of the book is dedicated to an equally detailed analysis of the evidence and then the really hard part for me. His absolutely brutal and relentless attack on the purveyors of conspiracy theories where he does not shrink from naming names.
Bugliosi doesn't want to just knock down the conspiracy theorists. He wants to destroy them. He wants to hold them up for public ridicule and leave everyone laughing at them. And for the most part he succeeds. This book doesn't settle with debunking them. It incinerates them in a nuclear fireball of facts coupled with irresistible logic and reason.
Does this book have any weaknesses? Yes, a rather big one. The sheer size and exhaustive nature of the work all but guarantees that few will actually read it. It took me a good six months to plow through the book and I have yet to meet anyone else who has read it. Nor can I blame them. You would have to have a near obsession with the topic to attempt the work, that or perhaps be under an especially severe penance.
With that admitted caveat I will summarize the work and the conclusions I have reached on this subject after studying it for most of my life.
The idea that someone as important and consequential in the world as John F Kennedy could be cut down in broad daylight, in front of scores of witnesses, while surrounded by armed police and Secret Service guards, by a life long loser with a $20.00 mail order rifle and no help is incredibly hard to accept. Even today I really don't want to believe it. But the evidence indicates that such is exactly what happened. Lee Harvey Oswald, a complete zero twisted by radical left wing politics who desperately wanted to get his name in the history books shot and killed the President of the United States. And he did it alone.
Is a conspiracy impossible? No. But in all frankness it must be said that there is not now, nor has there ever been, any credible evidence indicating one. And the weight of evidence against conspiracy is so overwhelming that I believe the idea no longer bears serious discussion.