Friday, November 21, 2003

More JFK: I've mentioned before that I was, as a younger man, a bit of a buff on the conspiracy theories (much to the chagrin of my PoliSci prof Doug Munro, who went on to found a policy think tank; give him some money). I'm less inclined toward the conspiracy view now, though articles like this one still confound me. Says the author, historian Gleaves Whitney:
Gerald Posner (in Case Closed) and Robert Dallek (in An Unfinished Life) have observed that many people drawn to conspiracy theories just do not want to accept that a lowlife like Oswald could single-handedly cut short the life of a charismatic leader like Kennedy. It despoils the myth of Camelot.
Well, I was never much for the Camelot myth. People still spin theories because so many questions went unanswered. More Whitney:
For nearly 40 years, the commission's work has been scrutinized. After all, it's methods were sometimes flawed, its evidence occasionally inconclusive, and its judgments at times spotty. A number of issues went unresolved. Did authorities in Dallas handle every piece of evidence according to the best crime scene investigation techniques? No.
Wow. There's an understatement, considering nobody knows where Kennedy's brain ended up. Plus, nobody in the Dallas police department recorded or took notes at Oswald's primary interrogation.
Were certain questions answered inconclusively? Of course.
The "of course" is rather cavalier. The key to the Warren Commission's case was the famed single-bullet theory, which suggested that, of Oswald's three shots, one missed entirely, one hit Kennedy's neck, and the third "magic" bullet hit Kennedy's back, exited through his neck, and went on to hit John Connally in the body, hand, and leg, only to be "found" later, intact, on Kennedy's stretcher at the hospital. And this still doesn't account for possible bullet damage to the presidential limo, plus a shot that hit a curb near a bystander. This is an obvious case of an implausible threory contructed to fit the facts, rather than facts laid out in a logical manner to create a plausible reconstruction.
The assassin had a motivation to kill. Lee Harvey Oswald was mentally unstable, a Communist who had a long history of associating with fringe leftist groups. He lived for a time in the U.S.S.R., was sympathetic to Castro's Cuban revolution, and was a rifleman trained by the Marines. Clearly he was willing and able, if the opportunity arose, to kill a U.S. president who vowed to resist Communist threats to the free world.
Yes, I don't doubt that Oswald was manning a gun. But it does seem odd that Oswald was connected in so many ways to forces hostile to Kennedy; that he defected to the USSR and then repatriated so easily; that he was himself killed so soon after the crime. As to the "rifleman in the Marines" description of Oswald, he was, by most accounts from the service, a poor shot; recall that the Zapruder film indicated that Oswald would have needed to get off three shots, at least two of them on the mark, in about 6 seconds. From a cheap, mail-order, bolt-action rifle.

As for the Jack Ruby connection, Whitney says:

Finally, it is a stretch to claim that Jack Ruby was part of a conspiracy to kill Oswald. Ruby arrived at the Dallas jail 30 minutes after Oswald was originally scheduled to be transferred to a different facility. Oswald was unexpectedly delayed, and Ruby seized the opportunity to shoot the assassin — not typically the way conspirators behave — and insisted to the end of his life that he acted alone.
True, it is odd that Ruby would show up late if popping Oswald was important to him, not just a "target of opportunity" situation. But why was he strolling into the police station, armed, in the first place?

Whiney's conclusion, "that the man who murdered President Kennedy was Lee Harvey Oswald, and that there was no conspiracy, foreign or domestic, that brought JFK down," is not outrageous, but his dismissal of the oddities of the event, and its aftermath, is unconvincing. The theories persist because the Warren Report was not particularly dispositive on many of the circumstances surrounding the case. I've come to believe that Whitney's conclusion is the most likely; but not everyone who disagrees is an Oliver Stone fruitcake.

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