Letting go of JFK

Few historical events are cloaked in as much confusion and controversy as the assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy. There's dueling government reports -- one concluded it was the work of a lone gunman, the other fingered an undefined conspiracy. Otherwise respectable researchers and journalists have sunk into the quicksand of wild speculation and bureaucratic obsfucation. Yet another couple of books tackling the question are out, and never was there such a need to recall the value of skepticism.

Ron Rosenbaum's anti-review at Slate magazine is a perfect illustration of just how dangerous the subject can be. In Reclaiming History, Vincent Bugliosi has written 1500 (!) words debunking every JFK conspiracy theory he could find, and Salon founder David Talbot counters with Brothers, which tries to keep alive the possibility of something mysterious. So who's right?

For me, there's only one useful response: definitive conclusions about just who killed JFK are the product of a naive or a paranoid mindset.

One thousand five hundred words seems a bit much, don't you Mr. Bugliosi? Methinks thou dost protest too much. And Mr. Talbot -- if you don't really have a good answer to the question, why bother writing a book? The only reasonable excuse for these efforts is the knowledge that both will probably sell well, exploiting as they will the appetite for anything new among those who are obsessed with the case, however incrementally it advances the mythology.

The facts are too few, and too many. The chances we will ever be able to eliminate beyond a reasonable doubt the possibility that Lee Harvey Oswald had some help are slim to none. And there's no more hope that we'll ever be able to make sense of all those puzzling little hints of something more at work. Take the magic bullet: Modern forensics science says it could have done the trick -- in theory -- but such "recreation tests" offer us no estimates of just how likely it really was that such a scenario could have occurred in practice.

No, I'm afraid there's just too much weirdness, too much baggage, too many quite-believable theories and counter-theories. Pro-Cuban forces, or anti-Cuban forces? The mob? The CIA? JFK's tortured relationship with all of them make anything possible.

I suggest that anyone who really believes strongly in either the lone gunman or the conspiracy theory needs to take a deep breath. It was more than 43 year ago, people. Maybe the the most important lesson of JFK's death is that sometimes answers aren't going to be forthcoming.


More like this

I respectfully disagree. Posner's Case Closed convinced me of the absurdity that a disordered person like Oswald would be trusted in such a sophisticated conspiracy. The "magic bullet" is perfectly plausible forensically. Bugliosi's 1500 pages does not seem excessive to refute the host of alternate "theories" out there. As someone said about refuting Creationist claims "It only takes a few seconds for a baby to vomit over everything, it takes hours to clean up the mess".
I'm looking forward to reading this book, my birthday's coming up (hint, hint).

By T. Bruce McNeely (not verified) on 04 Jun 2007 #permalink

Debunkers cannot win. If they leave the nutcases alone, someone will claim that the nutcases stand unrefuted. If they go to the bother of refuting the nutcases, someone will claim that there must be something there or people wouldn't have needed to spend so much time trying to refute it...

So, both might be wrong, eh? Or one or the other might be right and the other wrong, but we can never be sure? How long did it take for you to come to that conclusion? Having been to Dealey Plaza many times (I live in Dallas) and having some experience with guns, the thing that has always struck me is what a good shot that was if Oswald did indeed do it. It's farther than it looks in photos and so forth between the sixth-floor window (now a museum, BTW) and where the fatal head shot occurred. The fence atop the grassy knoll (which is still there), by contrast, is directly opposite where the fatal bullet hit Kennedy. If Oswald hit Kennedy in the head, moving away from him at an angle and downhill with a bolt-action rifle that had a misaligned site (while possibly shooting through a tree), he was either a helluva shot or incredibly lucky--maybe the luckiest shooter in history.

Vincent Bugliosi has written 1500 (!) words debunking every JFK conspiracy theory he could find ...
One thousand five hundred words seems a bit much...

Awfully short book, I'd say ...

By Scott Belyea (not verified) on 04 Jun 2007 #permalink

Vincent Bugliosi has written 1500 (!) words debunking every JFK conspiracy theory he could find, and Salon founder David Talbot counters with Brothers, which tries to keep alive the possibility of something mysterious.

I haven't read Bugliosi's book, and don't care about the subject enough to do so, but it seems to me that you're equating these two positions and yet from your description they aren't anything like each other. Assuming your descriptions are correct, the second is a conspiracy mongering book, and Bugliosi's just debunks conspiracies. I think debunking nonsense is virtually always good, while adding to nonsense is not. I do not see them as two sides of the same coin, even though many people might be interested in both.


E. Howard Hunt Made a DEATHBED Confession! ON TAPE!
Recently Saint John Hunt presented a tape of his father's near death
confession to being a part of a conspiracy that included H.B. Johnson, the CIA, and others in the planning and causing JFK's death in Dealy Plaza. On the tape 'Hunt' also says that a french sharpshooter fired the fatal shot from the "Grassy Knoll".
The information below was a reairing of an interview of Saint John Hunt, son of E. Howard Hunt TUESDAY 5/15/07, AND WEDNESDAY 5/16/07! on Coast To Coast with Ian Punnett
E. Howard Hunt's taped statements, released after his death by his orders,
and recently aired on Coast To Coast with George Noory, Radio Show,
tells the whole true story of how the conspiracy involving he, H. B. Johnson, the
Mafia, the CIA, and others, arranged for a French sharpshooter to shoot from
the "Grassy Knoll" and fire the fatal shot that exited the back of his head
taking a piece of his skull with it, that killed President John F. Kennedy!
Jacqueline Kennedy is seen in a film, retrieving the piece of skull
from the trunk of the limousine.

By Jim Hanley (not verified) on 04 Jun 2007 #permalink

"Deathbed confessions" are generally suspect, and Howard Hunt's is no better. Isn't is so conveneient to "confess" at the very moment when you cannot be challenged on matters of fact? Hunt did not say anything that had not already been debunked. No new verifable facts, not one.

I think Posner really did close the case on this one. For example, Oswald was a good shot (contrary to what the Walter Matthau character says in the film JFK)- his marine training records show him to be average, and his rifle was in good working order. It has been shown that he had plenty of time to take three aimed shots - enough to finish off the poor President.

It is just difficult for people to accept that a nonentity loser could alter the course of history unaided when the vast range of humanity (which is most of us!) seem to have little or no impact.

"Posted on: June 4, 2007 1:36 PM, by James Hrynyshyn
Maybe the most important lesson of JFK's death is that sometimes answers aren't going to be forthcoming."

I just stumbled across this forum devoted to scientific thinking and this quote from Mr.Hrynyshyn struck me as representing the very antithesis of scientific thinking.

By jraymondcarrol… (not verified) on 08 Jun 2007 #permalink