“In case of dissension, never dare to judge till you've heard the other side.”
The fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of President Kennedy took place a few weeks ago. The Myth Buster needs to tackle this painful episode in American history. Theories — myths — about the perpetrators, the motivation and the cover up overlay this terrifying event. The other side has been heard; now is the time to judge.
An endless stream of books, television documentaries and movies on this intriguing and painful subject rolled out through the decades. Consider these facts.
Skyhorse Publishing published 25 books related to the assassination this year. Many other books are being reprinted.
Amazon runs a list of the ten “most essential” books on the Kennedy Assassination; all are selling.
Bowker's Books In Print says nearly 1,400 titles related to President Kennedy, including his assassination, conspiracy works, biographies and speeches, were published in the U.S. over the past five decades.
By 1979 an estimated 600 books had been written on the assassination; the number has at least doubled since then.
The Mary Ferrell Foundation lists seven pages of books and articles on the assassination including A Bibliography of Books Newspaper and Magazine Articles, published in English outside the United States of America related to the Assassination of John F. Kennedy
Conspiracy and cover up provide the juciest topics. Just about every possible deviation from the norm has been raked over. In The Accidental Victim, James Reston Jr. argues that Oswald may have had a different target in mind. The famous Oliver Stone film implies that Jim Garrison was onto true conspirarcy evidence. Maybe no one remembers Garrison! As every conspiracy theorist will tell you – and tell you again and again – there is evidence. When pressed, they point out that Oswald claimed to be a “patsy.”
Many of these slants on the event have caught fire in the film industry, more specifically with documentary makers. “The JFK Assassination: The Jim Garrison Tapes,” a documentary, (probably inspired by Oliver Stone) chops away at the findings of the Warren Commission. It won the Documentary Award at the San Sebastian International Film Festival. “The Murder of JFK: A Revisionist History,” another documentary, used archival footage and interviews. It won two awards from the International Documentary Association.
Belief in Conspiracies
Consipiracies abound and Americans love them. Several Gallup polls show that the majority of Americans believe a conspiracy was involved. The favorite conspirators are the Mafia (37%), the CIA (34%), Lyndon Johnson (18%), Cuba (15%), Russia (15%), the second shooter, the third, fourth and fifth shooters.
It is difficult to estimate the amount of money made by authors, movie makers and television programming on this topic. It appears no one has tried to make an estimate of the financial total – nor how many careers – have grown out of theories and “analysis” of the assassination. It must stretch well into the billions considering research costs, movie and documentary budgets, book and movie revenue and government investigation expenses.
Conspiracy or No Conspiracy?
The Myth Buster must take a crack at the credibility of these theories. Attention centers on the possibility that more than one person was involved. Do any of these notions make sense? Was more than one person involved? If a second person had been involved, the first thing they would have insisted on was a better weapon. Oswald used a cheap nineteenth century single shot rifle purchased from a mail order house. This would be an odd weapon for a Cuban or Russian or a CIA operative to use. It would also be strange for a Mafia assassin to use such an old, loud weapon. Even a drinking buddy or would-be hunter or weekend militia enthusiast would insist on something more technically astute. Not the conspiracy theorists.
It does not even make sense that Oswald used such a low-tech rifle. Used in World War I and at the beginning of World War II, the carcano rifle faded as automatic weapons proved more effective. Oswald himself must have used an M1 rifle in the US Marines. Now obsolete, the M1 out as far more powerful and more technically advanced than the single-shot, bolt action carcano. To really bust the conspiracy theories, the reason for this quirky selection relates to cost: Oswald could not afford a better weapon. The solution to this half-century dilemma is financial.
The reasons supporting the would-be conspiracies are also improbable. Theorists brush aside the improbability of Russia risking World War III – especially after the Cuban Missile Crisis. Cuba lived through the Russian pullout and knew they would be alone against their giant neighbor.
The Mafia – frequently accused of helping Kennedy get elected – would have seen a reign of terror that would rattle the Bolsheviks who were still around in the 1960s. None of this stops conspiracy speculators.
More Lurid Conspiracy Theories
The fuel that runs the conspiracy engine is possibility not probability. Lyndon Johnson and George H W Bush had something to gain, or so the conspiracy spinners claim. Ridiculous? Yes. Could any theory be more far out? How about this — and so far no one has done a documentary on it: Queen Elizabeth. Did she have more to gain than Johnson or Bush? She may have wanted to get back her lost colonies. Sound improbable? Looking for a glimmer of truth to shore up this theory? Queen Victoria supported the Confederacy during the Civil War. So maybe Oswald really was a patsy. Sound like the start of an interesting and moneymaking series of films and documentaries?
After fifty years, it is time to judge; we have certainly heard the other side. It may be time to admit that the world’s most powerful person was vulnerable and was killed by someone as inconsequential as Oswald. Kennedy was not alone. Successful and unsuccessful assassins connived to do their work on Jackson (1835), Garfiled (1881), McKinley (1901), Teddy Roosevelt (1912), Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933), Truman (1950), Ford (1975), Reagan (1981) and Bush the Elder (1993).
The Kennedy assassination proved to be a harbinger of what was to come – low tech butchery in a high tech world. Next month, the Myth Buster will look back at 2013 and see how well we did looking at a variety of myths.
Michael McTague, Ph.D. is Executive Vice President at Able Global Partners, a private equity firm in New York City.