Sunday, May 09, 2010

On loony conspiracy theories

I belong to a distinct and apparently very small minority of Americans in my belief that John F. Kennedy was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald, who acted alone. Although I am familiar with many of the conspiracy theories related to the assassination, I have always believed Oswald was the lone gunman, and after all these years, I seriously doubt that I will ever be dissuaded from this view. But while I find the persistent and generally loony ideas rather annoying, I occasionally like to have some fun with them as well. About a year ago I considered posting a new theory here, to the effect that if one closes his eyes and clicks his heels three times, a la Dorothy, while intoning the magic words, "There's no place like the grassy knoll," he can then clearly see O. J. Simpson, armed with a rifle, in frames 55 through 117 of the Zapruder film. But I decided against the idea, knowing that if I posted it, some nutcase would say it was true and spread it around the Internet.

Last night I found a YouTube video of a portion of the speech Kennedy gave which supposedly led to his assassination. The speech in question has cropped up elsewhere, and nearly always in this same context, so I was already quite familiar with it. At least the speech itself has the merit of being a genuine part of the historical record. Kennedy delivered it to the American Newspaper Publishers Association in April, 1961, surely with no idea that his words would be a focus of fringe conspiracy theories nearly 50 years later. In pertinent part, he said the following:

"The very word "secrecy" is repugnant in a free and open society; and we are as a people inherently and historically opposed to secret societies, to secret oaths and to secret proceedings. We decided long ago that the dangers of excessive and unwarranted concealment of pertinent facts far outweighed the dangers which are cited to justify it. Even today, there is little value in opposing the threat of a closed society by imitating its arbitrary restrictions. Even today, there is little value in insuring the survival of our nation if our traditions do not survive with it. And there is very grave danger that an announced need for increased security will be seized upon by those anxious to expand its meaning to the very limits of official censorship and concealment. That I do not intend to permit to the extent that it is in my control. And no official of my Administration, whether his rank is high or low, civilian or military, should interpret my words here tonight as an excuse to censor the news, to stifle dissent, to cover up our mistakes or to withhold from the press and the public the facts they deserve to know. . . .

"Today no war has been declared--and however fierce the struggle may be, it may never be declared in the traditional fashion. Our way of life is under attack. Those who make themselves our enemy are advancing around the globe. The survival of our friends is in danger. And yet no war has been declared, no borders have been crossed by marching troops, no missiles have been fired.

"If the press is awaiting a declaration of war before it imposes the self-discipline of combat conditions, then I can only say that no war ever posed a greater threat to our security. If you are awaiting a finding of "clear and present danger," then I can only say that the danger has never been more clear and its presence has never been more imminent.

"It requires a change in outlook, a change in tactics, a change in missions--by the government, by the people, by every businessman or labor leader, and by every newspaper. For we are opposed around the world by a monolithic and ruthless conspiracy that relies primarily on covert means for expanding its sphere of influence--on infiltration instead of invasion, on subversion instead of elections, on intimidation instead of free choice, on guerrillas by night instead of armies by day. It is a system which has conscripted vast human and material resources into the building of a tightly knit, highly efficient machine that combines military, diplomatic, intelligence, economic, scientific and political operations. Its preparations are concealed, not published. Its mistakes are buried, not headlined. Its dissenters are silenced, not praised. No expenditure is questioned, no rumor is printed, no secret is revealed. It conducts the Cold War, in short, with a war-time discipline no democracy would ever hope or wish to match. "

I have intentionally quoted more of the speech than the conspiracy theorists normally do, and certainly far more of it than appeared in the YouTube video; but to anyone with a basic understanding of 20th-century history, the context of Kennedy's remarks should be abundantly clear. This, after all, was 1961, the year of the Bay of Pigs and the Berlin crisis, and the year before Khrushchev began his secret deployment of intermediate-range ballistic missiles in Cuba. In short, the speech was given at the height of the Cold War, and the references are to Soviet-style Communism, which at the time was generally seen as a monolithic juggernaut, as well as the number-one threat to the American way of life. The President was not referring to the New World Order, nor to a shadowy and supersecret cabal which included the Illuminati, the Bildeberg Group, the Council on Foreign Relations, or some combination of those particular organizations or groups similar to them.

I decided to have some fun with the video, and began an exchange of comments with the individual who posted it. Because comments on YouTube videos are limited to 500 characters, I have chosen this forum to amplify my comments there.

I began by noting that the interval between the speech and its supposed consequence was about 2-1/2 years, and speculated that since Oswald was still in Russia at the time, perhaps the conspirators first needed to return him to the United States, he being absolutely indispensable to the plot and there being nobody else competent to do the job.

My friend wrote back a short time later. He said I had it all wrong -- no surprise there, of course; that Oswald was merely the "scape goat" (sic); that these things needed a great deal of advance planning and preparation; and that JFK was killed by the driver of his limousine. (Parenthetically, as regards that last assertion, in more than 45 years I have only heard of one that I think is crazier; apparently a few people affirm that Kennedy was complicit in his own assassination, as his approval rating was going down in November of 1963, and he supposedly saw this as a good way to improve his poll numbers.)

I wrote back this morning, but had to cut out much of my comment in order to bring it within the 500-character limit. I had intended to start off with my own firm belief that O. J. Simpson was involved in the plot, but had to leave that out, along with my speculation that one might have expected the driver to wait at least a few more seconds before pulling the trigger, as by that time the car would be going through the underpass and his actions could not be seen by the spectators in Dealey Plaza. (But then, perhaps the conspirators had decided that their need to be rid of the President had become so urgent that any further delay could not be tolerated, and that by the time the motorcade turned down Elm Street toward the underpass, there literally wasn't a moment to waste.) I did suggest that bumping off the President could reasonably be expected to require some 2-1/2 years of careful planning and preparation, which, as I pointed out, was longer than it took to plan and execute the Normandy invasion. Finally, I added that it made perfect sense to me that the time and place chosen by the conspirators to carry out their violent coup d'etat was high noon at Dealey Plaza, in an open limousine, and in front of dozens of eyewitnesses, many of whom were equipped with cameras.

I'm sure I will hear back from this individual, but I don't know if I will bother to continue the correspondence, which, like an estate conveyed in fee simple absolute, could end up being of potentially infinite duration. But if I do so, my next point will likely be that the conspiracy theorists, who love to give short shrift to the so-called "magic-bullet theory," have come up with a far better version of it all on their own. Since the driver was two seats in front of Kennedy and at roughly his 11 o'clock position, and Kennedy was facing almost directly ahead and slightly downward at the moment of the fatal shot, how did the bullet supposedly fired by the driver manage to strike the right side of the President's head?

To paraphrase Ronald Reagan, conspiracy theories about the JFK assassination are perhaps the closest thing to eternal life that we are likely to see in this world, so I should probably devote my time and energy to projects more worthwhile than engaging in further polemics over this rather threadbare issue. For instance, are any cable channels broadcasting reruns of "My Mother, the Car?" Perhaps I should watch a few episodes of that short-lived mid-Sixties sitcom instead. At least the program was unabashedly idiotic, an opinion disputed by hardly anyone at all, and thus unlikely to give rise to arguments as futile as they are contentious.

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