Today marks the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination. Reports are that more than 60% of Americans do not believe Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone; I’m one of them. Was there a broad conspiracy? I’m not so sure, but I suppose it’s possible.
The evidence that I believe clearly establishes at least a second shooter is the infamous Zapruder film. This brief film graphically shows President Kennedy and Texas Governor John Connally being shot; frames 312-314 of the film show Kennedy being shot in the head. From those frames, it’s clear to me that the head shot came from the front, even though some forensic scientists believe otherwise. In reaction to the head shot, Kennedy’s head clearly jerks backward; call me an old-fashioned Newtonian physicist (“for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction“), but that to me establishes a bullet trajectory from the front.
PBS’s Nova episode “Cold Case JFK,” which aired on November 13, 2013 convinced me even more strongly that the fatal head shot came from the front – in spite of the documentary’s apparent efforts to establish that all the shots came from the rear. “Cold Case JFK” presented a restored version of the Zapruder film, which showed the head shot impact with much greater clarity than earlier versions. Without going into detail, I’ll simply say that the enhanced footage validates my Newtonian view.
The original Zapruder film has been shown repeatedly in numerous TV documentaries and is featured prominently in Oliver Stone’s film JFK. I can still hear Stone and his protagonist character, Jim Garrison (played by Kevin Costner), chanting “back, and to the left” to describe the movement of Kennedy’s head in reaction to the head shot. While I don’t share many of Oliver Stone’s or JFK‘s assertions about a conspiracy, I do agree with Stone on this point. His point of view of the head shot is that of a Vietnam-era infantryman who has actually seen people being shot; I wonder how other combat veterans perceive the Kennedy assassination. Having never been in the military, I’ll stick with my physics-based theory.
Oliver Stone doesn’t believe the single bullet theory; I do. The single bullet theory does not assert that a single bullet killed Kennedy; rather, it simply asserts that a single bullet went through Kennedy’s body and went on to wound Governor Connally in several places. It seems improbable, but several analyses reported in televised documentaries have convinced me that the single bullet theory holds water. The single bullet theory doesn’t solve the problem of the head shot, however.
Another controversy is whether the shots that came from the Texas School Book Depository were even fired by Oswald. I’m convinced that Oswald was involved in the assassination in some way, but there is evidence to suggest that he couldn’t have fired the shots. Here’s one account of that evidence. This issue was addressed in the JFK film, but there are so many other fictionalizations in that movie I would not suggest it as a source of viable theories, other than the Zapruder film analysis that I described earlier.
Of course, there are many other problems with the official account (codified in the Warren Commission Report) of the Kennedy assassination. I won’t go into them here; some basic Internet searches will flood you with Warren Commission controversies.
Many people, including previously skeptical members of the mainstream media, have come to accept the Warren Commission’s assertions that Lee Harvey Oswald shot Kennedy from the Texas School Book Depository, and that he acted alone. Many of these folks go on to assert that conspiracy theorists have an emotional problem, i.e. that conspiracy theorists can’t accept that a single, disaffected loser like Oswald could take down a president, the illusion of Camelot and the hopes of an entire nation. “Give it up and just give in,” I can almost hear them saying. “Let’s just move on.” I’m concerned about this loss of skepticism.
The notion that a lone, disaffected person, equipped with the power of a gun, could wield great destructive power has never seemed improbable to me. In my lifetime, we’ve seen countless gun murders, numerous mass shootings and more assassination attempts – all perpetrated by individuals. Under different circumstances, would it have been possible for Lee Harvey Oswald to assassinate the president on his own? I certainly think so.
What I can’t accept is a bungled, politically motivated investigation that ignores physics and evidence of a broader event – including many eyewitness accounts. I don’t like that many documents associated with the assassination are still kept secret; Jack Ruby’s murder of Oswald is certainly problematic. The notion that the JFK autopsy report has been tampered with is also very troubling.
The fact that there were many groups who didn’t like Kennedy and who clearly had motivation to see him removed from power adds fuel to conspiracy theories. Obviously the Soviets and the Cubans had their problems with Kennedy. The mafia certainly didn’t like Robert Kennedy’s crusade against organized crime, and anti-Castro Cubans were reportedly vehement that JFK backed down from invading Cuba. Leaders of the American military-industrial complex were concerned that Kennedy would pull out of Vietnam. The CIA reportedly was afraid that Kennedy would disband the organization in the wake of their “black ops” activities, including reported attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro. I’ve even read a theory that the Mossad (Israel’s version of the CIA) was behind the JFK assassination because of Kennedy’s opposition to Israel’s development of the atomic bomb. All of these groups theoretically had the resources to commit an assassination and keep it secret.
Personally, I have no idea if any of the groups I mentioned above were responsible or connected to the assassination of JFK. That is part of what is so troubling about the JFK assassination. While there may not be “beyond a reasonable doubt” evidence in the public domain implicating any of these groups, there isn’t much evidence that exonerates them either. I often wonder if there was indeed a conspiracy, but one that was not so broad as to include an entire intelligence agency or group.
Many journalists, authors and scholars point out that in 50 years, no credible evidence has emerged to support a conspiracy. That doesn’t mean there wasn’t one. The JFK assassination is, after all of the cultural impact is stripped off, a murder case. While most murders are solved, many others become “cold cases.” Many go unsolved altogether. The JFK assassination may be one of the cases that remains unsolved.
While it may be difficult to accept either conspiracy theories or the Warren Commission conclusions, the most difficult thing to accept may be that we’ll never know the whole truth. In spite of what many celebrity watchers assert, some people can keep secrets. As time passes, resolution of the JFK assassination is just going to become more difficult.
The assassination of JFK occurred 50 years ago. I was a little kid when it happened; millions of American’s weren’t even born yet. Why should we still care? I think it’s important that we continue to care – for several key reasons. The JFK assassination, and all the controversies surrounding it, begs several important questions that are still relevant. Is there a secret government in the U.S.? Are all portions of the government accountable? Is it possible for an organized group to destroy American institutions? Are we capable of solving a crime and bringing the perpetrators to justice? Can we protect the President? Can we protect America?
I think we need to continue to try to answer these questions. I keep coming back to Lincoln’s notion of a government of the people, by the people and for the people. Somehow, I feel that in regard to the JFK assassination, Lincoln’s ideal hasn’t been fulfilled.