The imperfect patsy
This Nov. 22 came and went as it has for quite a while — without any fanfare, much less even any mention of the JFK assassination. It always takes me aback. What was probably the focal event of my youth has been relegated to the dustbin of history, which of course is what happens to all of them.
In happened my senior year of high school, and greater than the event itself, was what it it ushered in, namely the 20th century’s Great Age of Conspiracies. And not only did I come of age in it, but I got sucked in by it, too.
The conspiracy shtuss started almost immediately after the Warren Comission Report was released a mere 10 months after the assassination. The report, per se, didn’t start it, but its main conclusion did — that Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone assassin.
Lee Harvey Oswald did it all by himself? “Impossible!” shrieked the conspiracy fans. He never did anything right. He was a loser who at 24 was at the bottom of his game, which is saying something, since he was never on top of his game.
It all made sense to me, and the more books I read, the more sense it made. And believe me, I did a lot of reading. Over the years I read dozens of JFK conspiracy books and hundreds of magazine articles. I never concluded WHO was behind the conspiracy, only that it existed. Maybe the mafia … or the CIA … or the FBI … .or anti-Castro Cubans … or LBJ. The possibilities were endless.
Of course, given all the creeps and creepiness behind the scenes in those less-than-idyllic days, you didn’t have to work very hard to uncover corruption, collusion, and con jobs at the highest levels of government … and the lowest ones as well.
As I said, when it came to JFK’s assassination, I was a believer, with a capital B. I had no doubt that, as he claimed, Oswald was a patsy.
Finally, decades later, the fog lifted, the light went on, and logic replaced emotion: I realized as mundane and boring as was, Oswald was indeed the assassin, and the only one.
Ultimately, it was a simple matter. I needed only two things to clarify the huge mess that was Conspiracy Theories Galore. One was to separate the facts from the conjecture. The other was good ole Occam’s Razor.
If you’re not familiar with it, Occam’s Razor is a logic principle. There are a lot of ways it’s stated, but basically it’s this: The simplest answer is usually the correct one. Or the conclusion most of your evidence points to is the right one. And once I applied Occam’s Razor to the JFK assassination, it was no longer a whodunnit. Instead, it was Oswald did it.
What drives those conspiracy theories is one premise — Oswald was too incompetent to succeed, since he’d never succeeded at anything. Once you accept that, then everyone and everything else are possible villains. That the conspiracy buffs themselves can’t agree who’s behind it is a sign that not only don’t they know, but there is nothing to know. It’s all just endless and byzantine conjecture – the type of emotion-and-paranoia-fueled guesswork that feeds on itself, gets more and more complex and convoluted … and gets nowhere else.
It’s also eminently understandable. Conspiracies are a lot more intriguing and exciting than plain ole reality. I mean, really, do you want to think the president of the United States was gunned down by a bumbling wingnut who in his 24 years had never done anything well? Sschool, the military, marriage — you name it, and he’d failed at it. He was such a loser, he defected to the USSR and the Russians didn’t want him.
Or is it more likely (and interesting) to think some group of powerful and sophisticated evil-doers, somewhere, far behind the scenes, worked out a complicated plot so foolproof that no two people could ever agree who exactly they were?
Well, while the latter is more interesting, it is not more likely.
For one thing, if indeed there was a conspiracy, in the 55 years since then, it would’ve been uncovered. And that’s due to a couple of things. One is in order to organize and run something like that, there’d be all sorts of communications — letters, phone calls, memos, telegrams — and some records of it would have come to light. It happens with all sorts of high-level, top secret, official government stuff, so you’ve got to be kidding yourself if you think it wouldn’t happen with a conspiracy.
And second, people talk, and when they do, they talk about secrets as well as the weather, sports and what fresh hell their neighbor is in. OK, so not all people reveal all secrets. Probably there are people who reveal no secrets, but they’re few and far between. Basically, most people reveal some secrets, and that’s always been good enough historically to uncover the workings of all sorts of secret goings-on. I mean, for Pete’s sake, there was some guy who, week after week, revealed all the Mason ritual – on prime time TV!
Beyond that, when I was in the Navy I had a top secret crypto clearance and had access to secrets that, if revealed, could’ve spelled the end of the Free World. Or so we were told. Certainly, if I’d blabbed any of them, I would’ve found myself in Portsmouth prison for a very long time, making small ones out of big ones. Yet almost every time I skimmed a Time or Newsweek, those same secrets were revealed … and in a lot more detail than I ever even knew. So while I wasn’t spilling the crypto-beans, a bunch of other peeps sure were.
Finally, there’s the assassin him or herself. Conspiracy theorists like to picture someone slick, sophisticated, of high military status and world-class skills, not some zhlub who needed connections to get a job shlepping boxes around a book depository. But they think that because they’ve studied too many James Bond movies and not enough history.
The fact is Oswald isn’t an improbable assassin – he’s a perfect example of one.
Check out all the political assassins, successful or otherwise, and they all have five things in common:
1. Mental illness
2. Carrying out an agenda that makes perfect sense to them and NO sense to anyone else
3. A weapon (in Oswald’s case, a high-powered rifle and scope, with which he was familiar)
4. Dumb luck, or lack thereof
5. A death wish, or if not that, a sense of fatalism, because they all get caught.
And that’s it.
I know it’s human nature to exaggerate and romanticize, to want to make things greater than they are. And that’s exactly what the Kennedy conspiracy theorists have done, and are doing.
But the sad truth is this: Like a lot of things in life, the assassins we imagine are not the not the ones we get stuck with.