It is now fifty years ago, come November 22nd, that John F Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas in an event that had a huge bearing on the course of history from that day on. As infamous as this day was, today, half a century later, it is almost as well known for the conspiracy theories surrounding it than it is for the assassination itself. Why is that? Why haven’t the conspiracy theorists been pacified and the matter put to an end?
Part of the reason could be that as time goes on and new generations of people grow up feeling physically and personally detached from this event, they find the theories easier to accept. Or, perhaps there are too many niggling blanks – or a few convincing blanks – in the ‘official story’ that it simply does not sit right with the more cynical society we live in today.
Some would have another theory about the theories, however, and these people are everywhere. You could probably find one of these people in your place of work or study with very little effort. I found one in my office without trying, and he had allies at nearly every desk. Their answer? Because some people just like believing in conspiracies and doing so adds not only excitement to their lives but also a sense of rebellion and satisfaction. In short, some people are just ‘conspiracy nuts’.
In fact, this is so generally the view of people about any conspiracy theories that even the mainstream media support this line. Journalists who should be spending their time digging for facts, answering questions and questioning answers can tackle such mammoth and complex world events with a simple sweep of the hand. Either the world is exactly how it is presented on the surface, or it is a chaotic dystopia of lies and counter lies – a mesmerising bedlam of the evil and disbelief. In other words, stray too far from the common, contemporary belief system and you are just another waif and stray lost in the wilderness, seeing danger where there is none.
No doubt, to mark this fiftieth anniversary of the JFK assassination, media outlets all over the world will be broaching the conspiracy topic in an investigative style special. Such programs, and there have been many already over the years, will no doubt tackle the subject in the old formulaic way. First they will reveal the holes in the ‘official story’ and build the state of tension that there may indeed be something more to the assassination than we are led to believe. Second, they will pick the easiest of these holes to explain away and do so by reiterating the official story, or by padding it out with alternative theories of some official or witness that with a satisfied air of superiority tows the official line. Finally, having maybe countered a few of the conspiracy theorists’ questions, they will conclude that the entire matter is solved and should be put to bed. Ah, if it wasn’t for those pesky conspiracy nuts, who will no doubt go on and on, no matter what you tell them.
But this generalised lumping of conspiracy theories into one category is simply a poor conclusion to draw, and let me explain why. First of all, there are so many conspiracy theories out there that it would be impossible to believe them all without having some sort of breakdown. For example, there are people who would argue that the US government wants to put a chip into every one of its citizens so that it can control them like robots at the flick of a switch. Following South Korea’s shock victory over Spain in the World Cup Quarter Final, a theory popped up that the FIFA overlords conspired to make sure the Asian team stayed in the competition until at least the semi finals in order to keep interest high in the host nation and help spread the popularity of the sport over there. Others believe dogmatically that Barack Obama has a fake birth certificate and is really ineligible to be President of the US.
But are the above theories automatically on a par with every other out there? Of course not. Furthermore, if we take an event like the JFK assassination, there are alternative theories all over the place. Was Oswald a patsy or part of the team? Was it French assassins on the grassy knoll or CIA marksmen? To pick one is often to dismiss the others, except on occasion where they may complement each other.
Similarly, just like a person can make an informed choice about one theory within an event, they can also make an informed choice about some events being conspiracies and others not. Otherwise it would be akin to me rejecting the mainstream religion of my country – Christianity – therefore I am Muslim, Jew, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist and so on, all rolled into one.
Clearly, there are some major flaws with the official theory for the assassination, just like there are for the events surrounding 9/11, another popular topic of conspiracy. For example, why does it appear as if JFK is shot in the head from the front and not the rear, where Oswald was? Why did three steel-framed towers defy Isaac Newton’s Laws of Motion on 9/11 and collapse directly into the path of most resistance at almost free fall speed? Two biggies right there, but surely worth more than some of the more outlandish conspiracy theories of the day, and certainly due more credit than being lumped into the same category as myths and legends, as many theorists’ are these days.
The fact is, to ask questions when something happens is in our nature. Furthermore, to dismiss all questions without even trying to scientifically answer them is not only a poor way of learning about the world but also incredibly dangerous. The Bush Administration often referred to conspiracy theories about 9/11 to dismiss critics of their war on Iraq. The ‘Average Joe’ is left with a clear distinction between which side he should choose. The loony ‘No’ party or the confident ‘Yes’ party. Alternatively, Zionists sometimes use the fringe (and genuinely nutty) conspiracy theory that the Holocaust never happened to dismiss critics of Israel or those that question the power of its American lobby group. The result is the same. Average Joe knows exactly which camp he’d rather be in.
The trouble with Average Joe is that no matter his age, he is still very much at the mercy of what he is told by others. That is why the media plays the biggest role in questioning world events like JFK and 9/11, and why sloppy or opinionated journalism allows for powerful people with controversial agendas to find themselves defended so well.
Cognitive dissonance is a term psychologists use to describe the discomfort experienced when a person holds two or more conflicting beliefs or emotional reactions. This usually occurs when a deeply-rooted belief you may have held all your life is suddenly challenged by new evidence that cannot be denied. In order to resolve this discomforting feeling, instead of changing that original worldview you may try to rationalise your way around it. Like Aesop’s fox that cannot reach the grapes in the tree, instead of admitting the original belief was wrong, you may simply make excuses in order to hold onto both. Your worldview then awkwardly admits the new evidence and pretends not to notice that it doesn’t quite fit right.
Most people find it hard to challenge the legitimacy of the governmental and economic system in which they live, particularly Americans, whose nationalism is coloured with bright shades of liberty, democracy and manifest destiny. To accept that Oswald had suspicious ties to the CIA or may have been a double agent for both the US and USSR is difficult. To admit that the Warren Commission, who investigated the assassination in the year following JFK’s murder, ignored evidence and witness testimony, or that evidence was covered up by J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI is a hard idea to swallow. To watch the Zapruder tape of the assassination and see Kennedy’s head being hit from the front and exploding in a halo of blood and tissue to the rear is next to impossible to deny, though the Warren Commission and a separate 1979 investigation by the House Select Committee on Assassinations both concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald had shot the bullet that killed JFK and he did so from behind.
The conspiracy-denier cannot admit any of this without drastically altering the original worldview and seeing for the first time that they may have been lied to, for whatever purpose, by the government. Instead they dissect the personality of conspiracy-theorists and conclude that they are ‘nuts’ or attention-seekers. Remember, you don’t need any evidence to start name-calling – any child will tell you that. Believe in a JFK conspiracy? Then you also believe in crop circles and the Loch Ness Monster. Argument over.
Let’s not forget, however, that many conspiracy theories have been proven to be true, despite the best efforts of those that fall in line and try to debunk them. In the last year alone we’ve had the revelations that Yasser Arafat was indeed assassinated by radioactive poisoning and that the US and UK Governments are indeed spying on all our phone calls and everything we do on the internet. If you had said either of those things several years ago you’d have been called a ‘conspiracy nut’. This isn’t to say that all conspiracy theories are correct, pending a brave whistle-blower or a determined effort to prove the official story wrong, of course not. But it is a lesson that we should always watch history unfold with an open-mind.
There is significant difference between scepticism and paranoia, though the media down the years has continued to pretend they are both the same. In an article for CNN on November 17th2013, (‘One JFK conspiracy theory that could be true’) Thom Patterson uses the idea of paranoia early on to set the tone for how conspiracy theorists are to be portrayed. And this is fifty years later. Many political scientists and historians would agree with him about paranoia, particularly in relation to the mistrust towards government, weariness of corruption and disillusionment with capitalism shown by many Americans. But paranoia is psychologically related to delusion, irrational fears and a sense of doom. Asking questions or holding mistrust of those in power is nothing to do with paranoia.
The bitter truth of the matter is that we will probably never know what really happened in Dealey Plaza fifty years ago, and the assassination will forever go down in history as not only an event surrounded in controversy but also one that drowned in decades of conspiracy and counter-conspiracy theories. History has done so well at denying controversial evidence from that moment in time that the truth may perhaps never see the light of day, in which case the differing theories are open-ended and the questions unanswered.
But it remains important to question everything that happens, no matter how big or small, no matter what names you may get called.
Truth is not relative to the dominant worldview of the day. The more we believe that the social norm is the correct way and that it is better to play it safe and not stray too far from the general consensus is the day we become primitive to future generations. It is important to always dig for the truth, no matter how this goes against the grain, because this is the only way we can keep from being a stagnant, zombie democracy – enslaved by the monetary system and the will of those in power. And who is to say another event like that on Elm Street fifty years ago will not occur again, or possibly a new 9/11. And how many more wars will that get us embroiled in, how many more of our liberties will be taken, and how many people will have to die as a consequence? Tags: North America
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This post was written by Oliver Lewis Thompson