History’s Verdict: Oswald Acted Alone


OK, that headline is a lame joke. I am not a historian, and I can’t pass history’s judgment. It’s my opinion that Oswald acted alone.

That puts me at odds with most Americans. On Nov. 20, The Washington Post reported that its poll, done with ABC News, showed 62 percent of Americans believe the assassination was part of a larger conspiracy.

That, by the way, is not the peak of such beliefs. In 1983, 80 percent of American’s thought there was a conspiracy to kill Kennedy.

I’m not buying it. I don’t deny that it’s possible—it just seems improbable, to me. Mostly for the following reasons:

  • I think the “magic bullet” idea is bogus. Again, I’m not the expert on this, but recent developments in computer recreation combined with the Zapruder film show that the positions of Kennedy’s and Texas Gov. John Connally’s bodies were right for a bullet from the 6th floor of the Texas Book Depository to pass straight through Kennedy and continue—going straight—through Connally. Years of conspiracy theories are all built on the “proof” of a second or more shooters (not I avoid the sexist “gunman” which is the usual term) because, the theorists say, no bullet can do what the “magic” bullet did. But, in fact, the bullet wasn’t magic and didn’t make an impossible turn in midair. It all has to do with knowing where Kennedy and Connally were actually sitting: Connally was in a foldout seat below and the left of Kennedy, not sitting directly in front of him at the same level. Thus, no magic bullet, no second shooter.
  • The “magic” bullet family of theories, which includes the idea that the umbrella man did it, or that Governor Connally did it, is not the most credible set of theories. Actually, the idea that Oswald was aided or acting in concert with someone else is the far more plausible set of conspiracy ideas. My problem with this family of theories is twofold: 1) I think Oswald, as kind of a loner, loser without extraordinary assassin skills, would be a poor choice for a broad conspiracy that doesn’t involve added shooters. Why Oswald? Nobody sane would pick him—after all, he had failed in a previous assassination attempt of another person—to be the shooter. True, he was trained in the Marine Corps and could shoot a rifle, but that doesn’t make him particularly qualified for the role he played. 2) A broad, vast conspiracy would be likely to unravel. This one hasn’t. It’s the magic conspiracy.
  • In most cases, the simplest explanation is best—what science calls the law of parsimony. Conspiracies are hard to set up, don’t stay secret and often don’t work (how many times did the CIA, which had nothing to do with Kennedy’s death, plot to kill Fidel Castro?). Now, I don’t think parsimony is necessarily the way to all truth because history is full of all kinds of improbable circumstances coming together to cause all kinds of events (if the Titanic hadn’t spotted the iceberg and hadn’t tried to slow down and turn, it would have plowed straight into the ice—and continued to float—rather than scraping along the side and ripping open too many watertight compartments to avoid sinking. Go figure). Anyway, any conspiracy theory I’ve ever heard is either very improbable given the people (true neither Lyndon Johnson nor Connally were particularly fond of Kennedy, but shoot him? Seems more than a bit far fetched, to me) or simply crazy (note that many of the theories involve, for some reason, Israeli secret agents or the mafia. In one of my classes this week, we had fun coming up with new conspiracy theories simply by naming anybody—the Pope, for instance—and then adding “the mafia.” Such as: It was Walt Disney. And the mafia.) Anyway, being overly complex does not prove that something is wrong. It just makes it less believable without credible evidence.

One of the columns I read asserted that most journalists refuse to investigate the Kennedy assassination because we’re embarrassed to have such a famous unsolved mystery.

john_f_kennedy

Portrait of John F. Kennedy by Aaron Shikler, 1970, From Whitehouse.gov.

That assumes, as it appears most Americans believe, that there is a mystery to solve. I don’t think that there is. Please don’t bombard me with e-mails and links—I probably won’t be motivated to follow them. As I already admitted, I’m only expressing personal opinion, and I am not a Kennedy assassination expert by any stretch of the imagination, and honestly am not going to devote a lot of my time to this question.

Becasue, after 50 years, this is what I believe. Sad as it is to think such large events as world history might swing on such small hinges as a loner-loser like Lee Harvey Oswald, I think the cops got it right all along.

Oswald acted alone. Which makes the events of 50 years ago more frightening, if you think about it.

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1 Comment

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One response to “History’s Verdict: Oswald Acted Alone

  1. Cate

    Shaving with Occam’s razor again, are we? FWIW, I agree with you. Which sounds like a conspiracy.

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