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Anybody Here Seen My Old Friend John? By Sal Moriarity

Chaos was the law of nature; Order was the dream of man. Henry Adams

Ever visit Dealey Plaza? Crazy place. People wandering around, pointing. Whispering. Idiots smiling for selfies, standing on the X marking the spot where John F. Kennedy met his end on November 22, 1963. It is not unusual to be approached by strangers eager to tell you the X should actually be one yard and five inches to the south, or eleven inches further to the west. You will find no shortage of amateur sleuths ready to tell you the mob killed Kennedy, or LBJ killed Kennedy, or the CIA killed Kennedy or right-wingers killed Kennedy. Some have written books, printed in their basements, and sold from the trunks of cars. Oliver Stone's influence hangs heavy in the air.

You will also encounter the more thoughtful roaming about, looking up at the sixth floor of what used to be the Texas School Book Depository, then back to the X painted on Elm Street. They quietly calculate time and distance, Abraham Zapruder's infamous home movie on a loop in their heads.

JFK was murdered before I was born. Growing up, for whatever reason, I was fascinated by the assassination; seeing the grisly Zapruder film on television certainly made an impact. I turn my head when I encounter it today. I'd guess I was one of only a handful of people under eighteen who read The Warren Commission Report. I bought in to this or that conspiracy, depending on which book I last read. To my youthful mind they offered, if not meaning, at least structure. It was difficult to conceive something so horrific - so global, so public – to simply be a matter of this guy killing that guy for his own messed up reasons. No one behind the curtain.

Chaos is unsettling. It means anything can happen.

When Oliver Stone released his film, JFK (1991), the stakes were raised. Stone is, for whatever you think of his politics, a brilliant film maker and JFK is a wildly entertaining movie. In addition, Stone is not your garden variety Hollywood liberal. He served with valor in Vietnam, requesting combat duty. The movie spins a complex web of scenarios; generals colluding with LBJ, nefarious entanglements masterminded by New Orleans businessman, Clay Shaw, the only man to go on trial for the assassination of John F. Kennedy (he was acquitted in less than an hour).

The take-away from the movie seems to be that a mélange of right-wingers, government intelligence operatives, shady characters from The Big Easy, generals and LBJ took down the thirty-fifth President of the United States; not the self-proclaimed Marxist who was charged with the crime. It's full of hints, insinuations, allegations and outright falsehoods (one being that Oswald was a lousy shot).

Coincidences are given to be the results of intricate plots, involving hundreds of people (who keep their mouths shut after the fact). By the time one thread tidies itself up with finger pointed squarely at some villainous establishment figure, you've forgotten the thread was derived from the flimsiest of premises.

The film was insanely impactful. Reaction to it was largely responsible for the declassification of thousands of government documents related to the assassination. A movie. This should come as no surprise, really, as Hollywood often wins the day in America. This, I would argue, is especially true for many who expend much energy complaining about its influence. They're usually first to the trough.

For me, once you clear away the ax-grinding (usually related to Vietnam), it is clear the leftist Lee Harvey Oswald murdered John F. Kennedy. Alone. Occam's razor is not particularly popular with humans. Yes, back in the day I read all the conspiracy books, but eventually I came to view the authors, for the most part, as cranks. Those books were written for adolescent minds.

For me, the most informative book concerning the assassination of President Kennedy is Vincent Bugliosi's Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy (2007). It's a thick book. A shorter volume by the author, derived from the first, is called Four Days in November: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy (2008). It's a much faster read, and a page turner.

If the author's name is familiar, he is the man who prosecuted Charles Manson. You've likely heard of his book documenting that event, Helter Skelter (1974). He was a Democrat, and no fan of George W. Bush. One might think he had every motivation to hang the murder of JFK on the political right, but he did not.

From Wikipedia:

In a review for The New York Times, Bryan Burrough wrote: "Bugliosi is refreshing because he doesn’t just pick apart the conspiracy theorists. He ridicules them, and by name, writing that 'most of them are as kooky as a $3 bill'.”

Alex Kingsbury of the U.S. News & World Report described it as "the most exhaustive of the countless narratives that have been written about that fateful day in Dallas.”

Tim Shipman of The Telegraph said: "Mr. Bugliosi...has turned up no new killer fact. His technique instead is to expose the double-think and distortions of the conspiracy theorists."

There are certainly critics of the book. Some make valid points; but in my opinion, most come from folks who struggle with the fact the universe can be a pretty random place. We feel better, it has been pointed out, with recent history's biggest villains, the Nazis, committing recent history's biggest crime, The Holocaust. That makes sense. It provides structure.

Obviously, there are real conspiracies in the world. Lincoln's assassination was a conspiracy. It was found out pretty quickly, and the conspirators met with predictable fates. It wasn't a random act. We like that. Of courses, there are conspiracy theories about the conspiracy. We seem to like that, too.

Side note: My dad used to tell stories of traveling to other states in the aftermath of the assassination and catching substantial flak because of the Texas license plates. Darkly hilarious, and an insight into our species


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