The Opening Shots of the '60s

The Kennedy assassination in popular memory.

If you could settle the question with a national vote, there would be no doubt that a conspiracy killed John F. Kennedy. Two weeks after the shooting, a Gallup poll showed 52 percent of Americans blaming a force larger than Lee Harvey Oswald for the president’s death. Half a century later, a new Gallup poll puts the number at 61 percent. Earlier this year an Associated Press survey said the number was 59 percent, while a Public Policy Polling effort said it was a more modest but still substantial 51 percent—not far at all from those initial results in 1963.

Those numbers may sound surprisingly high, but by other years’ standards they’re actually low. A decade ago, an ABC News poll had 70 percent of the population believing there was more than one man behind the slaying. When ABC posed the same question in 1983, the number was 80 percent. In 1994, the sociologist Ted Goertzel suggested that belief in a Kennedy conspiracy has “increased as the event became more distant.” For a while it did, but then it reached a peak and started sinking.

So there are two trends that cry out to be explained here. Why are Kennedy assassination theories still so popular, and why are they less popular than before?

The simplest answer would go something like this: People rejected the lone-nut theory because they were persuaded by its critics, and then they started shifting away from the conspiracy stories when they re-evaluated the evidence. But plenty of high-profile crimes have left loose threads and open questions without attracting such intense doubt. And while some high-profile arguments against the conspiracy theories have appeared in the past couple of decades, notably Gerald Posner’s book Case Closed and Vincent Bugliosi’s Reclaiming History, it is far from clear that their arguments have reached a large portion of the population, let alone convinced them.

Something more is at work here, something larger than the evidence that Kennedy was or wasn’t killed by a conspiracy. And that something is the mark his death left on the country’s psychic landscape, a scar so deep that millions of people feel the need to look for that evidence in the first place. Other events that provoke conspiracy theories usually fade away. (Only a niche concerns itself with whether Arthur Bremer acted alone when he tried to kill Alabama Governor George Wallace.) Kennedy, by contrast, keeps commanding America’s attention. And that reflects something more than the death of a President.

Read the rest of this article at Time.com.

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  • Frodo Teabaggins||

    How about no one gives a shit about the shitboomers' idol?

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    Fuck JFK.

  • nanc528||

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  • On The Road To Mandalay||

    Wrong choice of words!! You should have asked how many women JFK f---ed during his entire lifetime, and then try a conspiracy theory where lots of irate husbands did him in. This is probably what really happened, but political and other conspiracies sound better. And of course it could have been some woman JFK screwed who was pissed off at him for something, like failure to have an orgasm or some such grievance. Anything is possible.

  • Austrian Anarchy||

    Rumors are just part of the human condition. Be they conspiracies that the Washington Monument as a Catholic plot, or as Howard Moore (Angela Davis' attorney in 1972) said about the bank bombings I am researching "The FBI or the CIA could have done it." Turned out to be a Yippie, apparently acting alone.

  • Death Rock and Skull||

    The Washington Monument was actually a phallus worshiping conspiracy. If you look at the Washington and Jefferson monuments from exactly the correct angle from Reagan Airport, they look like a dick and balls.

  • Square||

    I think it was HBO who once did a special where they held a trial for Lee Harvey Oswald with Vincent Bugliosi as prosecutor and Jerry Spence as defender.

    I remember Spence laying it on pretty thick, but in the end Bugliosi made a compelling case.

    The interesting thing was that there was still clearly some sort of bungled attempt at a cover-up going on, which contributes to the temptation to read a conspiracy into it. I think it was just a Pynchon-style knee-jerk government paranoia impulse that led to some random, pointless cover-ups, but it fertilizes people's imaginations.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

  • Loki||

    The interesting thing was that there was still clearly some sort of bungled attempt at a cover-up going on

    I suspect what cover-up there was was motivated by fear of what would happen if the Warren Commision discovered that there was really was a conspiracy involved. Specifically if it was the Cubans or the USSR behind the assassination. People would have been pissed and probably wanting a war, which would have easily escalated into WW3. So they decided to make sure and blaim the lone nut Oswald.

    But the fact that there was some kind of bungling cover-up makes it look like they were trying to hide something insideous.

  • Austrian Anarchy||

    Yea, that is the reason Oswald was transformed from a Castrophile to a Bircher. That's the ticket.

  • Death Rock and Skull||

    If it somehow does turn out to be Cuba or Russia, we must still go to war at once. I don't care how many years have passed, or how many regime changes there have been. I like it when shit like that happens.

  • CE||

    Or, more obviously, they were, in fact, trying to hide something insidious.

  • Austrian Anarchy||

    Somewhat off topic, I've been reading various accounts of people who were enamored by JFK and they seem to be victims of some sort of mass misdirection. One thing that comes up often is how JFK and his family were "different" than the families portrayed on TV.

    I don't know what they were seeing. I see image after image of a guy who always wears a jacket and tie, unless he is on his boat, and looks like he just came from his insurance office. He has two kids and a wife who always wears a dress, heels, necklace and earrings. Somehow this is different than "Father Knows Best" or "The Donna Reed Show?" Sure, the headcount of children is different, but the family portrait is identical.

    Maybe these old hippies should also take heed of what William Kunstler used to recall about JFK and his civil rights attitude: He did not give a damn about civil rights.

  • Loki||

    But he didn't wear a hat! He was a trendsetter!

    Whatever, I've never really gotten the JFK fellation.

  • Loki||

    I'm getting the strangest sense of deja-vu...

  • Brian||

    JFK just appeals to a progressive desire to feel like their politicians are from outside "the system".

    The narrative goes like this: we have a horrible military industrial complex in our system, and it's a horrible, evil, system, but democrats don't have anything to do with it. Oh no, they want to change it, and convert all of those tax dollars into food and medicine for the poor! That's why the system had to kill JFK: the outsider, who wanted change!

    It's a Christ-like story, where democrat politicians are portrayed as Jesus, instead of the Romans. Republicans get to be the Romans.

    It's all BS, but that seems to be the emotion behind it.

  • CE||

    Unless the lead conspirator was a Democrat, and VP.

  • Austrian Anarchy||

    The Second Spitter episode of Seinfeld, guest starring Keith Hernandez, is playing now on the daily Seinfeld rerun right now.

  • Swamp Think||

    I have to say I'm surprised and disappointed that so many here seem to unquestioningly accept the lone gunman theory. HnR is filled with skepticism about most government pronouncements, but in this case it is curiously absent. I suspect a lack of familiarity with the facts, along with timid "Kool Kids" group think, is behind it. Even when someone, like Square above, notes the obvious signs of a cover up taking place, it is immediately dismissed as paranoia and random government bungling. How strange that even now, as the National Security State runs wild in the streets, the path that got us here is disregarded as so just generational idol worship. Most peculiar.

  • Kyfho Myoba||

    Harry Browne was wrong: Government DOES work. It works very, very well, at governing. They don't bungle THAT part, just the part about providing "benefits." Think about it: if govt is soooooo incompetent, how come us super-smart libertarians haven't knocked it over yet? So it follows then, that since govt IS competent (at ruling us and staying in power) when we observe "anomalous" events that serve to solidify and expand the govt's power we should look to deliberate planning rather than chance and incompetence.

  • CE||

    It's for the same reason it's cool to reject 9/11 conspiracy theories or to not be worried about GMO foods or vaccines -- Reasonoids want to be seen as intelligently anti-government, not anti-government like the riff-raff are anti-government.

  • Kyfho Myoba||

    ^This!^

  • Death Rock and Skull||

    Yo, fuck Kennedy.

    Which Kennedy? Joe, John, Robert, Ted, or MTV? I'll leave that up to you to decide.

  • CE||

    If you could settle the question with a national vote, there would be no doubt that a conspiracy killed John F. Kennedy.

    Conspiracies don't kill, people kill. A conspiracy is just a tool.

  • CE||

    So there are two trends that cry out to be explained here. Why are Kennedy assassination theories still so popular, and why are they less popular than before?

    The simplest answer would go something like this:

    People are more prone to authority worship now, so they don't want to think about powerful government figures conspiring to kill a beloved leader.

  • The Bearded Hobbit||

    My house is on top of a hill and from my deck the road below is almost exactly the same angle and distance that Oswald had. I love the reactions that I get when I point that out to people.

    My 6.5 is a Swede but I guarantee that I can put three bullets into a sheet of paper moving down that road in seven seconds from my vantage point.

    ... Hobbit

  • Kyfho Myoba||

    But can you make your target lurch in the opposite direction of the kinetic energy of your projectile when you shoot it? Can you make large military units stand down afterwards? Can you cause over 100 witnesses all over the country to die prematurely over the next few years? Huh? Can you? Not so tough, are you, eh? Huh? Say something!

  • Kyfho Myoba||

    Didn't think so. You ain't no assassin.

  • Drake||

    It was before I was born so I never gave it much thought until I learned to shoot in the Marines.

    175 feet (not yards) with a full-blown military rifle is an easy shot even on a moving target. So close for a high-powered rifle with unstable round-nose bullets that they will probably tumble and serve all over the place after impact.

  • OneOut||

    Will those magic unstable round nose tumbling bullets make your target jerk backwards and blow out the back of their heads when hit from the rear ?

    Magic tumbling bullets indeed. I never dreamed the government still had propagandist working this issue after all these years. WOW

  • Death Rock and Skull||

    God dammit. You know who killed Kennedy? You did. Are you happy?

  • Drake||

    That's me - high-paid government propagandist!

  • Vivaresa||

    A very interesting read.

  • On The Road To Mandalay||

    It should be very clear by now that JFK was "whacked" by an irate husband whose wife JFK screwed, and that said husband was a member of the Mafia and was never caught. It would certainly be interesting to know just how many women JFK screwed during his entire lifetime. Anyone want to venture a guess?

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