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Monday, June 12, 2017

JFK Assassination: Americans Comforted by Conspiracy Theories

     We have lived with it for half a century, and still what happened that day in Dallas is shocking beyond almost anything else in American history--by shocking, I mean it hits like a blast of electric current and stupefies. One minute the President of the United States is smiling and waving. A moment later, he stiffens and clutches at his wounded throat. Then his head explodes; blood and gore bathe the First Lady, who crawls onto the truck lid of the moving car in a wild and hopeless attempt to collect the pieces.

     The victim was one of the most powerful, glamourous, wealthy, charismatic individuals on the planet. Snuffed out in an instant. This whiplash convergence of  extremes--so sudden, so horrific, such enormity--makes the assassination of John F. Kennedy an almost uniquely deranging event. In a matter of seconds, the mighty are rendered helpless; the beautiful is made hideous; tranquillity turns turbulent; the familiar becomes alien.

     Amid the shards of all those shattered assumptions, 50 years of doubt was born. Clear majorities of Americans--as high at 81 percent in 2001 and about 60 percent in a recent Associated Press poll--believe that a conspiracy was swept under a tattered rug. The conclusions of the Warren Commission, that one man alone delivered this devastating blow, got little traction compared with the desperate, at times unhinged, efforts to assemble a more satisfying account.

     Like a tornado, the Kennedy conspiracy theories have spun off whirlwinds of doubt about other national traumas and controversies, from 9/11 and FEMA camps to TWA flight 800 and genetically modified foods. The legacy of that shocking instant is a troubling habit of the modern American mind: suspicion is a reflex now, trust a figment. [It's no wonder that citizens, after decades of being lied to by politicians and government officials about everything under the sun, don't trust the official version of anything.]

David Von Drehle, "John F. Kennedy's Assassination and the Conspiracy Industry," Time, November 20, 2013 

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