Edward J. Epstein recently wrote me to say that even though it has been 48 years since the assassination of John F. Kennedy, “I am still asked every anniversary by the wire services: ‘Was Oswald alone, and, if not, who was behind the assassination? ‘” Among other things he points out that he wrote two books on the subject, both on Kindle. The first is Legend: The Secret World of Lee Harvey Oswald and the second is Killing Castro.
Peter Knight, in his book, Conspiracy Theories in American History argues that much of US history, especially after the Second World War, would be incomprehensible unless you understood there were always two explanations for anything. The official explanation and the Real Explanation. He mentions Agent Orange, the origin of AIDs, Aliens, Cattle Mutilations, Pearl Harbor as examples. And there is of course, the Kennedy Assassination, right up there with the certainty that the September 11 was actually orchestrated by Israel.
One of the attractions of conspiracy theory, according to Wikipedia, is that it allows us to rearrange the historical narrative according to our own preferences. History, instead of remaining a random and frightening catalogue of events can be transformed by suitable conspiracy theories into a completely comprehensible place. Humanity, having advanced to the point where it no longer needs the Bible to explain things is now more firmly grounded in the truths of the X-Files.
Psychologists believe that the search for meaning is common in conspiracism and the development of conspiracy theories, and may be powerful enough alone to lead to the first formulating of the idea. Once cognized, confirmation bias and avoidance of cognitive dissonance may reinforce the belief. In a context where a conspiracy theory has become popular within a social group, communal reinforcement may equally play a part. Some research carried out at the University of Kent, UK suggests people may be influenced by conspiracy theories without being aware that their attitudes have changed. After reading popular conspiracy theories about the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, participants in this study correctly estimated how much their peers’ attitudes had changed, but significantly underestimated how much their own attitudes had changed to become more in favor of the conspiracy theories. The authors conclude that conspiracy theories may therefore have a ‘hidden power’ to influence people’s beliefs.
But suppose that conspiracies are themselves created by conspirators for a hidden purpose? Dr Matthew Gray, a senior lecturer at the Australian National University’s Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies, argues that one of the reasons for the prevalence of conspiracy theories in the Middle East is to distract the population’s attention away from the obvious. Complicated but entertaining narratives are put forward by the regime’s henchmen, usually involving some attribution of the perfidy of Israel in order to serve as decoys. They are a “bodyguard of lies” to mask the ‘real’ truth. The truth isn’t out there. Nothing is out there but a guy behind a blind quacking to get the attention of the ducks.
Gaddafi, for instance, has suggested that swine flu was created by the US military and that John F. Kennedy was assassinated by Israel because he intended to investigate Israel’s suspected nuclear weapons program. Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has alleged that Europe is stealing Iran’s rain. … Former South African president Thabo Mbeki claimed that HIV does not cause AIDS and that the link between the two was manufactured by the CIA in order to make money for pharmaceutical companies.
But one man’s conspiracy is another man’s truth. Depending on your point of view Global Warming is either the result of a conspiracy or being attacked by a conspiracy of deniers. So which is it? If that is too hard to judge we can stick to something easier, like like figuring out ‘who is behind the economic crisis’ and what is really happening in Area 51.
As regards the assassination of John F. Kennedy, why do you think the wire services are still deeply interested in the event half a century on?