With the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination just around the corner, we can expect the media to be inundated with solemn remembrances, first-person recollections, and extravagant revisionism. Alas, every heavy-duty plot and whacked-out account of the Kennedy administration will demand and very likely be given its moment in the sun.
The next time you're at a social gathering and, masochistically, wish to have the guests pelt you with cheese balls, announce to everyone that you not only believe it was the hapless, 24-year old Lee Harvey Oswald who killed Kennedy, but that he acted alone. Then sit back and prepare to be attacked.
It's rare indeed to find anyone who thinks Oswald acted alone. In fact, although no one can, with certainty, tell you precisely who did it, they're positive of two things: (1) It wasn't Oswald, and (2) it was either the USSR, Cuban Fidelistas, Cuban anti-Fidelistas, official CIA agents, rogue CIA agents, ex-CIA agents, official FBI, rogue FBI, the Mafia, the Trilateral Commission, Lyndon Johnson, or the oil companies. That's a partial list.
Of course, I have no idea what I'm talking about. Like everyone else, I'm reduced to sifting through the wreckage, trying to make sense of it. All I know is what I've read. Another thing I know is that it's futile to argue forensics with the "true believers." The PBS show that aired last week (Nov. 12), featuring high-tech forensic evidence supporting the "single-bullet" theory, changed no one's mind. Not only did it not change their minds, they smirked at it. They ridiculed it; they howled with laughter.
Personally, I think Oswald probably did it, and that he probably acted alone. My reason for thinking this is two-fold: (1) A Dallas newspaper had unwisely published in advance a map of the presidential motorcade's route, and (2) the assassination went down the way most assassinations go down, so there was really no need to get all exotic about it.
I can understand why people reject the theory that Oswald could have pulled this off by himself. It's hard to embrace the notion that this fool -- this nobody, this loser -- could single-handedly snuff out the life of the vibrant and charismatic leader of the Free World, and change the course of human history forever. But this is how most assassinations occur. It's the Lee Harvey Oswalds of the world who do this sort of thing.
Political assassinations aren't Hollywood movies, where shadowy international figures are paid millions of dollars and then get plastic surgery. Check the list: Charles Guiteau, Garfield's assassin, Leon Czolgosz, McKinley's assassin, Gavrilo Princip, the 19-year old who killed Archduke Ferdinand, Sirhan Sirhan, Guiseppe Zangara, Thomas Hagan, Yigal Amir. These were basically "average" or "below average" guys.
Also let's not forget that Manson family member Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme was within two feet of Gerald Ford when her gun misfired. It was sheer luck Ford wasn't shot. Then we have those unstable misfits and nut-cases: Mark Chapman, who killed John Lennon, Arthur Bremer, who shot George Wallace, and John Paul Franklin, who shot Larry Flynt. These guys just walked up to their victims and fired. They were Oswaldesque nobodies, and yet they changed history.
The sterling example of this, of course, was 25-year-old John Hinckley, the man who shot Ronald Reagan. This happened in 1981, eighteen years after the JFK assassination, when presidential security was infinitely better than it was in 1963. Yet Hinckley, a former mental patient, walks up to Reagan on a Washington D.C. street in broad daylight, with Secret Service agents surrounding him, and gets off six shots. He misses Reagan's heart by inches.
A subsequent jury finds Hinckley not guilty by reason of insanity. But if a certifiably insane man, fresh out of the mental ward, can devise a plan where he walks up to the president in broad daylight, and fires six shots at point blank range, why is a confused (but sane) wannabe like Oswald deemed incapable of planning an assassination?
But what do I know? Like everybody else, I'm just guessing.
David Macaray is a Los Angeles playwright and author ("It's Never Been Easy: Essays on Modern Labor, 2nd edition").