Our revolution has made me feel the full force of the axiom that history is fiction and I am convinced that chance and intrigue have produced more heroes than genius and virtueMaximilien Robespierre, 1792
Fifty-three years ago on November 22, President John F Kennedy was shot to death in Dealey Plaza, Dallas, Texas. Sixteen years after the fact the House Select Committee on Assassinations found a “probable conspiracy” to have been behind his death, though it was also careful to exonerate all the popular candidates for the source of such a conspiracy.
It’s an interesting reflection on the nature of consensus reality that, even with this official endorsement of the dreaded “c” word, still the mere idea that more than one person fired shots that day, or that Lee Harvey Oswald did not act entirely alone, is media cryptonite. It’s as if even acknowledging the bare possibility that Oswald may have had help, in any form, even if it was just some buddy from the Book Depository holding the spare bullets, is something that must remain inadmissible. There’s a reason, after all, the intelligence community worked so hard to make “conspiracy” a dirty – and risible – word.
If the simple reality – that conspiracies do happen and have happened for as long as humanity has existed – is acknowledged by the media then the possibility that any outrage or terror event or assassination might involve elements of conspiracy will also have to be discussed. This will lead to all manner of confusion and untidiness, and will result in people who consider themselves beyond the reach of law and justice, having to answer for their conduct. We don’t need to invoke a grand multi-layered conspiracy network to realise that this kind of accountability is not welcome or acceptable.
Governments and their agents and their agents’ agents’ agents conspire to do grubby, gruesome and possibly evil things every day, all the time, simply in pursuit of maintenance of power and control. Whether or not the CIA was responsible wholly or in part for offing JFK, it doesn’t want some jumped up and informed populace demanding to see its files on the case or on anything else, because those files will be crammed with evidence of the state’s own perpetual “conspiracy” of everything. Far better just to keep that door locked and barred.
Not surprising at all that rational analysis of what happened that day in Dallas remains almost non-existent in the mainstream, which is given over to Apologies for the lone-nut narrative and mockery of anyone questioning it. But sections of the alternative media are little better. Hysteria, rampant and crazed claims that have no basis in fact, wild goose chases after French hit men and guys shooting from the sewers, uncritical acceptance of any narrative, however ludicrous, that isn’t the official one, have combined to make it virtually impossible now for anyone to uncover the truth.
All we can say at this point, after fifty-three years of suppression, false leads, lies and destruction of evidence, is that the official version on JFK’s death remains in place because it is convenient and not because it is true. Exactly how false it is we can’t easily determine, and perhaps we don’t even need to. It’s possible no one knows the entire truth any more, even if anyone ever did. And maybe that’s not even necessary for the real lesson to be learned. The event and the story created around it tell us about the nature of historical narrative and its always tenuous connection to veridical reality.
The point is that the need for tidiness, knotted loose ends and satisfying story arcs always trump the search for truth. Always. Even if no well-defined vested interests are there manipulating things. Maximilien Robespierre was largely correct, history is almost always fiction. In that confused human interactions are sieved and sorted by human minds into story-forms with beginnings, middles and ends. This is as true of generations long past as it is today. When we read Erasmus on his observations of English social life in the 16th Century, or the Croyland Chronicle on Richard III, we aren’t dealing simply with facts or even with interpretations of facts. We are dealing with human mind and imagination, human self-delusion and self-interest. We are reading what the writers thought, or wanted to think, or wanted their readers to think.
Replacing one narrative with another can seem like achieving greater truth. Maybe it is sometimes. Let’s not fall down the Postmodern rabbit hole and start claiming history is over or that truth is an unknowable illusion. Truth is. It exists. Some things happen. Other things don’t happen. To pretend this isn’t so is to lose touch with reality. The pursuit of truth will always be supremely important. We may even find it sometimes, and even if not, the search is what matters. But certitude should be sparingly used and scepticism is eternally appropriate. Because history is written by people, and people always have an agenda.
So, our brief dip into the swirling madness of the JFK debate is not intended to pull up some nugget of infallible truth. It’s simply – and true to our remit – an exploration of some of the storylines/facts/claims that, for whatever reason, rarely make it into the mainstream.
Enjoy, but caveat emptor.