THERE is a scene in the 2007 low-brow, crooks-spooks-and-assassins film Shooter when Levon Helm, a decent actor but a great musician, assures lead actor Mark Wahlberg that the 1963 Kennedy assassination was a conspiracy involving a platoon of assassins.
“Those boys were dead and buried in the damn desert two hours after the shooting,” asserts Helm.
“How do you know?” asks Wahlberg.
“Still got the shovel,” answers Helm.
That may not represent a bulletproof history of JFK’s murder, one that cast such a dark cloud over the sense of possibility so alive in the early 1960s, but it is no more fantastic than many of the conspiracy theories advanced by those who see subterfuge moving through almost every shadow.
For many years the Kennedy Conspiracy Theorist was the most dreaded pub bore. The waters were so muddied and the possibilities so endless that any individual could use the Dallas shooting to project their beliefs.
Those on the right blamed commies. Those on the left said the mafia did it.
Neither wavered though they could not offer anything even as concrete as Helm’s shovel — especially as the initial investigation, the Warren Commission was so very flawed.
That the conspiracy theories are as vigorously debated today as they have been for 54 years, despite the 9/11 distractions, shows that a vacuum remains. And, like nature, popular
perception abhors a vacuum.
Whether President Trump’s decision, despite contrary National Security Council advice, to release files on the assassination, clarifies matters remains to be seen.
It opens tens of thousands of documents — supposedly the last of the government’s secret files on the murder — and will more than likely exacerbate conspiracy theories rather than refute them. Human nature, unshakeable delusion, and the habit of embracing conspiracy theories instead of definitive conclusions, mean this “last” tranche of papers will probably be used to bolster any number of contradictory arguments.
That official files may not always be complete — as Charleton discovered this week — will strengthen that impression.
That these papers reach public scrutiny on foot of an edict from the post-factual president must raise questions too. Mr Trump is not a champion of probity — The New York Times has listed how he has lied every day since he entered the White House — so it is fair to wonder if he is doing this to distract from another of his misadventures.
His decision was hardly made to serve the truth especially as his indulgence in fantasy matches the most hinge-eyed conspiracy theorist.
When the mapmakers of old reached the edge of their understanding they warned that “there be monsters”. Today, if, as we so often are, we are torn between contradictory positions we take refuge in the idea that a conspiracy theory is in play.
Everything from vaccines, media manipulation, climate destruction, German/Franco plots, or even addictive additives to food is described as a conspiracy. Some are, but most are not but indulging all these fantasies is a real threat to society and to our future.
Best to see the wood from the trees.
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