We recently marked the forty-eighth anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s death. I feel a little doubtful writing on this subject: just writing the names Ruby and Oswald, and hearing the names in my head, makes me feel I’ve picked the wrong subject. On this of all subjects you feel you can’t possibly have anything new to say. The proper response to those doubts is to say, so what? You have to explore the truth until the truth comes out. You have to analyze the evidence until the evidence has no more to say. We have not reached that point yet with the Kennedy assassination.
How do we know we haven’t reached that point? Talk with your family at the dinner table about this subject, and see how they respond. Consider how you feel as they look at you. How comfortable do you feel when people call you a conspiracy theorist? Is that a label anyone wants to carry?
Let’s look at a couple of items in 2011, the forty-eighth year after the Big Event. Consider the standard explanation of Kennedy’s death: that Lee Oswald acted alone when he shot Kennedy through the neck and head from the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository. First, why would we believe that Lee Oswald shot the president without a good reason? We expect a murder investigation to yield a credible explanation of why the killer committed the act. What was the killer’s motive? We know why Booth shot Lincoln. We know why Garfield’s and McKinley’s assailants pulled the trigger, even if we don’t remember their names. Even John Hinckley, Reagan’s would-be assassin, had a motive – however irrational it might have been.
Gerald Posner, author of Case Closed, writes that Oswald’s marriage to his Russian wife Marina had taken a bad turn. Rejected and despondent, he decided to become notorious. He wanted his name forever linked with his murderous act. That explanation of motive sounds alright if you already believe Oswald did it, and you do not have a better reason at hand. If you’re skeptical about government’s claim that Oswald carried out the assassination alone, or even if you’re agnostic about Oswald’s role in the assassination, the explanation sounds terribly weak. If you can’t find a better reason than Oswald’s marital troubles, you have a difficult case to make.
When you consider that Oswald worked for the CIA, that he and Jack Ruby knew each other because Ruby worked for the CIA as well, you have some meatier evidence. Oswald’s relations with his wife recede. You won’t find mention of Oswald’s actual occupation in Posner’s book. In fact, you’ll find an account of Oswald’s behavior that misses the point. It reasons backward from the conclusion that Oswald committed the murder. It does not reason forward from the evidence we have available about who Oswald was and why he acted as he did.
The evidence we have indicates that Oswald may have had a role in the assassination, but it was certainly not that of trigger man. Some sources suggest that his role was to place a rifle on the sixth floor of the book depository, so it would be available for the assassin on November 22. Oswald could have performed that task without even knowing the significance of his work. He might have understood what would happen but his place as an assistant would not have permitted him to ask why he should transport the gun.
The same general point holds for Jack Ruby. Some evidence indicates he was involved in preparations for the murder. A lot of evidence indicates that his reason for killing Lee Oswald on November 24 was not because he wanted to save Jackie Kennedy the pain of a murder trial. Ask yourself to start with: if you had the president’s accused killer in custody, and your task was to transport the suspect to another jail cell, would you march the prisoner into a crowded basement, with television camera’s running, at a pre-announced time in the middle of the day? No, you would spirit the prisoner out of the building in the middle of the night, when everyone but the nightwatchmen is sleeping. You would carefully plan the move so as to publicize it as little as possible.
In the next article, I’d like to talk a little about the Warren report, and how we should treat it when we weigh the evidence we have about the assassination.