Study Sources A-F. Why Might President Kennedy Have Been Assassinated? There are many different reasons why President Kennedy may have been assassinated, as he has numerous internal US and external enemies. He was an outspoken anti-Communist, making enemies in Russia, Europe and Cuba. Furthermore, his own government didn’t agree with many of his decisions. Source A illustrates Kennedy’s stance on the “reds,” “The enemy is the Communist system itself.” Kennedy also made a similar stand in 1960, when as the US Secretary of State, he admitted that he wanted to end the war with Japan before the Soviets became involved. These obvious public pronouncements did not help Kennedy’s relations with the USSR and may explain why communists might have preferred to see him dead. Kennedy also made many enemies in Cuba.
Source B tells us, “Anti-Castro activists and organizations (such as CIA backed Cuban exiles)…..acquired the means, motive and opportunity to assassinate the President.” Although such Cuban exiles and the CIA were working against Castro, Kennedy failed to supply them with the US soldiers and military capacity to ensure their success at the Bay of Pigs. This presented potential enemies since the CIA was close to him and could find the ideal ‘opportunity’ to assassinate him. In addition, due to the incidents in the Bay of Pigs, there was resentment towards the President from Castro supporters and Soviets. Before 1063, Kennedy continued Eisenhower’s policy of sending ‘military advisers to South Vietnam,’ which angered communists.
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However, Source D describes Vietnam as “a graveyard for young and patriotic American soldiers,” and immediately before his death, Kennedy began to withdraw troops from Vietnam, thus antagonizing those in America, in the population at large, CIA, and even government whose sympathies lay anti-right wing politics. Another major group that did not agree with JFK’s policy was the Mafia. Source F quotes the Mafia by saying, “He is going to be hit.” The reason behind their antagonism towards the President may have been the fact that the “Kennedy administration was becoming increasingly successful in its crusade to wipe out organized crime.”
However, this source is obviously arguing Mafia conspiracy in the Murder of the president, its title being, “The Mafia Killed President Kennedy”. The controversial events surrounding the Presidents assassination mean that, although the killer had been caught according to the Warren Commission, there is still much doubt about why the president was murdered. Unfortunately for the historian, the reliability of many sources may be called into question, and it is this aspect of inquiry that the next section of course work is devoted.
SUB-QUESTION. Study Sources I and J. How Reliable Are These Witnesses? The statements made by the witnesses in the source I display many differences from what is said in source J. Stories fail to remain consistent. Although this indicates inaccuracies, we have to consider that witnesses may have been panicked or frightened at the time. At later stages, their story may have been altered by outside pressures. However, there is always a possibility that the witness is seeking fame, money, or a ‘piece of the action’ in general. Jean Hill’s report in the source I lack distinct facts and gives us the impression of uncertainty, she says, “I heard 4 to 6 shots, and I’m pretty used to guns”. She goes on to declare, “They were different guns that were being fired.” Yet despite claiming knowledge of guns, she fails to count the number of shots.
Her claim to weapons expertise is disconcerting and decidedly suspicious when compared with source J, which says that, “Asked if she (Hill) saw anybody or if anything drew her attention, she said unequivocally ‘No.’ Yet, somewhat oddly in 1986, she said, “I saw a man fire from behind the wooden fence.” This total contradiction leads us to ask was she seeking fame or money when telling her story? Was she too unnerved by the assassination to give a truthful story? Or had her memory begun to fail her? In the source, Gordon Arnold’s statement, I am definitive, “The shot came from behind me.” The additional knowledge that he is a soldier and presumably used to gunfire means that on the first appearance, his report seems reliable.
However, background knowledge in source J shows that he didn’t tell his story until 1978; why would he wait? Also, photograph enhancements proved that he wasn’t where he claimed to be. His report must have been motivated by a desire for fame, or perhaps he had a hidden reason to lie. Carolyn Arnold, like Jean Hill, is unclear in her account, “About a quarter of an hour before the assassination, I went into the lunchroom on the second floor for a moment.” However, according to source J, this story was told 15 years later, whereas at the time, “she said that she did not see Oswald at all.” She refutes her own account, therefore invalidating her reliability.
In source I, Arnold Rowland claims to have seen 2 men, 6 floors up, in the book depository, “A dark-complexioned man at the right-hand window,” “one in the far left window holding a rifle with a telescopic sight.” This report is highly questionable because Rowland would have been too far away to see the telescopic sight, and even if he did see these two men, why didn’t he do anything at the time? Source J casts further doubt on Rowland, who also told another story of witnessing “a single young white male, with brown hair,” this, along with the allegation that he lied under oath, means that we can almost definitely discount his reliability. Also, his own wife doesn’t trust him, “At times my husband is prone to exaggerate,” although she herself may be attempting to discredit her husband for whatever reason.
Each of these witnesses proved to have sufficient flaws in their stories to make their reliability questionable. Be that as it may, we have to consider that source J was written by Gerald Posner from ‘Case Closed.’ Posner is critical of any of the conspiracy theories, and his bias may lead him to write the sources in the way that suits his argument. Another fact to consider is that there was so much publicity surrounding Kennedy’s assassination that by 1973 many in public had latched on to a conspiracy theory. This could have affected witnesses’ memory and hence their reports. Furthermore, there are no similarities between Jean Hill’s and Gordon Arnold’s accounts, and the lack of corroborating evidence indicates unreliability. Thus the historian must be wary of placing too much faith in Ms. Hill et al.
SUB-QUESTION. Study Sources H-M. Do These Sources Prove That There Were More Than 3 Shots Fired? Each source must be analyzed to determine the reliability of contents, and once this is established, the evidence should determine the number of shots fired. Source H – The HSCA These investigations were probably carried out too long after the assassination for them to be unaffected, honest information. By this point, many had latched on to the conspiracy theory, and the committee’s findings were pro-conspiracy theory. The HSCA was set up by a congress unhappy with the findings of Chief Justice Warren, who, conspiracy theorists felt, was unwilling to implicate the upper echelons of USA society in Kennedy’s murder.
Source H reveals, “evidence established a ‘high probability'” and also, “Kennedy was probably assassinated…….” Yet this displays an unconvincing argument. We also have to ask just how impartial and reliable is the ‘JFK’ Study Guide, which has made use of HSCA findings because it is also pro-conspiracy. The Witnesses – Sources I + J. There are inconsistencies between the reports of each witness, with Jean Hill saying, “I heard 4 to 6 shots” and Gordon Arnold saying, “The shot came from behind me.” We can almost definitely discount the use of witnesses in I and J because their reliability is highly questionable, as seen in the previous section. That said, source I is taken from the writings of pro-conspiracy theorist Summers, whilst source J is a section from the anti-conspiracy work of Posner.
From the evidence presented, it is impossible to judge which is more accurate. Like the HSCA, these investigations were carried out long after the assassination – 19 years! Once again, witnesses’ testaments may have changed due to outside influences. The Panel’s findings contradict those of the HSCA. This undermining means it is difficult to determine which source is to be believed. However, we know that source L’s author, Posner, is prejudiced against the conspiracy theory. Also, the Ramsey Panel was set up in reaction to the findings of the HSCA. Source M. We are immediately given statistics to ‘convince,’ “Over 88% heard 3 shots fired and fewer than 7% heard 4 or more….” This source seeks to convince the historian that there was no conspiracy, but again it was written by Posner, whose motives must be questioned. Source K indicates at a conspiracy, “witnesses in the crowd believed shots came from the grassy knoll.”
Therefore 1 more than the 3 shots from Oswald. It is difficult to determine a specific number of shots fired, from these sources, as they challenge and undermine one another’s supremacy. Source I and J are useless as the reliability of the witnesses is highly questionable. The Ramsey Panels’ evidence contradicts the HSCA’s, and we can’t determine the validity of each. Based on the factual statistics in source M, it is most likely that only 3 shots were fired – however, this backs up the anti-conspiracy theory, and as Posner wrote source M, we cannot say for certain.
SUB-QUESTION. Study JFK, How useful is this to a historian studying the assassination of President Kennedy? JFK is a courtroom drama directed by Oliver Stone and is designed to convince the public of a conspiracy theory. First, however, its utility to the historian must be discussed. Stone uses cinematic devices to heighten the drama, such as playing music and having women screaming and children crying over the footage and Garrison’s voice becoming increasingly animated in tone. Stone uses the Zapruder film effectively, especially when he repeats a clip of Kennedy’s headshot. However, he also incorporates a colour film exactly like Zapruder’s film, in a deliberate attempt to confuse the audience – who believe they are watching fact. Also, Stone uses black and white film, which is presented to the public as fact, although it is only surmising about the events.
This black and white obviously reconstructed version has the added effect of further persuading the audience that all colour film is, in fact, real archive footage. Whilst much of the film is reconstruction, it is largely believed by Americans, who are still fascinated by the assassination. Oliver Stone cunningly only uses evidence and source which back up the conspiracy theory, but this is unknown to the audience. His film is of doubtful reliability and consequently utility because he depends heavily on the testaments of unreliable witnesses. Garrison, played by Kevin Costner, is compelling in that he asks many questions which the audience also has and then answers them by bringing supposition alongside fact.
Stone effectively ‘pushes’ the conspiracy theory by repeating Garrison’s description of the headshot five times, “Back and to the left.” Clips of the direction of the ‘Magic bullet’ are also repeated to ridicule this theory. There is no objectivity in Stone’s work; he has conveniently omitted information from sources such as J (the Witness’s backgrounds), L (the findings of the Ramsey Panel) and M (the statistical evidence), which are contradictory to his argument. Even source H disagrees with him, although it is pro-conspiracy. Overall, Stone’s motives as a director led him to produce a film promoting conspiracy theories. He wants to make money.
Given the American public’s willingness to accept a dramatic conspiracy theory there is perhaps more likely that a film promoting such a view of Kennedy’s death would be more successful at the box office than the less dramatically tense notion that a lone shooter could have killed the President. Moreover, the film is useful to the historian given that it is one version of a yet-to-be-proven story. Moreover, even if the film is largely inaccurate in its conspiratorial thesis, we should note that many people already do believe ‘JFK’ and even more will accept Stone’s view, having watched such a convincing argument.
SUB-QUESTION. Quotation from the HSCA. To What Extent do you Agree With this Interpretation? ” Scientific acoustical evidence established a ‘high probability that a second gunman was firing from the grassy knoll but missed Kennedy. Therefore, based on the available evidence, Kennedy was ‘probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy,’ the extent of which the committee could not determine.” The initial response to this quote is that no firm conclusions were drawn here; the HSCA, with their unconvincing argument, are not entirely positive of the conspiracy theory. Furthermore, not all of the files surrounding the assassination have been released by the US government yet.
We must question the HSCA’s reliability, considering it was set up in reaction to the findings of the Warren Commission. We must also consider that the further we move away from the assassination in time, the more difficult it becomes to achieve definite answers. The witnesses have already told their stories, and if any new evidence came to light, it would be heavily questioned. Therefore, taking the sources given, the arguments for each side must be weighed against each other. The Conspiracy Theory
- Lee Harvey Oswald claimed that he was a ‘patsy.’ The government needed someone to blame, not just to satisfy the public but also to relieve themselves of suspicion. A suspicious figure from the grassy knoll was questioned, “when challenged, the mystery man whipped out Secret Service credentials.”
- Many were asking, “Had Oswald been silenced to protect others?” when killed by Jack Ruby. Was this merely a man displaying feelings felt by the entire nation, or did Oswald hold information about the other killers?
- Many witnesses and a policeman testified to “the lingering smell of gunpowder” at the grassy knoll; surely this means something. Also, when the President received the fatal headshot, he was propelled backwards, indicating a shot from the front, not from the Book Depository. However, some still try to amend this by calling it “a nervous or muscular reaction.”
- The ‘Magic Bullet Theory’ supports the statement that one bullet missed, one made six wounds, the other causing the headshot. Source N, below, shows the elaborate, doubtful explanation for this “bizarre zigzag trajectory”.
- Source Q, however, depicts just how the bullet worked its course, using the more accurate method of computer reconstruction :
Dr. Michael Baden of the HSCA claims that “His wounds were clearly the result of one bullet passing straight through him.”
- The reason the bullet had remained whole was that its speed had decreased after passing through Kennedy.
- Statistical evidence from source M (assuming the source is reliable) states, “Over 88% heard 3 shots and fewer than 7% heard 4 or more….” This clearly indicates that it was a lone gunman firing.
Even after taking all this into account, we still have to look at the big picture. The vast majority of the public could not believe that one insignificant man could kill the most powerful man in the world. They needed a conspiracy theory, and that’s what the government gave them. Since the assassination, witnesses have died, and their memories have faded. The historian must remember that no matter what evidence we have now, no doubt it will be repeatedly re-evaluated, as proven by Summers when he talks about Garrison and JFK, “It was an abuse of history and ………discredited and stalled genuine research for a full decade,”. Even if totally new, unbiased evidence comes to light; it will still be treated with skepticism. It is unlikely that we will ever be able to prove the lone gunman theory or conspiracy theory and the rightful explanation for the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
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