|The President and First Lady, 22nd November 1963|
This need, it seems to me, comes from the limitations of the mind to comprehend certain things. Conspiracy theories are a reaction the facts not fitting within the boundaries of what we find believable. The human brain has a need to have historic events explained by something tangible. The Kennedy assassination is a perfect example of that ‘comfort conspiracy theory’ rationalisation that helps our brain understand the inexplicable. A brief overview of the two central characters outlines the problem. John Fitzgerald Kennedy – youngest ever president, handsome, a brilliant orator, a beautiful family, instantly recognisable across the globe, inspiration to millions, seemingly loved by all. Lee Harvey Oswald – army dropout, loner, rather dishevelled, unimportant in the grand scheme of things, a nobody. We are simply unable to accept that someone as insignificant as Oswald could cut short a life as significant as Kennedy’s. It exposes the fragility of life too clearly. It makes us scared because of the randomness of it. It makes us feel powerless if the most powerful man on earth can be killed just because someone with no real power wants to do it. The randomness of Oswald getting hold of a rifle, firing three shots and changing the world is simply not acceptable as an understanding of that day. It implies that no-one is fully in control – the conspiracy theories put someone back in control of History and that makes us feel, by implication, in control of the past ourselves. Somewhat bizarrely, conspiracy theories make us feel safer. If we think about it rationally, a group of criminal masterminds manipulating the world for their own gain is about as scary as it gets and yet in some ways we prefer that thought to the utter randomness and chance that life throws our way – we need it.
|Lee Harvey Oswald in custody|
An interesting overview of the various conspiracy theories on the Kennedy assassination and recommending reading from journalist David Talbot can be found here