I am engaged in reading a very fine book by a colleague, Paul Kengor. It was written six years ago, so do not feel bad if you missed it. You still have time.
It is called “A Pope and a President.” It covers the lives of John Paul II and former President Ronald Reagan, and, as its coverage is chronological, I just read its treatment of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. This is the umpteenth time that I have read about the assassination of JFK, and frankly, I did not learn anything more than in earlier accounts. JFK was shot by a lone assailant, the despicable Lee Harvey Oswald. Other presidents have been shot by a lone assailant. In fact, Reagan and Pope John Paul were shot by lone assailants and fortunately survived. Yet for some reason, JFK’s assassination was unique. It loosed a plethora of conspiracy theories for which there are a plethora of believers, perhaps millions, worldwide.
Why has JFK’s death inspired so many conspiracy theorists? Even President Abraham Lincoln, who was surely as controversial as Mr. Kennedy, had only one assailant, and his death inspired only a handful of conspiracy theories. All were pretty far-fetched, as I recall. JFK was assassinated almost 60 years ago, yet documents are still coming out relating to the tragic event. In fact, last month, the government released still more Kennedy documents, and their presence will undoubtedly cause still more conspiracy theories to emerge.
I have come to the conclusion that JFK’s death inspired so many conspiracy theorists because of the bungling of the Warren Commission and of the nation’s liberals in general. Liberals dominated the commission, and they also dominated the news coverage of the event. People like Chief Justice Earl Warren and journalists like New York Times columnist James Reston had always been suspicious of Americans living in the South, the Midwest and the far West. The fact that the event took place in Dallas further alarmed these East Coast popinjays. They feared that once the red-blooded Americanos focused on Oswald’s links to the Soviet Union, there would be no stopping these ruffians as they edged toward war with Russia. Even the Russians feared it. The result was all kinds of confusion from people such as Warren and Reston, and of course, the Russians.
In “A Pope and a President,” Mr. Kengor asserts, “With a more-than-receptive audience on the American left, the Soviets wasted no time doing what they did best: concocting disinformation. If the American left was looking for conservative culprits in the Kennedy killing, the Kremlin was more than willing to conjure them up.” He quotes KGB officer Oleg Kalugin years later, rendering a long list of lies about the assassination that ends with Mr. Kalugin saying, “In the end, our campaign succeeded.”
Yet the American left also contributed to the confusion. The very afternoon of the assassination, the eventual eponym of the Warren Report, Chief Justice Warren, blamed Kennedy’s shooting on “the hatred and bitterness that has been injected into the life of our nation by bigots.” And forget not Democratic Sen. Mike Mansfield at the president’s funeral attributing the shooting to “bigotry, hatred and prejudice.”
Moreover, the media had a role in the confusion. On page one of The New York Times, the celebrated columnist Reston lamented the “violent streak” and “strain of madness” plaguing America, which he placed at the feet of “the extremists on the right.” Nowhere in his column did he mention that Oswald was a communist.
In the end, the Soviets and the American liberals both sought the same goal. They sought to confuse the American public. Neither the Soviets nor the American liberals wanted the public to know Oswald’s true nature. He was a communist. Both stand with Oleg Kalugin in saying, “In the end, our campaign succeeded.”
Glory to Ukraine!
• R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. is founder and editor in chief of The American Spectator. He is a senior fellow at the London Center for Policy Research and the author most recently of “The Death of Liberalism,” published by Thomas Nelson Inc.