In a new piece for the Smithsonian magazine, “What Does the Zapruder Film Really Tell Us?” veteran journalist Ron Rosenbaum suggests that the debate about the causes of JFK’s assassination may never be resolved. What filmmaker Errol Morris rightly calls “the ultimate detective’s nightmare” can be solved — if the American people muster the political will.
Rosenbaum’s piece is framed around a smart conversation with Morris, director of The Thin Blue Line and other investigations of moral uncertainty. Morris says Zapruder’s film of Kennedy’s head shattered by a bullet destroyed Americans’ conception of themselves.
Rosenbaum’s metaphor is astute as it is graphic.
“It’s almost as if the brain exploding is like what it does metaphorically to our mind-set, our worldview,” he says.
“It goes to a kind of simpler version of America,” Morris tells Rosenbaum. “It truly was the end of the ’50s. The end of a certain kind of innocence that we bought into. World War II seemed to provide a notion of good and evil that we could all embrace. We could build a postwar future on that edifice. And this threw everything up for grabs. It’s incredibly sad, still, looking at it today. And it has produced this epistemic war of people battling for reality through these images — trying to wrest control back from chaos.”
This is also astute. The debate over the causes of JFK’s death is confusing, stupid, paranoid, and often ignorant. But above all it is very sad. As a result it is natural to feel discouraged.
Rosenbaum asks Morris: “Can we even have the certainty that all is uncertainty?”
“Here’s my problem,” Morris replies gamely. “My article of faith is that there’s a real world out there in which things happen. The real world is not indeterminate. I don’t want to hear people misinterpreting the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. Something happened. The problem is not about the nature of reality. We know somebody killed Kennedy and there’s an answer to the question of who and why.”
But Morris sounds pessimistic about answering the who and why of JFK’s assassination and Rosenbaum seems to agree. He ends the piece with this final thought from Morris:
“Another thing we know is that we may never learn. And we can never know that we can never learn it. We can never know that we can’t know something. This is the detective’s nightmare. It’s the ultimate detective’s nightmare.”
But while the JFK assassination story is indeed “the ultimate detective’s nightmare,” there are five good reasons to believe that the case of the murdered president can be decisively clarified.
1) Great historical crimes often take a long time to resolve.
Consider the controversy over whether Thomas Jefferson had an African-American lover named Sally Hemings. It started in the 1800 presidential election and continued through the 1980s. For most of that time, the experts and historians confidently dismissed the idea. Indeed, these opinion-makers often used the same kind of of language that is used to dismiss JFK conspiracy theorists: “deluded,” “absurd,” “childish” and so on.
With the emergence of DNA technology, however, the scientific evidence confirmed beyond a reasonable doubt that Hemings’s children were descended from a male Jefferson and the historical record shows that Thomas Jefferson was the only plausible candidate for paternity. After two centuries of debate, the controversy was resolved. The experts and historians were shown to be mistaken.
So, one possibility is that new scientific techniques, as yet unimagined, could re-arrange our thinking about JFK’s death.
2) The release of a still-secret Pentagon recording will shed new light on the case of the murdered president.
The recording captures all of the communications coming and going from Air Force One on the afternoon of November 22, 1963, as JFK’s body was flown from Dallas to Washington. Right now, we only have an incomplete and edited version of this recording.
This truncated version was made obtained by the JFK Assassination Records Review Board. But there must have been longer version, because another Air Force One tape surfaced in 2011 in the estate of an Air Force officer that included forty more minutes of conversations. But internal evidence shows that this version too is incomplete.
JFK researcher Bill Kelly is going to present a cleaned-up version of the two tapes at the Wecht Center conference on JFK next month.
The Pentagon either has a complete Air Force One recording from 1963 or it destroyed it. Either way, the JFK Records Act requires the tape (or the record of its destruction) be made public.
Right now, there is no political will in the Executive Branch, the Congress or the courts to compel the Pentagon to search for and find this recording. But that could change.
3) We don’t have all of the CIA records on the subject.
There are more than 1,100 CIA documents related to the assassination. The agency says they are “Not Believed Relevant” to the JFK story. But some of them clearly are for reasons I explained in my posts, “Top 5 JFK files Brennan should make public” and “Two more JFK files for Brennan’s review.”
These records would shed new light on the operational activities of three undercover officers — David Phillips, Anne Goodpasture, and BIrch O’Neal — who knew about Lee Oswald’s travels, politics, and foreign contacts before JFK’s assassination. All of them are deceased.
These files would also shed light on undercover officers who loathed JFK and had expertise in political assassinations: Phillips, David Morales, and William K. Harvey, also deceased.
4) The Cuban government has not released all of its records on JFK’s assassination.
For the government in Havana, the JFK story is not a matter of history but of 21st century politics. You see the U.S. government officially classifies Cuba as a “terrorist” state. There is no evidence to support this designation but it remains in place thanks to the influence of the Cuban-American minority which opposes normal relations between the two countries. One part of the attempted demonization of Cuba is the semi-official theory that Oswald, a Castro supporter, killed Kennedy. One former CIA official is embellishing this theory with the lightly-documented claim that Fidel Castro’s government knew Oswald was going kill JFK.
The Cuban government has always rejected that theory. Havana has contended that JFK was killed by enemies in his own government who sought to lay the blame on Cuba.
Fabian Escalante, a retired Cuban intelligence official who has written several books about U.S.-Cuba conflict in the early 1960s, says the Cuban government’s records support this view. Escalante quotes from these documents in his book about “JFK: The Cuba Files.” If Escalante has quoted them accurately, they shed new light on CIA machinations in late 1963. But no non-Cubans have ever seen these records, so it is impossible to confirm Escalante’s claims.
If and when Washington and Havana re-establish normal diplomatic relations, both sides will feel less need for secrecy about the now-ancient events of 1963.
5) Llving witnesses to the JFK assassination story are constrained to this day by oaths of secrecy with the U.S. government.
For such witnesses (and I know of a half dozen Cuban-Americans who qualify) to come forward with what they know about classified U.S. intelligence activities involving Lee Oswald 1963 would be a violation of the law.
But if there were some form of JFK amnesty, in which the U.S. government released such people from their secrecy oaths, we would learn more about what CIA assets in Miami and New Orleans knew about Oswald before JFK was killed.
This is not to say that the JFK murder mystery will be solved, only that it could be — if there was political will to mandate full disclosure.
That will does not now exist, even as the 50th anniversary of JFK’s death approaches. Indeed, the prosecution of whistleblowers from the NSA (Snowden) and the U.S. Army (Chelsea/Bradley Manning) suggests that the U.S. government would respond harshly to a JFK whistleblower.
But that could change. The argument that full disclosure harms U.S. national security is at least plausible in the case of the NSA and Wikileaks revelations. The argument that full disclosure about the events of 1963 would hurt 21st century American is much less defensible.
Perhaps there is an Edward Snowden of the JFK assassination story toiling in national security bureaucracy who will defy the secrecy system for the sake of overdue transparency.
21 thoughts on “5 reasons why the JFK murder mystery can be solved”
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Another area to be explored is to determine if Marina Oswald Porter recants any of the statements she has made over the years about Lee Oswald. Much of what she reported to the WC gives support to the “lone nut” theory. Of course, she was put in a very difficult situation in 1963 being a Russian widow with two small children living in Dallas, Texas. I have seen her interviewed by Oprah, Jack Anderson and others but nothing recently. A couple of years ago, Jesse Ventura’s Conspiracy Theory program made it sound if she were afraid to talk on camera. I know she believes Lee was innocent. Does anyone have more information in this regard?
I think an opportunity was missed when Connally was never asked to submit to an autopsy upon his death. Fragments removed from his body could have provided valuable information to the JFK case. It would provide greater clarity if Marina would corroborate her statements about the Walker shooting, backyard photos etc.
Why would she have even brought up the Walker shooting if Lee had never told her? She had absolutely no idea who Walker was at the time of the attempt and couldn’t even read English to find out.
1. Could be that government agent Oswald (conveniently missing Walker) was looking to build his communist credentials and included Marina in his tale in event she were ever interrogated by adversaries of our government.
2. Oswald was a crackpot communist looking for attention
3. Marina reported what the FBI wanted her to say because she feared being deported. Any handwritten note by Lee in the Walker incident was fabricated.
I maybe missing something, but I think detailed questioning of Marina in 2013 would be helpful
Why did she have to say anything about Walker in 1964?
Nothing tied Oswald to the Walker shooting but Marina.
Your point is valid. If Oswald shot at the ultra-conservative Walker, it certainly tarnishes the idea that Oswald was an anti-communist. However,I think each of my three possibilities are still plausible.
Mac Wallace told Oswald about Walker, and to shoot him.
Leslie, how about a name.
What do you mean, “how about a name?”
Why can’t you just cut to the chase. Instead of a “War and Peace” essay on the evils of the CIA and how they obviously plotted to murder JFK, how about a simple, single proven fact that puts any proven CIA agent in a position to shoot JFK.
William George Gaudet, “Tramp”, CIA Asset, behind picket fence (grassy knoll)…..
Where did you get that one?
Find the info here….
My understanding is that they train others to do the job for them. Read Larry Hancock’s book “Someone Would Have Talked” and John Newman’s “Oswald and the CIA” and you’ll know exactly what we’re talking about. Escalante claims one (or two, I forget) Anti Castro Cubans confessed under interrogation/torture to participating in JFK’s assassination. That data may be wrong, but it fits with other data.
This part rang clear as a bell with me:
“Havana has contended that JFK was killed by enemies in his own government who sought to lay the blame on Cuba.
Fabian Escalante, a retired Cuban intelligence official who has written several books about U.S.-Cuba conflict in the early 1960s, says the Cuban government’s records support this view. Escalante quotes from these documents in his book about “JFK: The Cuba Files.” If Escalante has quoted them accurately, they shed new light on CIA machinations in late 1963. But no non-Cubans have ever seen these records, so it is impossible to confirm Escalante’s claims.”//
The regime change that will surely come in Cuba once the Castro brothers are gone is going to be a game changer in the same way that the collapse of the corrupt USSR opened up to historians the fact that the Soviets had nothing to do with the assassination of Kennedy, something LBJ and others used as either disinformation cover/smokescreen or actual confusion as to whether the USSR might have been behind 11/22, and to dig too deeply would have, in their words, initiated World War 3. Having the Cuban files completely opened up would probably put to rest the idea that Castro was behind the JFK assassination once and for all.
The charge made by many that CIA could have set up the assassination as a way of getting another chance to strike Cuba has some precedent: The Bay of Pigs operation was designed the same way: it was a set-up to get Kennedy to commit our armed forces, as clearly the small band of guerilla forces in unmarked ships landing on beaches was insufficient, especially with no air cover, to win alone. Kennedy saw this trap and pulled back wisely from full engagement. In my opinion, even if Lyndon Johnson was corruptly behind the JFK assassination for his own gain, or knew of it in advance, his decision to not invade Cuba showed that even he was wise enough to keep us out of an all out war on that island nation. The cautious approach was perhaps made easier by the fact that Oswald wasn’t killed before he was brought into the Dallas Police custody, and tapes and photos emerged showing more than one Oswald in Mexico City.
Any remaining (and I think weak at this distant point) argument that release of the remaining CIA files related to the assassination or participants now dead would compromise intelligence methods would be dealt a further blow by a regime change in Cuba to hopefully a free and democratically elected government. CIA files from 1963 would be antique relics, of no relevance any longer except to the most paranoid “Langley packrats” obsessed with their own bureaucracy appearance. I like the idea of a general amnesty too, because as South Africa has shown, a nation can move on once the secrets and shame have been aired out in the sunshine.
I can’t believe that you would use Fabian Escalante as a source for anything- well , after the Jerome Corsi reference perhaps I can.
When he was selected by the KGB to run the Cuban Security service his job wasn’t historical research, but essentially managing the forward intelligence gathering operations of the Soviet Union in the Western Hemisphere aside from those that were the responsibility of the Soviet Institute for the United States and Canada. He was a committed Stalinist from the word go and had to have knowledge of the biggest lie of the Castro Regime- the canonization of Cienfuegos after having a Sea Fury shoot him down over water.
I am sure that he appreciated the irony of Fidel getting rid of his PUOM loving rival and making a martyr out of him almost exactly like Dzugashvili dealt with Kirov.
Escalante was an intelligence officer and I think we should listen to what he has to say with a critical ear. You seem to be implying that we cannot trust him because of his ideological commitments, but I don’t think anyone would level that criticism of a very aggressive conservative official within our CIA. The point is, what is this evidence?
And he did not inject himself into the American debates about the Kennedy Assassination. From what I recall, he was invited to a conference of historians in the late 90’s. If he had wanted to inject misinformation into this case, he could’ve done during the initial investigations, the HSCA investigation, around the time of Stone’s ‘JFK’ release, during the ARRB, etc. He did not. I think your criticisms of Escalante are rendered moot.
You might enjoy a great flick from World War II called ” Mission to Moscow”.
I am generally bored by old films. Can I conclude that you don’t have a rebuttal to my post about Escalante? I thought it was reasonable and relevant.
The stats for the 1960 election, Kennedy 49.7 v. Nixon 49.5, hardly reflect a landslide. And anyone intent on uncovering the truth about the assassination of John Kennedy might keep in mind that those sitting across the table from them, even now in 2013 (be they loved ones and/or coworkers, coinvestors, or casual acquaintances) may not hold a similar passion for knowing who was behind the murder of an elected US President.
The reactions to Kennedy’s assassination continue to span the gambit of responses: “my family backed Nixon,” and “wasn’t he sleeping with Marilyn Monroe?” to complete ignorance of the politics of the day, or apathy, casual interest, intrigue, and maybe in some instances, righteous outrage.
And if said dinner debate or casual exchange progresses beyond the salacious chatter of the spectacular murder of an elected government official in Dallas in broad daylight fifty years ago, and moves to the issue of Democracy as taught in the most fundamental of civics classes, those of us with any degree of information on the subject would do well to challenge any who think that the assassination didn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things.
When confronted with such phrases as “after all, Kennedy was a philanderer, he was wrong in Cuba, he was wrong on the Soviet Union,” we might remind fellow citizens that the office of the Presidency – the third leg on the barstool of our democracy – was attacked on 11.22.63 regardless of who filled that post. (As for those who thought that the Kennedy’s assassination was “necessary,” they lost the democracy plot a long time ago and deserve little less than intense scrutiny as collaborators and/or instigators, or supporters of both.)
The question of the assassination persists on a visceral level because deep down Americans know that a branch of our democratic government was attacked on 11.22.63. Kennedy was charismatic by nature, and focus on him as a man, a son, a brother and an uncle, a husband and a father, a friend, a lover, and dare I say a man of faith – a fact which ironically in the aftermath of his murder was not mentioned in spite of the hatred directed toward him for his faith prior to the murder – was inevitable. Sensationalism and disinformation provided fertile ground for the cover-up.
When the majority of Americans fell under the spell of those intent on the immediate cover-up, influenced further by the Warren Commission, and later when they ignored possible resolution of the assassination even when presented with discoveries during the HSCA hearings, we all reaped the Democracy we deserved over the last 50 years up to and including the current invasion of our privacies and endless wars in our name. We now deserve only that which we demand.
From “Beawolf” as translated by the late Seamus Heaney:
“On a height they kindled the hugest of all Funeral fires; fumes of woodsmoke Billowed darkly up, the blaze roared And drowned out their weeping, wind died down And flames wrought havoc in the hot bone-house, Burning it to the core. They were disconsolate And wailed aloud for their lord’s decease. A Geat woman too sang out in grief; With hair bound up, she unburdened herself Of her worst fears, a wild litany Of nightmare and lament: her nation invaded, Enemies on the rampage, bodies in piles, Slavery and abasement. Heaven swallowed the smoke.