Well, not really, he didn’t. Or did he? Donald was just over 17 that day; are we really sure he was at the New York Military Academy that day and not on the Grassy Knoll? After all, he ended up at the Academy precisely because of his habit of wagging school. Of course, Trump insinuated during the campaign that Ted Cruz’s Cuban father had something to do with knocking off John F Kennedy, but was he just trying to shift the blame?
This year is the centenary of JFK’s birth. His tragic and premature death over fifty years ago still continues to haunt America and the rest of the world (as James Piereson has argued, the assassination was the turning point in the history of the American liberalism, prior to that generally an optimistic and patriotic creed, and after, well, it’s still slipping down that slippery slope, past transgender bathrooms and rampaging antifa).
I won’t lie; when I watched Oliver Stone’s “JFK” at the cinema in 1992, it had a huge impact on me, among other things leading my interests for a time into a fascinating and bizarre intellectual cul-de-sac of conspiracy theories. Yet, when I finally managed to find a second-hand copy of the movie on BluRay last year and watched it again, I was amazed how underwhelming I’ve found it. For all its technical and visual wizardry – which arguably helps to overwhelm and stupefy the viewer – “JFK” is absurd, verbose, and preachy. But a great propaganda vehicle, nevertheless, not just perpetuating one of the great myths of the far-left’s alt-history, but also mainstreaming it to an unprecedented degree and with an unprecedented success.
But as Max Holland reminds us, the conspiracy around the conspiracy is even more intriguing:
Helping defeat Hillary Clinton is not the most successful influence operation Moscow has ever mounted against the United States. The most momentous, yes. But any covert activity that is exposed so rapidly and incites a backlash cannot be deemed an unalloyed accomplishment.
Moscow’s single most effective influence operation remains the one induced 50 years ago this month, when the now-defunct New Orleans States-Item published a front-page story on April 25, 1967, entitled “Mounting Evidence Links CIA to ‘Plot’ Probe.” It was an operation that culminated in an unimaginable achievement—inclusion in a Hollywood blockbuster by Oliver Stone that contends the CIA was instrumental in JFK’s assassination.
Do read the whole piece about how a low-level KGB disinformation campaign launched in the mid-60s in Italy succeeded beyond the Kremlin’s wildest dreams in establishing in the popular imagination the now near-unchallangable popular “truth” that John F Kennedy was a victim of his own government agencies – the original “vast right wing conspiracy”, involving any combination of his own Vice-President, CIA, FBI, Texas oilmen, and anti-Castro Cubans. This, by the way, is another reminder that the Soviet Union/Russia, just as it was said about Great Britain, has no permanent allies only permanent interests, and its permanent interest is stirring shit and trouble amongst its enemies, delegitimising their institutions, creating social and political conflict, and thus weakening the opponents. This is why during the primaries and the campaign, Putin was happy to support Trump, but now he is as happy to meddle through Black Lives Matter. It’s never a man but always the cause – to saw dissension and widen fissures.
What really struck me, however, when looking at how the story of the JFK assassination was transformed in the popular imagination from a typical lone wolf act into a grand conspiracy by the “deep state”, is how it could really be considered the precursor and the grand-daddy of all the subsequent efforts to reshape the “narrative” – the main difference being that for years after 1963 it was being done against the grain of the still sensible liberal political, intellectual and media establishment, whereas nowadays the narrative gets reshaped by the liberal media on behalf of the liberal elite. A few decades make all the difference.
Look at Lee Harvey Oswald. He perfectly fits the profile of a typical political assassin: a misfit, loner, and a life’s loser, whose unstable personal and work life offend his overblown sense of self-importance. But Oswald was not just a misfit and a loser, he was a Marxist misfit and a loser; a soldier who defected to the Soviet Union and then returned to the United States with his Russian bride to continue fringe political involvement (including shooting up the house of a prominent “right-wing” general). If he was born a few decades later, Oswald could today be an Islamic convert turned an ISIS terrorist – or another Chelsea Manning, leaking top military secrets to all and sundry.
And yet – this communist tool (I’m using the word here more in a pejorative rather than a conspiratorial sense) has now been made a part of a gigantic right-wing death machine. According to this narrative, Oswald didn’t shoot JFK because he (Oswald, not JFK) was a radical and a f-wit, but probably didn’t even shoot at all, being a convenient patsy for the crypto-fascists and war-mongers within the US government’s security-military-industrial complex.
Lee Harvey Oswald did not fit the narrative where only the right are the bad guys and all the red gets carefully white-washed. It took decades to entrench this narrative in the case of the JFK assassination; today it takes days, if not hours, for the latest scandal or outrage de jour. But the end is always the same: everything is the right’s fault, and even when the left does something unsavoury, they either did not do it, or if it is reluctantly acknowledged they did, the right-wing devil made them do it.
While Holland is correct about the essential timeline of the Soviet disinformation successfully impregnating the Garrison investigation (subject of Stone’s “JFK”) in 1967 to give birth to the conspiracy monster that has been very much alive and very well ever since, the genesis of the narrative goes even earlier.
One of the most prize items in my book collection is the first edition hardback of a little book published by Secker & Warburg in London in 1964 titled “Who Killed Kennedy?”, by an American journalist Thomas G Buchanan. Buchanan was fired from his newspaper job in 1948 for being a member of the Communist Party (which he left in 1956, so we’re told) and eventually ended up in France, not surprisingly having found it hard to find work in the States. The book is based on a series of articles written by him in the early 1964 for a French newspaper; to my knowledge, Buchanan was the first to consider the assassination to be the work not of Lee Harvey Oswald, the lone Marxist loser gunman, but of a cabal of the military-industrial complex and the Texan oil “oligarchs”, carried out in order to kill off any chance of a detente with the Soviet Union and the consequent disarmament.
This is not to say that Buchanan wrote on the instructions of and according to the Kremlin script, but to point out where the current JFK narrative originally comes from. Coincidentally, and to make the circle even fuller, the genesis of Oliver Stone’s creative (in all senses of the word) interest in the assassination lies at a film festival in Havana (of course), where Garrison’s publisher gave Stone a copy of Garrison’s memoirs. Garrison might have, rather ingloriously, lost his prosecutorial attempt in 1967 to disprove the official Warren Commission version of history, but he has undoubtedly emerged victorious in the long term, his CIA/Cuban exiles/everyone else conspiracy theory now the most widely accepted version of events.
The Russkies don’t have to do much work anymore; a light nudge is enough and everyone else does it for them. The “narrative” is now firmly in place, the recourse to it automatic. In fact, as probable as the “Russia helped to elect Trump” version is the one where Russia merely created an impression it did, knowing full well this will help delegitimise Trump – and the political system in general – in the eyes of the majority. How’s that for a conspiracy theory?