One of the sad truths of getting older: Friday nights are rarely as glamorous as you think they’ll be.
As proof I offer this equation: A slow Friday night + an empty house + much-needed clean laundry = Watching a History Channel documentary.
Go ahead, try to tell me I’m wrong. I know. Math doesn’t lie.
You know who else didn’t lie? Anyone involved in the Warren Commission, according to this particular History Channel documentary. I believe it was called “The Truth About the JFK Assassination,” but don’t quote me.
My faith in the History Channel started to erode around the same time they started airing “UFO Hunters.” So I assumed this would be a pro-paranoia program. To my surprise, it spent two hours calmly – if a bit shallowly – refuting the major bullet points (excuse the pun) of assassination conspiracy theory.
And to my eternal disappointment…it all made a lot of sense to me.
Ten years back, full of piss and vinegar and an interest in being paranoid, I picked up a great book by Richard Belzer called “UFOs, JFK and Elvis,” where the Belz offers up the salient points of JFK conspiracy theory with good humor and reasonable self-awareness.
The through-line of his book is basically, “I don’t expect you to buy all these half-baked theories, but if even one of them shakes out for you, doesn’t that make you want to question everything else you’ve heard?”
Absolutely reasonable assessment. Inspect a couple faulty rungs, and the entire scaffolding comes falling down.
And there’s definitely some questionable content when it comes to the investigation of JFK’s killing. Why does a supposed nobody like Oswald pop up all over the intelligence community in the years leading up to the assassination? How did a fair shot with a rifle make a million-to-one (well, one out of three, anyway) shot from that book depository? Why did so many witnesses assume the sound of gunfire came from the exact opposite position as the apparent location of origin?
These are good questions that deserve real thought. Which the documentary…kind of gives. Oswald’s connections are left untouched, but some long-standing conspiracy truths are quickly and simply shot down, using modern science to disprove revelations 30-year-old science supposedly uncovered (short version of everyone thinking shots came from the grassy knoll? Shock-alert: sound tends to echo).
But most telling for me was the debunking of the “Jack Ruby killed Oswald to keep him from ratting out Ruby’s mafia buddies as complicit in the assassination” theory.
Their proof? A bunch of old buddies and some former dancers at Ruby’s strip club, all of whom spoke of Ruby as a guy who wanted to be a big shot, but quite simply was incapable of keeping his big yap shut if he actually had connections to the mafia. Let alone if he had any connections to a massive conspiracy to eliminate a sitting president.
People like to talk. People like to brag. People who wave guns around in public in particular like to brag. (If you don’t believe me, go see who’s been arrested in your state recently. They aren’t exactly James Bond villains. They are morons.)
Which immediately humanized Ruby for me. And right there is where conspiracy starts to fall apart: the recognition that conspiracies are made of people. And they’re not Cigarette-Smoking Men or mysterious women in wigs who disappear when you turn away for a second.
Sneaky plans are concocted by day-to-day schlubs who, for whatever reason, want to get something done fast and quiet rather than sit around going through pain-in-the-ass process.
Conspiracy is rooted in humans trying to sneak a fast one past the other guy.
Ben Franklin, quotable son of a bitch that he was, said, “Three men may keep a secret if two of them are dead.”
A little closer to my point, there is a line from…a thing…somewhere (sorry, I have no clue where I heard it), that goes, “Here’s how I know there’s no such thing as conspiracy. You ever hear of ‘Watergate’? I rest my case.”
The point here is that we put so much weight into Conspiracies with a capital “C” that we sometimes discount People with a capital “duuuuuurrrrh.”
One more quote for you, from Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson’s “Transmetropolitan“: “There’s one hole in every revolution, large or small, and it’s one word long: People. No matter how big the idea they all stand under, people are weak and cheap and frightened. It’s people that kill every revolution.”
This isn’t something I necessarily would’ve understood ten years ago, when I got that Belzer book. But after the eight years we’ve lived through, where every paranoid suspicion has led to a sheepish admission from the administration perpetrating the crimes – what are the odds anyone could have actually kept quiet about something as juicy as killing a president?
But it makes me sad, coming to this realization. There’s still plenty of questions surrounding the Kennedy assassination, and I still don’t believe we’ll ever hear the whole truth on the subject. But sometimes growing up means realizing the world isn’t made up of clever genius supervillains.
It’s made up of stupid, shitty people who think they can get away with something. On the bright side, they’re often proven wrong. Which should probably be a comfort.
But it does make the world a slightly less interesting place to live in.