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Digital Subscriptions > Skeptic > 22.4 > From Camelot toConspiracy

From Camelot toConspiracy

Memory, Myth, and the Death of JFK

IN HIS 2007 BOOK CAMELOT AND THE CULTURAL Revolution, the political scientist James Piereson made this insightful observation about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy:

The assassination of a popular president by a communist should have generated a revulsion against everything associated with left-wing doctrines. Yet something very close to the opposite happened. By 1968, student radicals were taking over campuses and joining protest demonstrations in support of a host of radical and revolutionary causes. It is one of the ironies of recent history that many of those young people who filed in shocked grief past the president’s coffin in 1963 would just a few years later embrace as political activists the very doctrines that led Oswald to assassinate him.

Piereson concluded his soul searching analysis:

The various conspiracy theories that arose in the wake of the assassination must be viewed…not so much as efforts to discover the truth but as aspects of the struggle to find meaning in a seemingly senseless event.1

The sudden and violent assassination of President Kennedy elicited a number of conflicting narratives concerning his life, death, and legacy. On one hand, the Kennedy family and the Johnson administration eulogized the fallen president as a champion of civil rights gunned down by the forces of hatred. This was done partly to counter the claims of many conservatives and reactionaries who held that JFK had been part of a nepotistic Irish-Catholic “mafia,” a corrupt liberal dynasty hostile to traditional American values. Many progressives and leftists countered these popular myths by arguing that JFK had really been a man of peace seeking to end the Cold War and, therefore, fell victim to a secret coup d’état orchestrated by warmongering fascists inside the American political establishment.

Why did JFK’s untimely death produce so many clashing interpretations of one of the most meticulously documented periods of history? This article examines the reasons shocking events like the Kennedy assassination give rise to conspiracy myths. Such stories, though based on ostensibly historic events, serve a contemporary agenda, namely by scapegoating a source of existential evil and promoting a paranoid counter-ideology to defeat it.

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About Skeptic

CAMPUS CRAZINESS: THE WAR ON SCIENCE No Barriers to Inquiry; I Am Not a Racist, And So Are You: An Unauthorized Peek at the Great Shaming Taking Place at an Institution of Higher Learning Near You, and Other Fireside Tales; Radically Wrong in Berkeley; When Secularism Becomes a Religion: The Alt-Left, the Alt-Right, and Moral Righteousness; When Science Becomes the Enemy SPECIAL SECTION — BIOLOGY & BEHAVIOR Canine Cognition: Did dogs become smarter through domestication? An interview with Dr. Brian Hare; Bird Brains: Are crows as intelligent as some scientists claim?; What Biology Can Teach Us About Crime and Justice ARTICLES: Gary Taubes and the Case Against Sugar; From Camelot to Conspiracy: Memory, Myth, and the Death of JFK; Now Playing at a Cartesian Theater Near You: Dualism Returns COLUMNS: The SkepDoc: Diet Sodas: Are the Dangers In the Chemicals or the Headlines?, by Harriet Hall, M.D. JUNIOR SKEPTIC: Ghost Ships, by Daniel Loxton