Oliver Stone, JFK, and Conspiracies Destroyed

“Dedicated to the young, in whose spirit the search for truth marches on.” — Dedication at the end of JFK

Frankly, that’s the funniest closing line in movie history. When I first read it I thought it was funny because it was subversively ironic. Two seconds later I realized it was funny because it’s obliviously earnest. Actually, I believe that as a cinematic achievement Oliver Stone’s movie JFK was a brilliant accomplishment. In fact, there’s really only one major flaw that I can detect in the movie: it was foisted upon a lazy and gullible public as gospel truth when in fact it is nothing but the unsubstantiated and paranoid lies and delusions of both its main character and its director.

JFK is a movie constructed on a shaky foundation of duplicity. So many lies of omission permeate the movie that it would take up another article to catalog them all. Just as many of the deceptions are blatant and outright. One of the most prejudicial lies occurs when Louisiana Senator Russell Long tells New Orleans DA Jim Garrison (played by Kevin Costner) that Lee Harvey Oswald was incapable of killing President Kennedy because Oswald was a lousy shot.

Long may well have said this, but the lie here is that Oliver Stone presents this apparently uninformed opinion as uncontested fact to the viewer. In actuality, while Oswald was in the Marine Corps he achieved a score above what was required to attain the qualification of sharpshooter. The NCO in charge of his marksmanship training unit said that while Oswald may have been only slightly above average as a Marine, compared to the average gun owner in the US he was “an excellent shot.” Another Marine marksmanship expert said the shots attributed to Oswald were “an easy shot for a man with the equipment he had and his ability.”

In addition to distorting the truth, Stone has his characters make statements so outrageous in their overzealous attempts to prove a conspiracy it defies belief. The conspirators only had from November 18 to November 22 to organize the logistics at the site of the assassination and contrive where to place the alleged shooters (according to conspiracy buffs, there had to be a minimum of two shooters and possibly as many as six) and how to plan their getaway route, all while making sure Oswald wasn’t seen by any of his co-workers down the street at the book depository so he could appropriately be set up as the fall guy.

Obviously, these had to have been very smart men. Yet, according to Garrison and Stone, not one of these intelligent conspirators “could have predicted there’d be 8mm movie footage of the assassination” which might prove that there was more than one shooter.

Take a minute or two to finish laughing before reading on. Despite this astonishing lack of foresightedness by the otherwise brilliant conspirators-their brain power does seem to vary widely as the conspiracists see fit-it turned out that there were at least 75 cameras at the site of the assassination that day, including many 8mm home movie cameras that also captured parts of the shooting, though not as well as the famous Zapruder film. (Despite all those cameras, not one single photo was produced showing the barrel of a rifle sticking out of the window of the Texas Schoolbook Depository. Maybe I’m just smarter than those involved in the conspiracy.

I mean if I was going to go through all the trouble they supposedly went through to set up Oswald as a patsy, I’d have made sure I had at least one incontrovertible piece of evidence to prove that somebody was shooting from the place they were going to set up Oswald as having been shooting from.)

According to JFK, immediately after the shooting there were fake Secret Service agents all over the place bullying witnesses, yet not one single person ever testified about an attempt to confiscate their camera. Abraham Zapruder was quite conspicuous as he filmed the entire assassination from start to finish while standing high on a concrete divider in front of the Grassy Knoll, yet he was able to get away unmolested and successfully develop film that was supposedly so damaging to the lone gunman theory that Stone has Jim Garrison say the government tried to keep it hidden from the public. (Another outright lie).

The Grassy Knoll. The unquestioned site of the second shooter responsible for the fatal shot from the front that blew off half of Kennedy’s head. Stone tells us that “dozens and dozens” of witnesses claimed the shots came from the Grassy Knoll.

The House Select Committee on Assassinations reviewed more than 178 witnesses and only 12% of them thought that the shots came from the Grassy Knoll. I’ll admit that I’m no math major, but 12% of 178 doesn’t really quite qualify as “dozens and dozens” does it? Zapruder’s film raises an interesting question concerning the possibility of a second shooter in the Grassy Knoll.

As the camera pans right to follow the motorcade after the final shot, several men are seen running diagonally along the left side of the motorcade. If the bullets had been coming from the book depository, these men would be running out of the line of fire. If the bullets were coming from the Grassy Knoll, they would be running directly into the line of fire. Certainly not conclusive evidence, but sadly it’s more solid than the bulk of evidence produced by the conspiracy buffs.

The Grassy Knoll is important to the conspiracy theory because in order for their case to hold up, there had to be a second shooter there and furthermore there had to be a bare minimum of four shots. (I’ll explain why a little later.)

Garrison and Stone say there were actually six shots, though interestingly enough not one of these extra bullets were ever recovered and the only bullets that were ever recovered unquestioningly came from the gun found in the book depository-traced definitively back to Oswald. The Warren Commission interviewed over 200 witnesses regarding how many shots they heard. Over 88% heard just three shots while fewer than 5% heard four or more.

Obviously, these figures are quite damaging to a conspiracy theory that requires at least four-I’ll get to why in a minute, be patient-but there’s one more statistic even more injurious. Only four witnesses-not four percent of witnesses, but just four actual human beings out of all of those present that day-testified that they thought shots came from more than one location. The conspiracy simply crumbles if the bulk of this ear-witness testimony is accurate and there were only three shots that all came from behind Kennedy.

The most memorable line from JFK is “back and to the left” repeated several times by Garrison. He is referring to the fact that Kennedy’s head moved back and to the left after the fatal shot, meaning that it could only have come from the Grassy Knoll. Makes sense.

Except that the Grassy Knoll was at a 90 degree angle to Kennedy’s head, which was tilted 34 degrees left of center when hit, so therefore any bullet shot from there would have taken off the left side of his head and thrown him violently sideward, not backward. Unfortunately for the conspiracy buffs, the left side of Kennedy’s head was not damaged at all, and his head jerked back to his left, backward not sideward.

Itek Optical Systems did a computer enhancement of the Zapruder film that showed that Kennedy’s head first jerks forward ever so slightly before moving backward. This backward movement that so troubles the conspiracists is easily explained as resulting from several causes.

First, there was a neuromuscular spasm in which the muscles of the back and neck contracted, causing Kennedy to lurch back and to the rear. The back brace he was wearing contributed greatly to the force pulling him backward. In addition, the blood and tissue that violently exploded out of Kennedy’s head carried more momentum than was brought in by the bullet, resulting in what is referred to as a “jet effect.”

All of this is indisputably confirmed by the autopsy report showing that the bullet entered Kennedy from the rear. There was a nearly six inch exit hole on the right hemisphere of the front of Kennedy’s head, while there was only a small entry wound not much larger than the 6.5mm bullet that did the damage on the back of Kennedy’s head. Incontrovertible it would seem, except of course we must also add the autopsy doctors to the list of Stone’s conspiracy members. That was one magical conspiracy.

I kid, of course. The conspiracy wasn’t magical. The bullet that entered Kennedy’s back, moved upward in order leave his body from the front of his neck, waited in midair 1.6 seconds, turned right to enter Gov. John Connally’s body, headed downward at a 27 degree angle, exited his right chest, moved downward to enter his right wrist then turned left to enter his left thigh was magical.

This so-called “magic and pristine bullet” is, of course, the Holy Grail of the conspiracy theory and Stone’s movie because the physical impossibility of its progress proves there had to be at least four shots. The first one missed everybody, one hit Kennedy in the throat, a separate one hit only Connally, and then the final fatal bullet. If there were four shots, there had to be a second gunman. (Even I will admit that).

Stone very dramatically recreates the supernatural journey of the single bullet that did all that damage only to appear in near-pristine condition after it was placed on a stretcher in Parkland Hospital by-I kid you not-Jack Ruby, Oswald’s assassin. Stone seems incapable of proving any of his points without shamelessly manipulating reality. A bullet either is pristine or it’s not, and the bullet found by doctors at Parkland Hospital simply was not pristine. It was in fact so bent and severely flattened that it would be very difficult to take a hammer and flatten it to the same degree.

Okay, so maybe it wasn’t pristine, but it still had to have magical properties to stop in midair and turn directions so many times, right? Well, once again, Oliver demonstrates that stone cold facts need not get in the way of a good theory. In JFK and in every conspiracy literature I’ve ever seen, the sketches showing the positions of Kennedy and Connally are just plain wrong.

Photo enhancements made long ago prove that Kennedy and Connally were positioned in such a way that the bullet needed no magic to inflict its damage. The bullet entered Kennedy’s back traveling at 1700-1800 feet per second. After grazing the tip of a vertebra in the neck and slightly splintering the bone the bullet exited through his lower throat tumbling end over end. The entry wound in Gov. Connally’s right shoulder was 1 ¼ inches long-the exact length of the bullet found on that stretcher. The speed was now down to between 1500 and 1600 feet per second when it made its way through Connally’s chest, shattering his fifth rib. It was only at this point that the bullet’s trajectory was significantly altered, deflecting to the right.

Connally’s exit wound was nearly two inches in diameter, proof that the bullet was still tumbling wildly. As it exited Connally’s chest it had slowed down to just 900 feet per second and the entry wound in his right wrist was ragged and irregular because the bullet was traveling backward as it came out of his wrist before barely entering his thigh.

If, as all the conspiracy sketches have it, Connally and Kennedy had been in the same exact position-back flat and head to the front-and at the same height, yes, this would be the work of a magic bullet. But Connally was positioned lower than Kennedy and was turned to the right and leaning slightly forward. Why? Because he had heard the first shot and was looking behind them to see where it came from.

The only hard evidence produced in regard to the JFK assassination points to Lee Harvey Oswald acting alone as the killer. The only evidence produced by conspiracists is coincidence and paranoid speculation that by its very nature is almost impossible to dis-prove.

If Garrison and Stone’s ultimate conspiracy theory is correct – at various points during Garrison’s investigation the motive ranged from being a homosexual thrill-killing to a plot by Nazis to turn the US into a fascist state (and amazingly all three of his theories still managed to involve both Oswald and Jack Ruby) -the specific individuals mentioned as well as members of the following institutions would have had to have been involved in some way, either before or after the fact.

The assassination of the leader of the free world in full view of witnesses equipped with cameras: the CIA, those who chose the motorcade route, the Warren Commission, Vice President/President Lyndon Baines Johnson, twelve men on site at Dealey Plaza including six different men with rifles, doctors at Parkland Hospital, the Dallas Police Department, the Pentagon, the FBI, the White House, Jack Ruby, and possibly some of the employers who rejected Oswald for all the jobs he applied for in the weeks before he got the job at the Book Depository -long before the motorcade route in front of it had ever even been proposed, by the way.

Even the brother of the President, Robert F. Kennedy, was at one time accused by Garrison of being involved, though Stone doesn’t see fit to include that in his fictional film, instead having Garrison passionately win his wife over to his viewpoint by convincing her that RFK’s assassination was a continuation of the same conspiracy.

That’s a heck of a lot of people to count on to keep a secret, but apparently they have been quite successful for almost forty years now.

Or, perhaps, once upon a time a disturbed misfit found out that he was going to be given the opportunity to attempt the second political assassination of his life. (Oswald had previously taken a shot at General Edwin Walker).

I have my own personal theory about why up to 80% of the American public still believes there was a conspiracy involved in the JFK assassination despite a mountain of evidence to the contrary. My feeling is that most people desperately want to believe it would take an organized, multi-level conspiracy to change the course of history rather than the unpredictable actions of one lone nut. It’s a scary thought to think that one man with a gun can change the world.

But that’s exactly what happened on November 22, 1963.