To many, John F Kennedy was a hero. The pretensions of the Great Man are always a worthwhile target and the Kennedy cult is one such prime case. The legend of John F Kennedy is a tightly inflated balloon that has been wafting across the discourse since the young man defeated Nixon in 1960. Fifty years since the man was gunned down under circumstances of considerable fixation the time is more than ripe to take aim at that balloon and fire. Kennedy is not remembered for the details of his foreign policy, his efforts in the subversion of Latin American governments, his anti-Communist crusade against Cuba and his escalation of the Vietnam war. And yet there is a plethora of theories floating along with the personality cult.
The trouble with conspiracy theories in general is the tendency to apply Occam's Razor in reverse, slitting through all the simple answers to the end. The preference is always for building a vast and intricate theory. If there is a simple explanation, or a rational explanation, then it is to be rejected as a rule in favour of unfounded speculation of the wildest variety. It can lead anywhere after that point of no return. Like the conspiracy theorists who believe the attacks on the World Trade Centre were either achieved with a) US missiles or b) the attacks were a hologram. Once you've accepted such a proposition you're left with the problem of where all those people - in the planes, in the towers, in the Pentagon - have really gone. So why not suppose they were all gassed in Chicago? Or taken out to Nebraska to be shot on orders from Cheney? The degrees of nuttiness know no bounds.
We find the same with Lee Harvey Oswald. There are inconvenient facts, such as the fact that Oswald owned the guns involved in the events of November 22nd 1963 - not just the assassination, but the murder of a police officer as well - and the fact that the paraffin test at least demonstrated that he had fired a hand gun (though not the rifle, which doesn't discharge a residue). Why would an innocent man shoot a police officer as he ran out of a building? Of course, to answer such a question one first has to be open to a certain array of possibilities. If you have already decided that the captured shooter was a 'patsy' for a high-level conspiracy to ratchet up the war in Vietnam, then why bother? There are more important matters at hand. For instance, if the Mafia was involved (and this goes for the CIA too) then why would Oswald be left to try and hail a taxi to escape from the scene? Ignorance is sometimes all too invincible. Nevertheless, the assumptions behind these theories are always particularly revealing.
The first possibility to be written-off from the outset by the 9/11 'Truth' movement is that Arabs are perfectly capable of hatching such a complex plan and carrying it out. That has a lot in common with the tradition of European anti-Arab racism. Just as Western historians couldn't comprehend that the Arabs could have raced to the straits of Gibraltar from the Middle East and crossed over to the Iberian peninsula. The racist assumption that the Arabs are a race so primitive as to be incapable of a modicum of self-defence ran right into the mid 20th Century. It was a convenient myth for the European empires. It was with the emergence of General Nasser and the crisis of Suez that the Arabs were recognised as capable fighters. After that the new myth would soon be that the Arabs are bloodthirstily savages. The 9/11 'Truthers' simply revert to the early racial myth.
The JFK cult has assumptions no less worthy of unpicking. Jack Kennedy was fortunate to die before the 1964 election. The bullet preserved the memory of a charming and glamorous Kennedy, a fallen angel and martyr for American liberalism. It is all too outlandish to believe that the Kennedy administration posed a serious threat to the intelligence sector, the military-industrial complex and the capitalist system in any way. Really the system should work, it's merely an aberration - if only Kennedy hadn't been shot by perpetrator X (take your pick: the Mafia, Castro, Johnson, the CIA, the anti-Castro Cubans, the rogue CIA and so on to infinite regress). It is a reassuring vision for someone who doesn't really believe social change is possible and doesn't really want to pursue it. It reaffirms passivity and so it should. These theories always seem to arise around events which threaten the pretensions of invincible and invulnerable power.
The fact that Kennedy was a Cold War liberal who saw withdrawal from Vietnam as only acceptable after victory - a victory he may have believed would come in 1965 - which puts him on the same wavelength as Lyndon B Johnson and Richard Nixon. He thought it was fine to invade Cuba and snuff out its push towards independence. When the CIA botched the invasion, Kennedy was angry at the prospect of a tarnished record for his time in office. It was the failure of the mission, not the mission itself, which was the problem. Kennedy took responsible publicly, and then fired Allan Dulles. This was when he made his famous remark expressing a willingness to "shatter the CIA into a thousand pieces". Of course, the Emperor would be furious when his minions fuck up what should have been a routine operation (or worse, as they were defeated in the case of the Bay of Pigs).
As for the rest of the record: Kennedy cut taxes for the wealthiest slice of American society, bringing down the New Deal rate of income tax from 90% to 70%; while pouring yet more cash into the war budget and had mostly empty gestures on civil rights. He was a strident anti-Communist who spent his spare moments sketching the uniforms of soldiers. The conservative writer Ira Stoll has reviewed the Kennedy Presidency in time for the 50th year since the Great Man was vanquished. The Stoll thesis is that the Kennedy legacy ought to belong to conservative hagiographers and not their liberal counterparts. It was the bullet that saved the Kennedy myth. If Kennedy had lived we would remember him as an ugly war criminal, the Vietnam war would have robbed him of his angelic innocence and Addison's disease would have done the rest.