Perspective: Why We All Need to Believe in the Conspiracy Theory; Today Is the 40th Anniversary of President John F Kennedy's Assassination in Dallas, Texas. Hannah Stephenson Looks at the Moment in History That Remains So Shockingly Fresh in Some Minds

The Birmingham Post (England), November 22, 2003 | Go to article overview

Perspective: Why We All Need to Believe in the Conspiracy Theory; Today Is the 40th Anniversary of President John F Kennedy's Assassination in Dallas, Texas. Hannah Stephenson Looks at the Moment in History That Remains So Shockingly Fresh in Some Minds


Byline: Hannah Stephenson

Sudden deaths of prominent figures have prompted a mass of conspiracy theories which have kept us intrigued for years.

The assassination of President John F Kennedy 40 years ago today has long been the subject of controversy and has sparked a number of different conspiracy theories.

Many have disputed whether Lee Harvey Oswald actually fired the fatal shots from the Texas School Book Depository building, where he worked. As the motorcade passed along Dealey Plaza, the President was shot in the throat, then Governor John Connally was shot in the back. The third and final shot hit Kennedy in the head.

Oswald was arrested and charged 45 minutes later, but was himself gunned down two days afterwards by nightclub owner Jack Ruby.

The Warren Commission, set up one week later, declared after months of investigation that Oswald acted alone. However, many witnesses in Dealey Plaza reported that shots were fired from the grassy knoll and some reported encountering mysterious Secret Service men in Dealey Plaza.

In the three years following the murder of Kennedy and Oswald, 18 material witnesses died -six by gunfire, three in motor accidents, two by suicide, one from a cut throat, one from a karate chop to the neck, three from heart attacks and two from natural causes. A Select Committee looked into the matter but was unable to come to any conclusion.

Some believe that JFK was the victim of an elaborate CIA assassination plot. One of Jack Kennedy's advisers had heard shots coming from a wall overlooking the grassy knoll. However, convinced by the FBI that he had made a mistake, he later changed his testimony.

According to JFK: Remembering Jack, by Christophe Loviny and Vincent Touze (Seuil Chronicle), in 1979, a congressional commission arrived at the opposite conclusion to that of the Warren Commission. It said: 'John F Kennedy was probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy.'

Two of the most suspicious people at Dealey Plaza that day were two men standing near Kennedy when the fatal shots were fired. One held an open umbrella (in the sunshine) while the other stood at the curb and waved his arm into the air. Both the Dallas Police and the Warren Commission ignored these two men throughout their investigation.

Two main theories have arisen concerning the umbrella man. One alleges both men provided signals for the hidden gunman, presuming that Kennedy was killed by a co-ordinated crossfire.

The second theory was that the umbrella may have been a dart-firing weapon.

So, why do we need conspiracy theories?

'People need them because if they think events are naturally chaotic and things just happen, they've no control over those events,' says Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology at Lancaster University.

'They would rather think there was a systematic explanation for what is a random accident or chaotic event. Then they have some understanding of the world.

'If somebody like John F Kennedy is assassinated by a madman the public perception is that there are a lot of madmen out there killing lots of people and it makes them feel vulnerable.

'If there's a conspiracy, whether it's a group of right wing extremists or the Russians, at least you can focus on the source of it. You may not like the consequences of the act but you feel personally safer because you feel that at least they are not after you.'

People need to blame someone for atrocities in society, he continues.

'We need to get rid of our anger and frustration at the event that occurred. …

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Perspective: Why We All Need to Believe in the Conspiracy Theory; Today Is the 40th Anniversary of President John F Kennedy's Assassination in Dallas, Texas. Hannah Stephenson Looks at the Moment in History That Remains So Shockingly Fresh in Some Minds
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