Fifty years after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, 59 percent of Americans still believe it was the work of a conspiracy. I was once among them. Back in the early 1970s, as a high school senior and college freshman, I read Mark Lane’s Rush to Judgment, Richard Popkin’s The Second Oswald, Penn Jones’ Forgive My Grief, and other tomes, some of them best-sellers, that argued the case for a dark plot.
Then, one day, I looked up the footnotes in those books, most of them leading me to the multivolume hearings of the Warren Commission. I was shocked. The authors had taken witnesses’ statements out of context, distorted them beyond recognition, and in some cases cherry-picked passages that seemed to back their theories while ignoring testimony that didn’t. It was my first brush with intellectual dishonesty.Alas, many of us who used to believe what HWA taught, upon further investigation, were forced to conclude that we had been badly misinformed about many things by HWA and his collaborators.
I found Mr. Kaplan's article quite fascinating. I was particularly impressed with his account of the "magic bullet". The Warren Commission concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald fired all three shots, but the Zapruder film seemed to indicate otherwise. Kaplan now takes up the story.
The inference was inescapable. Either there were at least two gunmen—or Kennedy and Connally were hit by the same bullet. The Warren Report argued the latter. The “single-bullet theory,” as it was called, set off a controversy even among the commissioners. Three of them didn’t buy it. Under political pressure to issue a unanimous report (preferably one reassuring the American public that there was only one gunman and he was dead), the skeptics stifled their dissent, at least publicly; in exchange, the report’s authors toned down their assessment of the single-bullet theory from “compelling” (the first draft’s term) to merely “persuasive.”
That section of the Warren Report drew the most biting attacks. Critics drew diagrams tracing the absurd path that a bullet would have had to travel—a midair turn to the right, followed by a squiggly one to the left—in order to rip through Kennedy’s neck, then into Connally’s ribs and wrist.
For many years, long after I’d rejected most of the conspiracy buffs’ claims, the “magic bullet”—as critics called it—remained the one piece of the Dealey Plaza puzzle that I couldn’t fit into the picture; it was the one dissonant chord that, in certain moods, made me think there might have been two gunmen after all.
Then, in November 2003, on the murder’s 40th anniversary, I watched an ABC News documentary called The Kennedy Assassination: Beyond Conspiracy. In one segment, the producers showed the actual car in which the president and the others had been riding that day. One feature of the car, which I’d never heard or read about before, made my jaw literally drop. The back seat, where JFK rode, was three inches higher than the front seat, where Connally rode. Once that adjustment was made, the line from Oswald’s rifle to Kennedy’s upper back to Connally’s ribcage and wrist appeared absolutely straight. There was no need for a magic bullet.I had heard about this story of the "magic bullet" but I had never heard of this explanation before.