Just over a year from now will be the 50th anniversary of the shooting of JFK. I know where I was at the time. I wasn’t - not anywhere for ten years.
Now I’m not a conspiracy nut but for my sins I did once watch the Oliver Stone movie on TV and it was dire rubbish that transfixed me with it’s awfulness. Needless to say I always believed Oswald was a lone nutcase acting in a quixotic manner (just as you’d imagine from a former US Marine who once moved to the Soviet Union and then moved back to the USA). I have tendency to think that people invent conspiracies for things like the shooting of JFK or 9/11 or whatever because these are (or seem) macrohistorical events so they simply can’t be the work of unhinged lunatics. They have to be squeezed into some narrative because of their importance or perceived importance. The Oliver Stone movie is exhibit #1 here. Stone had to square a circle. JFK was his hero but JFK escalated US involvement in Vietnam which doesn’t fit the mythology Stone sees the World through. Hence a whole new mythology of the Military-Industrial complex and Grassy Knolls and all the rest. Others still go on about Diana as well. In Paris the monument to the Resistance is near the Alma tunnel. Diana fans have almost co-opted it with posies and teddys and mawk. Diana was of course more important and braver than all those folks. She once touched someone with AIDS you know?
But let’s look at two other shootings. It is very clear why Pope John-Paul II was shot and by whom and upon who’s say-so and why. But what about Ronald Reagan? He was shot by a nutcase who was stalking Jody Foster. He thought because Ms Foster was a Democrat shooting a Republican Prez would make her love him. Yes, massive historical events can occur from the most weird of motives. Or they can be utterly rational such as the shooting of John Paul II. In the absurd demonology of the USSR no two people ranked higher (or lower?) than Ronnie and J-P II. So taking them out seems rational from their point of view. But it wasn’t the KGB that had Reagan shot and though they did have a crack at the Pope using a Turk as their patsy (via the Bulgarians - the trash-men of the Warsaw Pact - umbrellas and all that*). Here’s an interesting counter-factual. The Pope was very critically wounded and very nearly died. What if he had? Polish Catholics would have been in uproar. Perhaps communism would have collapsed earlier? I said it was a rational act from a certain point of view but no view is a panopticon and the Soviets never counted on the pure raw power of emotion about a martyrdom - not that I wish to get all Obi Kenobi on you over that but you’ve all seen the movie. The Catholics on the other hand have understood that one since time immemorial. Anyway, that is an aside.
So I’m a sceptic and of course some of these conspiracy theories are positively Ptolomaic. Epicycles within epicycles. Kepler writes down three laws and epicycles vanish like mist on a spring morning (after much kicking and moaning). Most things don’t fit neatly with a grand narrative. Some do. Let’s have another example. The IRA was at war with Britain. They tried to kill Margaret Thatcher. Minutes before the bomb in the Brighton Hotel went off Mrs Thatcher was in the bathroom. Her Bedroom was relatively undamaged. The bathroom was totalled. That is the essential tension of history. In the context of their view the IRA killing the British Prime Minister made narrative sense and they came within a whisker of it. If she’d taken a couple of minutes longer in the bathroom they would have done it and that doesn’t fit in narrative sense - perhaps she was merely too tired after a heavy day at conference to clean her teeth and this saved her life. In the context the KGB killing President Reagan made sense too but for whatever reason a total mentalist got there first. Essentially the problem is that the cause of a great many events of significant importance makes sense and many others don’t. Sorting these is the curse of the historian. And the challenge and the fascination of the subject.
So here is a JFK conspiracy I can believe in. Note I don’t say I do but it is not ridiculous. It explains a lot and especially the actions of Jack Ruby. And I am impressed by the author claiming it to be plausible but not almost divinely revealed truth as too many conspiricists claim they have incontrovertible evidence. See anything on David Icke’s website. He believes the Queen is a 7′ tall reptile from outer-space.
Note here the shooting of Reagan isn’t ridiculous because it isn’t a conspiracy of the monumental dimensions some have conjured up and it is so weird it’s in the couldn’t make it up territory. The US Secret Service acknowledged this. Obviously they have plans but this fell very firmly in the Don Rumsfeldt area of “unknown unknowns”. Bolt from the blue territory.
Similarly the leader of the 7/7 bombers in London is mythologised to fit the grand narrative of blow-back. His video testament can (could?) be seen on Youtube. The TV showed the five minutes of “truth” that fitted their pre-existing theory that it was all about Iraq and Afghanistan. The other and more complicated truth is the other forty minutes of his video had nothing to do with British foreign policy. He spent a lot of it lambasting British Muslims for laxity and especially imams entranced by the material riches of the West - four bedroom houses with a Merc on the block-paved drive etc. Of course this is typically austere Salafi behaviour. And is that not the crux of our problems with Islam? The supposed purity of the austere life crashing head-long into oil-riches beyond the dreams of Croesus. Look at bin Laden? The son of a billionaire but frequently photographed playing Saladin on a horse and wearing white flowing robes looking like something from a Fry’s Turkish Delight TV or cinema ad from the ’80s. “Full of Eastern Promise” was the tag-line.
Yes, there are some who take history and twist it knowingly for malevolent purposes for usually utterly extreme socio-economic-politico-religious ends**. But there are many more for whom it is the “sin of stupity” to blame. It is fitting facts into a grand narrative that to those who do this believe in far stronger than mere facts. Because people seem to need grand narratives. Because life making sense is more important than it being true.
I have a feory (he has a feory!!!) that tonight is going to be a good good night. No!!! That is that numptie and alleged Cheryl Cole shagger Wiil.i.am. Anyway history is made up of an attempt to reconcile the random, the bizarre and the individual (for good or ill) with the massive forces - the dialectic (if I dare use the term here) between the individual and the mass). The big battalions or the magic BB if you see what I mean. The WWII battle that fascinates me most is Midway. And this all comes from a TV interview I saw with a USN dive bomber pilot who was one of a squadron of 18 aircraft. All other aircraft in his squadron were lost to Zeroes or AAA but he got back and he’d sunk a carrier. One bomb right in the pickle turned a war that given the USA’s industrial and resources they would have won anyway, eventually. John Keegan (sadly missed) called Midway, “The most stunning and decisive blow in the history of naval warfare.” And that Dauntless pilot, the lads who got the critically damaged Yorktown (in a Kirk/Scotty moment) jury-rigged in 72 hours (not months as estimated) and the PBY captain who discovered the Japanese fleet on a “hunch” and flying on vapour deserve credit for this. As of course does the architect of his own defeat, Admiral Yamamoto (to lose one carrier might be considered a misfortune… to lose four is a catastrophe beyond Oscar) and the architect of victory Admiral Chester W. Nimitz. There is a reason most of the current USN carriers (they have their own ZIP codes!) are the Nimitz Class.
But just imagine. Without the victory at Midway the awesome power of the USA would have defeated Japan… eventually. Eventually would have meant Comrade Joe in the mix. Imagine a Cold War with a divided Japan like a divided Germany. Imagine how the Korean War would have panned out? Imagine a Checkpoint Charlie in Tokyo as well as Berlin?
Macroscopic events influenced (thank God and Chester!) by individuals. That is the essential tension.
*My wife has a Russian degree and spent a year in Moscow. They love Mr Bond over there. The movies are like documentaries to them (or instruction manuals). I mean some KGB/FSB plots are straight from Fleming. Polonium-210? Poisoned umbrellas?
**And no I don’t regard trad conservative or classical liberal as being extreme. They have been made to look extreme because of “the consensus” are intellectually threatened by them.