Was Harvey Oswald solely responsible for the assassination of JFK, or was there a second gunman shooting from the ‘grassy knoll’? Did Neil Armstrong take one giant leap for mankind’ on the moon, or was it a hoax by a government desperate to keep up with the Russians? Was 9/11 an inside job? Did the U.S. government have prior knowledge that the attacks were going to occur?
Conspiracy theories have, and continue to shadow some of the largest milestones and tragedies that have marked America’s history books. November this year will mark the 40th anniversary of the assassination of former U.S President John F. Kennedy. This, combined with the conspiracy theories that are still evolving in relation to the Boston Marathon Bombing, seems a fitting time to reflect upon the theories that have enduringly captured the attention and imaginations of citizens both in America and worldwide.
The Assassination of JFK
Shot by two bullets through the head and neck as he was riding in an open limo through Dallas on November 22nd 1963, the death of JFK is a moment that is etched into the hearts and memories of many Americans.
Sniper Harvey Oswald was convicted as the sole perpetrator, however there was a significant proportion of the population who struggled to believe the official reports. Many thought the trajectory of the shot couldn’t have come from Oswald, who was on the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository, but perhaps from a second gunman on the now infamous grassy knoll of Dealey Plaza. Indeed a 2003 ABC News poll found that these doubts have lingered, with 70% of Americans believing Kennedy’s death was the result of a broader plot.
The Moon Landing
Filmmaker and conspiracy theorist, Bart Winfield Sibrel, is perhaps one of the most well-known advocates of the theory that the moon landing never happened. In his 2004 documentary, Astronauts Gone Wild, Sibrel confronts nine Apollo astronauts and asks them to swear on a Bible that their mission and landing hadn’t been a fabrication. To the best of my knowledge, all of them refused.
This might cast doubt in the minds of some, but to be honest, if someone was pestering me as I was going about my day, undermining the proudest and greatest moment in my life, I’d probably be offended and refuse to swear it as well. Buzz Aldrin went so far as to punch him in the face.
For most, the waving flag in the moon landing footage is the smoking gun when it comes to proof that the astronauts were not in space. There is, after all, no wind on the moon. According to NASA, Buzz Aldrin twisted the flagpole to get it into the moon’s soil, causing it to appear as though wind is rustling it.
Not having been alive for the two aforementioned events, it is 9/11 and all of its complexities that most intrigues me. On one end of the scale are the outrageously extreme conspiracies, which have gained momentum via the internet.
Thierry Meyssan is perhaps one of the most well-known of these; a Frenchman who in 2002 published a book entitled 9/11: The Big Lie, selling half a million copies worldwide. Meyssan was a supporter of the idea that a missile – rather than a Boeing airliner – crashed into the Pentagon, and that all of the attacks were an inside job, known to, or even orchestrated by, the government. There are those that believe the towers were brought down by controlled demolitions that had previously been planted. The collapse of Trade Centre Building 7 and President George W. Bush’s lack of immediate reaction upon hearing the news has also cast doubts in the minds of many.
However, multiple leaders in various fields, as well as a plethora of eyewitness accounts have convincingly debunked these various claims. Indeed, the whirlwind of these theories has, as is suggested in The Eleventh Day by Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan (a book I can’t recommend highly enough for those interested), distracted the American and international public from the multiple unanswered questions and contradicting stories that were worthy of further investigation.
Some such questions revolve around a number of bodies, from the CIA and FAA (Federal Aviation Administration), to the United States Government itself. As Summers and Swan note, the FAA “seem to have been at best ineffectual, at worst fatally irresponsible, in the months and years before the attack.” It’s a statement that rings true for multiple governing bodies and intelligence agencies, in terms of security, and the irreverence of key information that, if treated with priority, could have foiled the attacks before the planes even left the ground that morning. The gift of hindsight can sometimes be a cruel one.
The official reports that were given to the American people following the attacks present an organised and efficient response in trying to divert or take down the planes. It has since been revealed that the opposite is true. Breakdowns of communication left many without information until it was too late; fighter jets sent off in the wrong direction; permission to shoot down the passenger planes given by the Vice President, who is not in the Chain of Command. It was essentially an ineffectual scramble that didn’t gain any useful momentum until the Twin Towers had ceased to exist in the New York skyline.
Of course these issues barely scratch the surface of the intricacies that preluded and followed 9/11 – so much so that even in the wake of the 9/11 Commission, many, including past and present U.S. senators; former military; CIA and FBI; and officers have called for further investigations.
The Boston Marathon Bombing
The Boston Bombing was recently brought back into forefront of the public’s mind with Rolling Stone’s recent front cover and feature article on one of the bombers, Dzhokar Tsarnaev.
There are those who believe, due to an alleged lack of evidence and shaky eyewitness testimony, that the Tsarnaev brothers were set up. In particular, theorists have come to the defence of the younger brother Dzhokar. Such theorists claim that photos of him at the crime scene have been photoshopped, and made to look like he wasn’t carrying his backpack when he left the site.
Among other theories is that Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the older, now deceased brother, was an FBI informant, due to him being known as suspicious to the FBI, but not flagged by authorities when he re-entered the U.S. in 2012.
To be sure, it isn’t just Americans who hold fears and doubts about all of the aforementioned events. One Google search on any topic will inundate you with thousands of websites, documentaries and blogs dedicated to uncovering the truth.
Ultimately, at what point do we let the questions and the doubts lay to rest? Should we ever? Will the blurred line of culpability between the neglectful oversights of governments that have resulted in tragedy or deception, and the deception that is wilful, ever be one that can clearly be categorised in black and white?
Perhaps in another 60 or 100 years on from the JFK assassination, once all who might have experienced repercussions from the truth have died or are cloaked with the immunity of age and sickness, the truth will be revealed. Or perhaps we’ll never know; the facts in the history books will always carrying a hint of doubt.