The JFK pa­pers will be fod­der for con­spir­acy the­o­rists

Rome News-Tribune - - EDITORIALS AND OPINION - From the Chicago Tri­bune

His pres­i­dency was brief — two years, 10 months, two days. Yet the life and mur­der of John Fitzger­ald Kennedy still fas­ci­nate Amer­i­cans 53 years after shots rang out on Dealey Plaza.

Later this month, a trove of se­cret doc­u­ments re­lated to JFK’s as­sas­si­na­tion is slated to be re­leased by the National Ar­chives. What those doc­u­ments re­veal, if any­thing mean­ing­ful, re­mains un­known. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump can block the re­lease, if he chooses, on the grounds of national se­cu­rity. It’s hard to imag­ine any sce­nario in which national se­cu­rity re­mains a con­cern more than five decades later, so we hope the pres­i­dent lets the doc­u­ments emerge. These would be among the last of the gov­ern­ment’s as­sas­si­na­tion files; some tax doc­u­ments and grand jury ma­te­ri­als would re­main un­der seal.

Nev­er­the­less, if Amer­i­cans think the records’ re­lease will once and for all de­bunk the swirl of con­spir­acy the­o­ries — LBJ or­dered it; the mob did it; no, the com­mu­nists were be­hind it — they’re prob­a­bly wrong.

Con­spir­acy the­o­ries re­flect a nat­u­ral hu­man ten­dency to search out in­for­ma­tion that fits our view of the world or that makes sense of the per­plex­ing. “We tend to re­ject in­for­ma­tion or re­ject ev­i­dence that we dis­agree with,” Viren Swami, a psy­chol­ogy pro­fes­sor at Anglia Ruskin Univer­sity in Bri­tain, told National Pub­lic Ra­dio last year. “And we do that for a very sim­ple rea­son. We don’t like it when we feel wrong. … We don’t like think­ing that our view of the world, our per­spec­tive of the world, is in­cor­rect.”

It’s why peo­ple sus­pi­cious of gov­ern­ment cling to the the­ory that 9/11 was not the hand­i­work of al-Qaida but ac­tu­ally an inside job per­pe­trated by the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion. It’s also why some Amer­i­cans in­sist that for­mer Pres­i­dent Barack Obama is not a U.S. cit­i­zen. It’s not a fringe frac­tion of Amer­i­cans that sub­scribes to each of those be­liefs — it’s ac­tu­ally a third of the coun­try’s pop­u­la­tion, ac­cord­ing to Univer­sity of Mi­ami po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tists Joseph Uscin­ski and Joseph Par­ent.

As for JFK and Dal­las, con­spir­acy the­o­ries were more than just a byprod­uct of a be­wil­dered, sad­dened na­tion grop­ing for an­swers. They cre­ated a cot­tage in­dus­try that pro­duced a raft of books and doc­u­men­taries and, of course, “JFK,” Oliver Stone’s fea­ture film take on what hap­pened. There’s profit in con­spir­acy, and it’s easy to see why: An AP-GfK poll in 2013 found that more than half of Amer­i­cans be­lieve Kennedy’s mur­der was a mis­sion con­cocted by mul­ti­ple con­spir­a­tors, while only a fourth thought Lee Har­vey Oswald acted alone.

The in­for­ma­tion up for re­lease now in­cludes more than 3,000 se­cret doc­u­ments. In 1992, Con­gress or­dered that vir­tu­ally all as­sas­si­na­tion doc­u­ments be re­leased within 25 years. That dead­line has ar­rived — and un­less Trump steps in, the National Ar­chives must com­ply by Oct. 26.

JFK schol­ars say they don’t ex­pect any big rev­e­la­tion. One po­ten­tial thread that in­ter­ests them: Oswald’s six-day trip to Mex­ico City, and his vis­its there to the Cuban and Soviet em­bassies, weeks be­fore Kennedy’s mur­der. The pur­pose for the trip re­mains murky, schol­ars say, and the doc­u­ments might shed some light.

But what Amer­ica shouldn’t ex­pect is an end to the con­spir­acy the­o­ries that have sur­rounded JFK and Nov. 22, 1963, for half a cen­tury.


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