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by William H. Benson

November 21, 2002

     In the thirty-nine years since the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the American public has had a difficult time accepting the idea that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone.  The public mind seems to enjoy the thrill and shudder of living in the aftermath of a mystery, that a conspiracy struck down the nation’s President, and that someday the truth will surface.  Some apparently simple events have magnified into something far more complex than first imagined.

     The facts present themselves.  On November 22, 1963, Friday, just after noon, a sniper shot at least three bullets at the President’s car.  Two struck the President: one in the upper back and the other in the back of the head, which killed him.  The third struck Texas Governor John Connelly.

     Within forty-five minutes, a Dallas policeman, J. D. Tippit, tried to detain a suspect for questioning and was shot and killed by same suspect with a revolver.  Minutes later Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested in a nearby movie theater, and was found carrying a revolver.  The spent shell casings found at the Tippit killing were positively identified as those coming from the same revolver Oswald carried.

     Police found a rifle on the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository with Oswald’s palm print on the stock of that rifle.  It had been purchased by Oswald some months ago but under an assumed name.  A bullet (exhibit 399) was recovered, most likely from Governor Connelly’s stretcher, and identified as coming from that same rifle.  Oswald had access to the Depository because he worked there.

     A prosecutor looking at those facts would conclude that he had enough evidence to present a case to a jury and demand “guilty” verdicts for both the murder of the President and of J. D. Tippit.  A statement from Oswald would have cinched it.  However, when questioned by Dallas police, Oswald admitted nothing.  Then, on Sunday noon with the television cameras rolling, Jack Ruby, a local nightclub owner, acting out of grief stepped forward and shot Lee Harvey Oswald.

     President Kennedy was buried at Arlington National Cemetary on Monday, November 25, and  four days later President Johnson established the Warren Commission to sort out the evidence.

     Ten months later the Warren Commission Report and its associated twenty-six volumes of documentation stated that Oswald was a loner, a self-styled Marxist, and a Castro supporter.  He had lived for thirty-two months in Russia, where the authorities there had regarded him as unstable and had kept him under surveillance.  The commission found no evidence that he acted in concert with anybody or any organization, and all historians since have agreed.

     Since the release of the report a flood of books and speakers have countered with a conspiracy theory: that Lee Harvey Oswald was a patsy and part of a scheme devised by either the CIA, the Russians, or the Mafia, and that there was a conspiracy after to suppress the truth.

     After all, there was evidence: the grassy knoll, a white cloud of smoke, Abraham Zapruder’s film, the single bullet theory, and a guy named Garrison in New Orleans, played by Kevin Costner in Oliver Stone’s movie, JFK.  It all added up to conspiracy.  But the facts add up otherwise.

     Some years later Professor John Kaplan, a professor of law at Stanford, said “that the full truth about the assassination will never be known.  This is partly due to the death of Oswald himself. . . . But in many of a nation’s affairs, as in many of an individual’s, truth can never be known, and even the important questions cannot be settled one way or another beyond a reasonable doubt.”

     Now that statement in many ways is a most upsetting statement, and the American people are upset by it, and rightfully so.  Americans want to know the whole truth.  And yet Kaplan said, “It is a sign of maturity to recognize that even the most important of issues often cannot be resolved to a point of absolute certainty.”  In other words, Americans have had to grow up over this issue and give up their dream of a vast conspiracy that killed their favored President and accept the idea that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone.