Mel Ayton: Review of John McAdams's "JFK Assassination Logic: How to Think About Claims of Conspiracy" (Potomac Books, 2011)
Mel Ayton is author of The JFK Assassination—Dispelling The Myths (2002), A Racial Crime—James Earl Ray and the Assassination of Dr Martin Luther King Jr (2005) and The Forgotten Terrorist—Sirhan Sirhan and the Assassination of Robert F Kennedy (2007). His latest book about racist killer Joseph Paul Franklin, Dark Soul of the South, was published in May 2011. Readers can access his online HNN articles here.
Every now and then a JFK assassination book comes along that bristles with erudition and common sense, providing the reader with rational answers to anomalous pieces of evidence in the case that have been exaggerated beyond belief by bogus historians cashing in on the public’s desire for drama and intrigue.
In the 1970s, Priscilla Johnson McMillan’s Marina and Lee, a book which could be characterized as ‘Marina Oswald’s Memoirs, gave the American public an insight into the mind and character of JFK’s assassin Lee Harvey Oswald, an enigmatic young man who had remained a puzzle to the American people since the November 1963 assassination.
In the 1980s, Jean Davison’s Oswald’s Game gave readers a logical explanation for the assassination: Oswald, a hero-worshipper of Fidel Castro and a wannabe revolutionary, had political motives and he likely acted out of a distorted sense of political idealism.
In the 1990s, Gerald Posner’s Case Closed, a well-written account of the assassination that debunked numerous conspiracy scenarios provided a refreshing antidote to Oliver Stone’s movie about the assassination, JFK. Stone’s largely fictional drama had been released in cinemas in the early 1990s. Its central character was Jim Garrison, the New Orleans District Attorney who accused the CIA of Kennedy’s murder. His false history of the assassination had a corrosive effect on a new generation’s ability to understand this important event in U.S. history. Fortunately, another corrective to the movie came in 1998 with the publication of Patricia Lambert’s excellent book False Witness, which firmly exposed Garrison as a charlatan and a fraud.
Within recent years Vincent Bugliosi’s Reclaiming History, a mammoth 1,600 page book, examined every theory and every conspiracy claim. The former Los Angeles lawyer, who became famous for his prosecution of hippie killer Charles Manson, took the debate about conspiracy allegations a step further by providing a devastating no-nonsense approach to the ridiculous assassination scenarios constructed by conspiracy authors, all of whom, as his book ably demonstrates, deliberately skewed the evidence in the case. His book was a masterwork that decisively marginalized JFK conspiracists.
So at the end of the first decade of the new century the matter appeared to be settled. I, amongst many JFK assassination researchers, would have thought there was nothing more to say on the subject. The above authors provided all the answers to conspiracy allegations to the satisfaction of history.
I was wrong. John McAdams has added to the sum of knowledge about this case and other famous conspiracy theories by writing a book which will help many who have fallen victim to the vast conspiracy literature on the market. His “how to” book challenges readers to look at how conspiracy writers have interpreted the evidence using seriously flawed methods.
McAdams has provided a blueprint for understanding how conspiracy theories arise and how anyone interested in conspiracies should judge the mass of contradictory evidence in the case. Having studied the JFK assassination for the past two decades he has developed a sharp intellectual ability at pointing out the illogical nature of virtually all conspiracy theories and helps the reader to separate the wheat from the chaff in Kennedy assassination literature.
The author’s intent is not to persuade the reader that there is no credible evidence to prove that JFK was assassinated as the result of a conspiracy. Instead, McAdams concentrates on advising the reader how to think about conspiracy theories, especially the JFK assassination. By addressing the logical weaknesses in conspiracy books, he has been able to demonstrate how not to be duped about this important event in American history. For example, McAdams asks the reader to think logically; to stick to the evidence; to stick to common sense. He teaches you how to reach a rational, compelling conclusion based on evidence and reason, not on emotion or conjecture. His work is based not on theory, speculation, rumor, third-hand hearsay, or secondary evidence or opinion (save those of scientifically qualified experts). Instead, he advises the reader to reach a conclusion based on reflecting on the notion of “coincidence,” selectivity in the use of evidence, making an informed choice between contradictory pieces of evidence, and to search for evidence which fits a coherent theory. This advice is central to his didacticism.
Many of the assassination’s elements have become part of American folklore—the so-called “Magic Bullet” (The subject of a recent National Geographic Channel documentary The Lost Bullet), the grassy knoll shooter, the ballistics and medical evidence and the alleged mysterious deaths. McAdams immerses the reader in the fine points of each element then demonstrates to the reader how illogical the conspiracist interpretation really is.
Three of the more interesting expositions in the book address the alleged conspiracy remarks made by FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, the alleged involvement of the CIA in the president’s murder and the repeated and wrongful use of Jack Ruby’s statements to the press and the Warren Commission.
As McAdams demonstrates, Hoover was “clueless” in the first weeks after the assassination. The FBI director had been kept informed about the direction of the FBI’s investigation by his agents on the ground. Inevitably, investigating agents were confronted by contradictory statements made by witnesses at the scene of the assassination and the doctors who attended the president and Governor Connally. The “less than coherent” data that agents collected in the frenetic circumstances of the time was utilized by Hoover when the director passed information about the investigation to President Johnson, Bobby Kennedy and other government leaders. The FBI eventually cleared up the false data, false leads and false witness statements, and its completed report on the assassination became central to the Warren Commission’s own investigation. However, conspiracists simply ignored its contents and instead concentrated on Hoover’s wrong-headed comments as proof of a conspiracy, instead of putting Hoover’s remarks in context as the act of a confused person attempting to grasp what exactly had happened in the hours and days following the assassination.
McAdams also challenges those who believe the FBI was part of a conspiracy by asking, “So just how does somebody who is so confused on so many points direct a cover-up?” In a similar vein, McAdams debunks allegations of CIA involvement in the assassination by demonstrating how the agency mishandled their investigation into Oswald’s nefarious political activities. In telling the story of the CIA’s involvement in Jim Garrison’s 1967/1968 New Orleans investigation, McAdams allows the reader to come to the logical conclusion that bureaucratic bungling, rather than conspiratorial malfeasance, lay at the heart of their efforts.
McAdams, in his chapter “Bogus Quoting: Stripping Context, Misleading Readers,” shows how conspiracy writers have abused the evidence by taking quotes and statements out of context. He demonstrates this no better by making reference to the countless times conspiracists have used Jack Ruby’s published statements to the press and the Warren Commission which make reference to a “conspiracy.” For example, the conspiracist par excellence Mark Lane wrote, “Ruby made it plain that if the commission took him from the Dallas jail and permitted him to testify in Washington, he could tell more there; it was impossible for him to tell the whole truth so long as he was in the jail in Dallas... (Ruby said) ‘I would like to request that I go to Washington and... take all the tests that I have to take. It is very important...Gentlemen, unless you get me to Washington, you can't get a fair shake out of me.’”
However, it is clear from Ruby's Warren Commission testimony that he simply wanted to inform the commissioners of a conspiracy to murder Jews. Earl Warren, the commission's chairman said, “I went down and took Jack Ruby's testimony myself – he wouldn't talk to anybody but me. And he wanted the FBI to give him a lie detector test, and I think the FBI did, and he cleared it all right. I was satisfied myself that he didn't know Oswald, never had heard of him. But the fellow was clearly delusional when I talked to him. He took me aside and he said, ‘Hear those voices, hear those voices’? He thought they were Jewish children and Jewish women who were being put to death in the building there.” Ruby told Earl Warren, Gerald Ford and others, “I am as innocent regarding any conspiracy as any of you gentlemen in the room.” Ruby was actually begging the commission to take him back to Washington so that he could take a polygraph examination and prove that he was telling the truth when he denied any role in a conspiracy.
McAdams divides his book into further chapters dealing with how eyewitnesses and ear witnesses behave, how over-reliance on witness testimony weakens any crime investigation, the use of photographic evidence and how bureaucracies behave. He allows the reader to become a detective who tries to solve an intriguing puzzle. The solution, in each case, involves using intellectual tools and skills.
If those wishing to learn the truth about the JFK assassination (and other bogus conspiratorial hauntings of the American psyche) follow his step-by-step approach in understanding conspiracy claims there may well be a time when a new generation of Americans will be able to once more take control of their own history.
In the opinion of this reviewer John McAdams’ book is the final nail in the coffin of conspiracy theorists who have grabbed the attention of the mainstream media for far too long—mainly because the media understands all too well how the public loves a mystery. If John McAdams’ book is read in conjunction with the excellent books mentioned earlier in this review the JFK assassination will be no mystery at all.
comments powered by Disqus
- Ken Burns on Colbert to promote his new documentary, "The Address"
- UC Santa Barbara History Department featuring a series on the Great Society at 50
- Historians are trying to recover censored texts from World War I poets
- Diane Ravitch blasts the NYT for failing to understand the controversy over Common Core
- Mormon history professors debate atheists in bid to foster greater understanding