Few events in American history have been as impactful as the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963, in Dallas, Texas. The occasion was “seared into memories for a lifetime ” for anyone who was alive to hear of it. Just a week after it occurred, President Lyndon B. Johnson, who was sworn into office not long after President Kennedy was pronounced dead, appointed Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Earl Warren as the Chairman of the Commission to investigate Kennedy’s death, via Executive Order. After nearly ten months of investigation, the Commission presented its report to President Johnson, which stated Lee Harvey Oswald assassinated Kennedy, acting on his own.
Since its release, conspiracy theories and controversy have swirled around its findings. While the reasons doubters question the report are varied, Gerald D. McKnight gives an excellent representation of a common argument against the conclusion: the Warren Commission was designed to cover up the true events surrounding Kennedy’s assassination, which was planned by the CIA as the impetus for a planned war with Cuba. McKnight supports his opinion with a number of facts and interpretations of events. His main focus is split between attacking the theory that the first bullet fired at the President injured him and Texas Governor John Connally, and calling attention to Oswald’s alleged ties to the CIA.
In explaining the wounding of Connolly and the initial injury to Kennedy, the Commission report relates that “the same bullet probably passed through both men.” McKnight dismisses this idea as impossible, citing the fact that the bullet found to have caused Connally’s injuries was largely intact, which seems unlikely if, as the Warren Commission contends, it “passed through JFK’s neck [and] impacted Connally’s fifth rib,” exited Connally’s chest and damaged his wrist before embedding itself in his leg. McKnight states that evaluation by experts regarding the condition of the bullet was ignored.
Another fact McKnight uses to support his position is Commission member Senator Richard Russell’s strong disagreement with the Commission regarding the “single bullet” theory. He describes that Russell was so dismayed by the Commission’s intent to report the “single bullet” as fact that he “suddenly bolted” to his retreat in Georgia. He states Russell forced a special meeting of the Commission to criticize the theory, but that his arguments did not sway the members, as the theory was “essential to the report’s single-assassin conclusion.” Basically, McKnight relates, the conclusion had been decided upon and the facts were massaged to support that conclusion. Russell’s disbelief in the theory is given serious weight by McKnight since he was privy to all evidence the Commission considered. These facts support McKnight’s opinion that separate bullets initially injured the President and the Governor, and so there had to have been a second shooter, necessitating the acknowledgment of a conspiracy.
Another conclusion the report started with and bent the facts to fit, contends McKnight, is that Oswald, a former Marine who lived in Dallas, acted alone, due to his own political beliefs and psychosis. McKnight charges this is not true and uses Oswald’s alleged Central Intelligence Agency ties as part of his proof and to support his assertion that the CIA wanted to blame the assassination on Fidel Castro, the leader of Cuba, to justify an invasion of the island nation. He relates the fact that Oswald may have been associated with the CIA was purposefully withheld from the Commission.
This Oswald-CIA connection is popular among conspiracy theorists. In fact, John Newman, in his 1995 book Oswald and the CIA, related the CIA had an “Operational Intelligence Interest” in Oswald, due to the fact that he married a citizen of the Soviet Union and that he had extensive experience living there. Newman’s book, in making the Oswald-CIA connection, dovetails with McKnight’s assertion that the CIA was involved in Kennedy’s death by using Oswald as a pawn.
McKnight attempts to overcome resistance to the idea that the CIA could be so intractably wed to a course of action that it could conceive of the assassination of its own President by detailing an earlier plot to stir up anti-Cuba feeling in the United States. According to McKnight, the plot, called Operation Northwoods, called for the manufacturing of a number of attacks on Americans, at the American base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, by sinking an American ship in Guantanamo Bay, and even by a campaign of attacks on American citizens in Miami, Florida and Washington, D.C. According to McKnight, that plot was abandoned, but it illustrates how serious the CIA was about building support for a war in Cuba. It is perfectly reasonable, contends McKnight, that the CIA could work through Oswald to assassinate the President and keep the dirty work at arms-length.
This alleged CIA connection and the physics of bullets moving at high velocity have been staples of conspiracy theories regarding President Kennedy’s death for the past fifty years. It is interesting that there are so many seemingly unanswered questions regarding an event of which there is video, and into which so much investigation has been conducted. What is certain is that we will likely never know all of the facts. Just as certain is the fact that conspiracy theorists continue to examine and parse facts and evidence. Mr. McKnight’s Breach of Trust will ever be an excellent reputation of some of their most dear arguments.
McKnight, Gerald. Breach of trust: how the Warren Commission failed the nation and why. Lawrence, Kansas: University Press of Kansas, 2005.
Newman, John M. Oswald and the CIA. New York: Carroll & Graf, 1995.
Report of the Warren Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy. 1st ed. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1964.
Trost, Cathy, and Susan Lewis Bennett. President Kennedy has been shot: experience the moment-to-moment account of the four days that changed America. Naperville, Ill.: Sourcebooks Mediafusion, 2003.
Urschel, Joe. “Foreword.” President Kennedy has been shot: experience the moment-to-moment account of the four days that changed America. Naperville, Ill.: Sourcebooks Mediafusion, 2003.