CRITICAL THINKING AND THE KENNEDY ASSASSINATION:
A REPLY TO KEN RAHN'S ARTICLE
"TWENTY SIMPLE TRUTHS ABOUT THE JFK ASSASSINATION"
Michael T. Griffith
@All Rights Reserved
According to Ken Rahn, critical thinking will lead one to accept the Warren Commission's conclusions about the JFK assassination, from its lone-gunman scenario to its claims about Jack Ruby. Rahn expresses this view repeatedly at his web site, The Academic JFK Assassination Site. Rahn portrays his approach to the JFK case as academic and says those who reject the lone-gunman theory simply aren't thinking critically and aren't using the academic approach. Rahn devotes a section of his site to the subject of critical thinking and the Kennedy assassination. One of the articles carried in that section is Rahn's "Twenty Simple Truths About the JFK Assassination." Let's examine these alleged simple truths and see if they hold up under scrutiny.
"1. The JFK assassination is only as hard as you make it (by choosing bad evidence and methods). It is easy to make easy. Proof: consistent answers from physical evidence vs. scattered answers from testimony."
There are no "consistent answers" from the physical evidence. For instance, experts are divided over what is shown on the autopsy x-rays. The Clark Panel said the x-rays indicated Kennedy's skull was struck by high-velocity ammunition, but Oswald supposedly used a Mannlicher-Carcano rifle, which even the FBI's Robert Frazier said was a low-velocity weapon. At best, the Carcano is a medium-velocity rifle.
Another example is the Dallas police dictabelt recording. Acoustical experts who were retained by the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) and who were recommended by the Acoustical Society of America studied the tape and concluded, (1) that it was recorded in Dealey Plaza, (2) that it contained four impulses that were caused by gunshots, and (3) that one of those four shots came from the grassy knoll. But a National Research Council panel of the National Academy of Sciences reviewed the work of the HSCA's acoustical experts and claimed they erred and that the tape didn't contain four gunshot impulses. Recently, Dr. D. B. Thomas reviewed both sides and concluded the HSCA's acoustical experts were correct and that the National Research Council's panel erred badly in rejecting the acoustical experts' findings.
As for the eyewitness testimony in the case, a substantial amount of that testimony is very consistent and mutually corroborating, and in some cases the eyewitness testimony is also supported by physical evidence. Rahn and his fellow lone-gunman theorists want to dismiss eyewitness testimony even when several or more eyewitnesses gave the same account or description. For example, all five of the witnesses who saw a man in the sixth-floor sniper's window said the man was wearing a light-colored shirt. Warren Commission apologists doubt this description because Oswald wore a rust-brown shirt to work that day and was seen in that shirt by a policeman less than two minutes after the shots were fired.
"2. You canít prove conclusively that Oswald did it, but you can get close enough to convict him in a two-day trialóEarl Warren."
The American Bar Association held a mock Oswald trial in 1992. The trial ended in a hung jury. Jesse Curry, who was the chief of the Dallas Police Department at the time Kennedy was shot, said in 1969, six years after the assassination,
We don't have any proof that Oswald fired the rifle, and never did. Nobody's yet been able to put him in that building with a gun in his hand. (Dallas Morning News, Nov. 6, 1969, from Jim Marrs, Crossfire, New York: Carroll & Graf, 1990, p. 47)
Curry also said the following:
The physical evidence and eyewitness accounts do not clearly indicate what took place on the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository at the time John F. Kennedy was assassinated. (Secrets from the Sixth Floor Window, edited by Connie Kritzenberg, Tulsa: Under Cover Press, 1994, p. 162)
While appearing on a nationally televised morning talk show following the release of his book Oswald's Tale, lone-gunman theorist Norman Mailer said the case against Oswald was such that he could have gotten Oswald acquitted if he had defended Oswald in a trial (specifically, Mailer said, "I could have gotten him off").
"3. The case against Oswald looks far better when you realize there is no case against anyone else. Proof: a case against anyone else would have been shouted from the rooftops."
Using this logic, one would have to dismiss, or at least ignore, the developments in such famous cases as the Sacco and Vanzetti case and the Charles Lindbergh kidnapping case. The HSCA reinvestigated the Kennedy assassination from 1977-1979 and concluded the Warren Commission failed to adequately investigate the possibility of conspiracy. The commission failed to follow up on leads that pointed to suspects other than Oswald.
The HSCA found evidence that indicated the Mafia was involved in Kennedy's death. In its final report, the select committee said certain powerful organized crime families may have been involved in the assassination. We now know that the HSCA's chief counsel, Professor G. Robert Blakey, strongly believed (and still believes) the Mob played a role in JFK's death. Professor Blakey later said, "The Mob did it. It is an historical truth." Other scholars, including John Davis and Richard Mahoney, have reached a similar conclusion.
"4. The Warren Commission did a great job, even though it wasnít perfect. Proof: no one has changed the WCís answer in 37 years."
This is simply erroneous. The HSCA reinvestigated the case and reached a vastly different conclusion than the Warren Commission reached. The committee concluded Kennedy was probably killed by a conspiracy, that four shots were fired, that one of the shots came from the grassy knoll, and that one of the shots from the rear was fired while the limousine was beneath the oak tree that stood between the sixth-floor window and the limousine. The committee also concluded Jack Ruby's killing of Oswald was not a spontaneous act but quite possibly a hit, that Ruby appeared to have stalked Oswald before he shot him, that Ruby had extensive Mafia ties, and that a shot was fired at Kennedy from the grassy knoll.
Additionally, three members of the Warren Commission itself later rejected the single-bullet theory, which is the very foundation of the commission's lone-shooter scenario. We now know that Warren Commission staffer Wesley Liebeler was quite critical of several of the commission's conclusions. In one memo Liebeler warned the commission that its conclusions about Oswald's marksmanship ability were so weak and contradicted by the commission's own rifle tests that serious people would not take them seriously. Liebeler also warned that Silvia Odio's story about Oswald and some anti-Castro Cubans visiting her apartment was credible, but the commission eventually rejected it anyway, since it didn't want to deal with the troubling implications of Odio's account. When the HSCA took another look at the Odio matter, it found the Warren Commission had relied on bogus evidence to reject Odio's story, and that Odio's account was in fact credible.
"5. Not every little thing can be settled, especially in such a huge investigation that took so much testimony. Proof: even much smaller cases have loose ends as a natural result of testimony."
The problems with the lone-gunman theory are not limited to "little things." They go to the core of the lone-gunman scenario. For example, one problem is that no rifleman has ever duplicated the shooting feat that the Warren Commission claimed Oswald performed. Another problem is the infamous single-bullet theory. As mentioned, even some members of the Warren Commission later rejected the theory. So did the scientist who directed the commission's wound ballistics tests. Several years after the commission issued its report, photos from those tests were finally released. The photos of the test bullets alone prove the commission's wound ballistics tests clearly contradicted the single-bullet theory.
"6. No proof of conspiracy has emerged, even after 37 years of trying. Proof: continued annual meetings; never-ending confusion and controversy."
Polls show that most people reject the lone-gunman theory and believe Kennedy was killed by a conspiracy. One wonders what it would take to "prove" to Rahn that Kennedy was killed by a conspiracy. Rahn and his fellow lone-gunman theorists are of course free to believe as they choose, but it should be noted they constitute a small minority.
"Continued annual meetings, never-ending confusion and controversy"? Rahn apparently believes all is settled in the JFK case, but most researchers don't share this view. Scientific groups hold annual meetings and conferences--does this mean they have no proof of their views? Historical organizations hold annual meetings and conferences--does this mean they have no proof of their views?
As for "confusion," the lone-gunman position has had to undergo some major overhauls over the years. So has the single-bullet theory. One need only read the books by lone-gunman theorists like David Belin, Jim Moore, Gerald Posner, and Norman Mailer to see there is considerable "confusion" in the lone-gunman camp.
"7. The right answer is several times redundant. Proof: wounds, Z-film, rifle, visual ID, bullets, trip home Thursday."
Not one of these items proves Rahn's position to be correct. The wounds are problematic for the lone-gunman theory. So is the Zapruder film. The rifle doesn't prove much either way. What "visual ID"? Howard Brennan's dubious "identification" of Oswald as the man he saw firing from the sixth-floor window? "Bullets"? What "bullets"? There is one bullet and some fragments, and the bullet, CE 399, is hardly proof of the single-assassin scenario. No metal-jacketed bullet in the known history of forensic science has done the damage that CE 399 supposedly did and yet emerged with its lands and grooves intact, with no damage to the nose, with virtually no loss of substance, and with deformation to the base only. And the trip home Thursday proves nothing unless one has decided in advance that Oswald is guilty.
"8. The real story of the assassination is why so many people cling to flawed methodology and its wrong answers. Proof: the Warren Commission got the right answer 36 years ago."
This is sophomoric, circular reasoning. The claim that the Warren Commission "got the right answers" is just that, a claim, so it can hardly be cited as "proof" of the claim that people who believe there was a conspiracy "cling to flawed methodology and its wrong answers." It's again worth noting that Rahn is part of a small minority in the Western world who still believe the Warren Commission's version of the assassination.
"9. Physical evidence holds the keyóall else is worthless, even harmful. Proof: the inherent nature of falsifiable evidence vs. unfalsifiable."
"10. Focus on the physical and all becomes clear. Admit the testimonial and you fall into a morass from which you can never escape. Proof: methods correlate with scatter of answers."
Again, much of the physical evidence supports the conspiracy position. The Zapruder film contains evidence that more than three shots were fired, and that Kennedy and Connally were struck by two separate bullets. Other physical evidence that supports the conspiracy view comes from the shells that were found near the sixth-floor window, from the chip in the curb near where James Tague was standing during the shooting, from the presidential limousine itself, from the autopsy x-rays, from a Dallas police dictabelt recording, from the Joseph Milteer tape, from the x-rays of the test skulls used in the Warren Commission's wound ballistics tests, and from the FBI evidence envelope that proves a fourth shell was found in Dealey Plaza.
When Rahn says "all else" and "the testimonial," he's referring primarily to eyewitness testimony. Rahn is aware that dozens of eyewitness accounts support the conspiracy position. One example is the massive eyewitness evidence that there was a large hole in the back of Kennedy's head. Rahn rejects this evidence, in part because (1) it indicates a shot struck Kennedy's head from the front, and (2) because it indicates the autopsy photos of JFK's head do not accurately depict his head wounds, since those photos show the back of the head to be virtually undamaged and intact. Yet, dozens of witnesses, to include federal agents and trained medical personnel, in three different locations, said they saw a large wound in the right-rear part of President Kennedy's skull. Even the autopsy report says the large head wound extended to the occipital area, which is the rear part of the skull, but no such damage is seen in the autopsy photos.
"11. Working hypotheses and the tentative, stepwise approach are the keys to getting it right."
"12. Working hypotheses are crucial because they let you go with the best available explanation, even if itís not perfect. This is the way we live life outside JFK."
There's not much to argue with here.
"13. The conspiratorial explanation is slowly fading away. Proof: fewer major books and conferences; newsgroups straining for something new but having to focus on ever-smaller details."
This is wishful thinking. Polls show that a growing majority of Americans believe Kennedy was killed by a conspiracy. Recent surveys put the percentage as high as 85-90 percent. In the last ten years alone, several new documentaries presenting evidence of conspiracy have been produced and shown on nationwide television, including on The History Channel. Pro-conspiracy books far outnumber, and outsell, pro-lone-gunman-theory books. Recent scholarly books that argue Kennedy was killed by a conspiracy include Professor Richard Mahoney's book Sons and Brothers: The Days of Jack and Bobby Kennedy and Professor James Fetzer's book Murder in Dealey Plaza: What We Know Now that We Didn't Know Then.
"14. Conspiracists use evidence sloppily because they canít or wonít think straight. Proof: these are the only possible reasons."
This is sophomoric logic, not to mention the fact that it's unscholarly and subjective language. I'm sure Professor Blakey of Notre Dame University would disagree with Rahn's sweeping, dogmatic assessment of how conspiracy theorists use evidence. As mentioned, Professor Blakey believes the evidence of Mafia involvement in Kennedy's death is so persuasive that it's "an historical fact." I'm sure Professor Mahoney would likewise dispute Rahn's claim. What follows is a partial list of other experts and public figures who are on record as believing Kennedy was killed by a conspiracy:
* Dr. Joseph Dolce, an Army wound ballistics expert who played a leading role in the WC's wound ballistics tests.
* The late Senator Richard Schweiker.
* Senator Christopher Dodd, who served on the HSCA when he was a member of the House of Representatives.
* The late Senator Richard Russell, who served on the WC.
* Dr. Roger McCarthy, a ballistics expert with Failure Analysis, which assisted with the American Bar Association's mock Oswald trials in the 1990s.
* Robert MacNeil, formerly of the McNeil-Lehrer News Hour on PBS.
* Ambassador William Atwood, former Special Assistant to the U.S. delegation to the United Nations.
* President Lyndon Johnson. (We now know from the Johnson White House tapes that Johnson rejected the single-bullet theory. We also know from former Johnson aides and associates that privately Johnson said he believed Kennedy was killed by a conspiracy.)
* The late Dr. Milton Helpern, a renowned forensic pathologist and formerly the medical examiner for New York City.
* The late Dr. John Nichols, a forensic pathologist and formerly a professor of pathology at the University of Kansas.
* The late Carlos Hathcock, a Marine sniper who was widely regarded as the greatest sniper of the 20th century.
* The late Evelyn Lincoln, who was Kennedy's White House secretary.
* The late Dr. George Burkley, Kennedy's personal physician.
"15. Conspiracy theories represent predisposition rather than serious rational thinking. Proof: they arose immediately after the assassination and have remained similar ever since, while all else around them has changed."
"16. The conspiracy beat goes on because conspiracists canít face their failed methods and, by inference, their failed world views."
These points are more of Rahn's sophomoric logic and wishful thinking. It is a bold charge to claim that theories other than yours "represent predisposition rather than serious rational thinking" when your view is accepted by only a small minority of the civilized world.
Furthermore, the lone-gunman theory likewise "arose immediately after the assassination."
"17. JFK "research" shows the same two cultures that the rest of American society does."
"18. JFK "research" doesnít progress because itís too closed a society. Proof: the narrow annual meetings and publications; denunciation of anyone who believes the SBT; inbred citations."
"19. Leftists were by far the most vociferous group of voices raised. Proof: count articles in my first two sections."
These claims strike me as just a little weird. Earl Warren, who chaired the Warren Commission, was a diehard liberal. Senator Russell, who served on the commission but who rejected the single-bullet theory, was a staunch conservative. There are plenty of conservatives, as well as evangelical Christians, who don't believe the lone-gunman theory. I'm rather conservative myself, for that matter.
I wonder what "two cultures" Rahn has in mind here. Polls show that only a very small minority of Americans believe in the lone-gunman theory. People from all across the political spectrum believe Kennedy was killed by a conspiracy. In fact, the percentage of Americans who believe Kennedy was killed by Oswald alone is about as small as the percentage who believe O. J. Simpson had nothing to do with the murder of Nicole Simpson and Ron Goldman.
"20. The ARRB was a bust. Proof: no smoking gun found; nothing major emerged, or we would have long since heard of it."
This is an incredible statement to be made by someone who claims to be a serious student of the JFK assassination. The Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB) found a tremendous amount of new, important information on the JFK case. Here are just a few of the things that came from the ARRB's investigation:
* Evidence that the autopsy photos of JFK's brain at the National Archives are not of Kennedy's brain. One ARRB staffer wrote a lengthy memorandum detailing this evidence.
* Evidence that numerous autopsy photos are missing from the official collection of autopsy pictures. Autopsy photographer John Stringer acknowledged to the ARRB that the extant set of autopsy photos is incomplete.
* HSCA medical interview transcripts showing that numerous medical personnel and federal agents who witnessed the autopsy told the HSCA they saw a large wound in the back of President Kennedy's head.
* An FBI evidence envelope (FBI Field Office Dallas 89-43-1A-122) that indicated a fourth bullet shell was found in Dealey Plaza. Although the envelope was empty, the cover indicated it had contained a 7.65 mm rifle shell that had been found in Dealey Plaza after the shooting. The envelope is dated 2 December 1963, so the shell was found sometime between 11/22/63 and 12/2/63. Nothing was known about the discovery of this shell until the FBI evidence envelope was released along with other assassination-related files by order of the ARRB.
* The ARRB located and interviewed one of the photographic technicians who processed photos from JFK's autopsy. Saundra Kay Spencer, as established by chain of evidence documentation, processed the autopsy photos that Secret Service Agent James Fox brought from the autopsy. However, she did not process any black and white photos, only negatives and color positives, and she told the ARRB she did not process any of the autopsy photos now in evidence. She said the current autopsy photos were not the ones she processed. This suggests the black and white autopsy photos were processed elsewhere, and that there were two sets of autopsy photos.
The ARRB also turned up important information relating to Oswald and the CIA and to Oswald's activities in Mexico City, as Professor John Newman documents in his book Oswald and the CIA (New York: Carroll & Graf, 1995). The ARRB found the transcript of a phone call between then-FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover and President Lyndon Johnson in which Hoover told Johnson someone must have been impersonating Oswald in Mexico City.
In addition, the ARRB found new information pertaining to the Jim Garrison case against New Orleans businessman Clay Shaw. Documents released by the ARRB show that Garrison's case against Shaw was not at all groundless. William Davy discusses the new information on the Garrison investigation in his book Let Justice Be Done: New Light on the Jim Garrison Investigation (Reston, VA: Reston Publishing, 1999).
In my opinion, Rahn's supposed twenty simple truths are nothing of the kind. Instead, I think they show Rahn to be one of the most uninformed, biased authors in the JFK research community.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Michael T. Griffith holds a Masterís degree in Theology from The Catholic Distance University, a Graduate Certificate in Ancient and Classical History from American Military University, a Bachelorís degree in Liberal Arts from Excelsior College, and two Associate in Applied Science degrees from the Community College of the Air Force. He also holds an Advanced Certificate of Civil War Studies and a Certificate of Civil War Studies from Carroll College. He is a graduate in Arabic and Hebrew of the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California, and of the U.S. Air Force Technical Training School in San Angelo, Texas. In addition, he has completed Advanced Hebrew programs atHaifa University in Israel and at the Spiro Institute in London, England. He is the author of five books on Mormonism and ancient texts, including How Firm A Foundation, A Ready Reply, and One Lord, One Faith. He is also the author of a book on the JFK assassination titled Compelling Evidence (JFK Lancer, 1996).