Was there a conspiracy to murder President John F. Kennedy? The new Oliver Stone movie -- "JFK" -- argues that there was, involving the Secret Service, the CIA, the FBI, the military-industrial complex and just about every other element of the 1960s establishment. Why did they want to kill President Kennedy? Because he had decided to turn soft on communism in his second term, pull out of Vietnam, ease up on Fidel Castro, make friends with Nikita Khrushchev -- in other words, throw the Cold War.
The cold, hard fact is, there is no credible evidence of such a conspiracy. There is not even any credible evidence President Kennedy, a dedicated cold warrior, was inclined to change his foreign policy so drastically. The theories that Mr. Stone offers have already been examined and rejected -- in some cases ridiculed -- in numerous forums. The movie's prime source is a book by former New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison, who took his case to a jury in a courtroom, which quickly rejected it in its entirety.
A generation that will be introduced to the events by the movie and a generation that may have forgotten the investigations of the past need to be reminded of a couple of things.
* The President's Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy ("the Warren Commission") conducted the most thorough murder investigation in American history. It made public an 888-page report, plus 26 volumes of exhibits and testimony. The report said the commission "found no evidence" of a conspiracy involving Lee Harvey Oswald, whom it identified as the assassin, and concluded "on the basis of the evidence before it" that "Oswald acted alone."
* That careful language left open the possibility that there could be evidence of a conspiracy and of other gunmen not discovered in 1964. In 1977 a special House of Representatives committee re-opened the case. It was led by conspiracy theorists. After a lengthy investigation, they could conclude only that President Kennedy "probably [our italics] was assassinated as a result of a conspiracy"; the committee could not identify any elements of the conspiracy and ruled out all the usual suspects, including the CIA. Several committee members dissented from even this weak accusation, calling it a "rush to conspiratorial conclusion."
Sun movie critic Stephen Hunter calls "JFK" "a rush to bad judgment." Does it matter? It's only a movie. Yes, it matters because a lot more Americans will see the movie than read the Warren Commission book or the House committee report or news reports on Jim Garrison. It matters because such far-left propaganda as "JFK" de-legitimizes American government and society in much the same way as do the harangues of the extremists of the lunatic right. And it matters because paranoia is a contagious disease when displayed entertainingly on a big screen filled with Kevin Costner and other familiar, famous, believable movie stars.