IN THE PIVOTAL scene in Oliver Stone's comic-book movie, "JFK," a military man named "X" is sitting on a park bench in Washington and unraveling the plot to kill John F. Kennedy.
The murder, "X" tells Prosecutor Jim Garrison in the film, was masterminded by Pentagon generals and the CIA to scuttle President Kennedy's plans to pull out of Vietnam.
"Don't take my word," says "X." "Do your own work -- your own thinkin'."
Many moviegoers did their own thinkin' and shrugged. Yeah, probably happened that way. Most believers seemed to be young; half of Americans weren't alive when JFK was killed in 1963. Fed on lies of Watergate and Vietnam, the '90s generation easily could swallow the myth that their own government rubbed out a president.
It was swimming against the tide to argue that Mr. Stone's cartoon conspiracy, like his thunderously distorted movie, was preposterous. If all the weirdos, Mafiosos, druggies, generals and CIA types conspired to waste the president (how many? six? 300?), why hadn't one spilled the truth in 29 years?
"We're through the looking glass here, people," Kevin Costner, the wooden actor playing Jim Garrison, told viewers. "White is black and black is white."
OK, the leap through the looking glass was entertaining, transfixing, palatable. After all, two-thirds of Americans think a conspiracy killed President Kennedy.
No wonder "JFK" made Mr. Stone a famous man and grossed $70 million. Never mind that it was a crude, bloody fairy tale. And lousy history.
The danger is that Mr. Stone's clever, paranoid mishmash can be embedded in the national psyche as truth. If a bunch of militaristic cowboys knocked off JFK, well, the coup could be blamed for everything that's gone wrong with America.
Beats living with the brutal, dull possibility that a lone kook named Lee Harvey Oswald shattered history with a homemade rifle.
Will silence-breaking interviews with two Navy pathologists, who performed the autopsy on the president and now denounce Mr. Stone's movie as a hoax, stop the torrent of Kennedy conspiracy theories?
A helluva lot more people saw "JFK" than will read the fine print in the Journal of the American Medical Association, where pathologists James Humes and J. Thorton Boswell ended their 29-year silence.
"I'm tired of being beaten upon by people who are supremely ignorant of the scientific facts of the president's death," said Dr. Humes. He obviously includes Mr. Stone, who theorized in his film that three teams of gunmen fired six shots in Dallas, hitting John Kennedy from the front.
The Navy docs repeat what they told the Warren Commission: The president was hit by two shots fired from behind by a single rifle. They detailed the exit wounds in the front of Mr. Kennedy's throat and head.
"This is a law of physics and it is foolproof," insisted Dr. Humes. "The conspiracy buffs have totally ignored this . . . and everything is hogwash. If we stayed here until hell freezes over, nothing would change it."
They slammed the movie's theory that Pentagon chiefs or the FBI pressured them, tampered with the autopsy or altered President Kennedy's body. "Nobody interfered," said Dr. Humes.
Sound conclusive? In the three-decade-old war between the Conspiracists and Non-Conspiracists, nothing will ever be settled about JFK's murder.
Naturally, Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., ridiculed in the "JFK" film, his Senate campaign nagged by JFK critics, was proud to hear his Warren Commission work "verified and confirmed."
And John Connally, riding in the front seat that day, said the docs supported his memory: "I'm absolutely convinced three shots were fired, two hit Kennedy, one hit me." Governor Connally called the movie "evil."
But there's no chance the testimony of the Navy pathologists will quiet the endless storm of JFK murder skepticism.
Why? Simple: There are automatic bucks to be made from the fascination with JFK's murder. Whole forests have been slashed down to manufacture 600 Kennedy death-plot books. Mark Lane makes a career in the JFK cottage industry. Never mind that a new book by Dr. Charles Crenshaw ("JFK: Conspiracy of Silence"), who claims he was in the operating room, was savaged by the pathologists.
"This presentation was cooked. It's a lie! Kennedy was overthrown. He was killed in a conspiracy," shouted Harrison Edward Livingstone of Baltimore, author of "High Treason 2," after the doctors' press conference Tuesday.
So it goes. Even the move led by Sen. David Boren, D-Okla., and Rep. Louis Stokes, D-Ohio, to open the million pages of JFK documents in CIA and FBI files won't squelch wide suspicion that JFK's slaying was covered up by feds.
A lurid fantasy like Oliver Stone's -- generals and CIA spooks and mobsters plotting to slay a popular, handsome president -- is a pattern easier to accept than the terrible randomness of a whacko with a mail-order gun.
The idea of a lone, crazed gunman changing history is too cruel, irrational, senseless. Give us a movie. Who needs real life?
Sandy Grady is Washington columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News.