“There is nothing covered up that will not be exposed and nothing secret that will not be made known.” – Luke 12:2
CBS News, “Walter Cronkite Announces Assassination” (November 22, 1963)
I’m going back in time spinning my records in reverse to try and decode a childhood recollection …Number nine, number nine…
I was watching “Popeye” on our black and white RCA TV and smoke started to rise from the set. The smoke completely enveloped the living room and my mother I had to evacuate our Thorncliffe Park apartment.
In the haze of smoke in the hallway, I could hear the superintendent of the building speaking to my dad. “It was a terrible thing that happened,” he said. I could still hear the television. Before I was pulled away from the doorway I caught a glimpse of the screen through the smoke. What I saw was Walter Cronkite’s face, breaking the news about the President.
What had happened? Dan Rather is probably the first person who watched the 486 frames of Zapruder‘s silent eight-millimeter color home movie of the presidential motorcade. When he narrated the film in his CBS nationwide television coverage, he said the President’s head “went forward with considerable violence,” confirming the official story–that the bullet came from behind, from “the Oswald position.”
Later when the film was publically released, we saw that Kennedy’s head was in fact snapped backwards, introducing the possibility that the shooting was carried out by more than one gunman. This discrepancy has spawned the most conspiracy-ladened debate since the Jews were accused of killing Christ.
The movements of Kennedy’s head, seen frame by frame—analyzed, blown up, reversed—do seem to prove that a shot was fired from in front of the motorcade. Here are frames 311, 313 and 321:
The funny thing about watching reality on film is how easily your perception can be influenced by whatever narrative you have invested in or would rather believe. We still don’t really understand the events of November 22nd, 1963, the forces that produced them and what they really mean.
The Abraham Zapruder Film Closeup
In the fabled 1966 World Cup game between England and West Germany, England was awarded a goal after the ball was seen by the linesmen to have hit the underside of the crossbar then bounce over the goal line and spin out of the net.
When, as a biased England fan, I look at the film footage I clearly believe that it goes over the line. If you are a German supporter you likely prefer to believe the opposite. The rest is the stuff of myth.
FIFA World Cup Final, “England 4 – West Germany 2″ (30 July, 1966)
The imperfections and inadequacies of images like these — captured as they are in time from a particular angle — become part of the narrative of a mythologized event.
In his 1988 novel “Libra,” Don Delillo aptly refers to the source and substance of all the conjecture surrounding Kennedy’s shooting as “six point nine seconds of heat and light.” The heat and light of Zapruder’s film contain the assassination rather than show it with any certainty; it becomes a phantasmagoria.
BobHarris77, “The Undamaged Zapruder Film”
The underpinning of this hysteria and the bigger overriding narrative is the difficulty accepting that the most powerful man in world can be shot by a wing nut in broad daylight while the world watches. The President’s head snaps back instead of snapping forward. That is what our eyes tell us. What conclusion to draw?
The tape of the Rodney King beating was played around the clock on CNN. 90% of Los Angeles residents believed the police used excessive force. Then the almost all-white jury acquitted the officers for lack of sufficient evidence. Perception of even clear cut video evidence can be warped by fear or agenda.
George Holliday, “Video Of Rodney King Beating” (March, 1991)
Humans tend to want to believe there is an order to things. It’s hard to accept that our world is held together by such fragile threads, that our reality can seem so arbitrary. Thankfully most of us are not consumed by revenge fantasies like the zealots who brought down Kennedy or the World Trade towers — those earth-shattering events, both captured on film, and both paradoxically the most cloaked in conspiracy. The more those images are repeated the more incomprehensible they become.
CBS News, “Dan Rather Commenting On Collapse Of WTC7” (11 Sept, 2001)
Chaos theory states that one can never predict with certainty the state of particles, for example, their location or velocity. The Zapruder footage seems to bear this theory out. Don Delillo talks about a chaos version of history and applies it to Kennedy’s death: There is no conclusive version of the assassination but rather numerous multiform forces and sequences of events playing themselves out all at once.
I like Delillo’s chaos theory, but I personally think Oswald did it. Or rather, I agree with J. G. Ballard in “Love and Napalm: Export USA”: “Oswald may have pulled the trigger, but wasn’t it all that hate and violence in America that loaded the gun?” Or maybe it is best summed up by the title of that unfinished Orson Welles film: “It’s All True.”
– Peter Lynch