JFK Assassination Logic: How to Think About Claims of Conspiracy
By John McAdams
Potomac Books. 308 pp. $27.50
By Kenneth Scearce
For nearly half a century, JFK conspiracy theorists and their lone-gunman adversaries have thrust and parried in an unending duel of words, piling up a Mt. Everest of analysis alternating with invective. Dozens of television programs, thousands of articles, pamphlets, and books, and (more recently) terabytes of online debates have painstakingly reconstructed, and just as quickly deconstructed, all imaginable aspects, from the tiniest details up to unified field theories that attempt to explain everything about the assassination.
As a result, each successive opus, essay, rant—indeed, each additional word on this subject— confronts an increasingly heavy burden of justifying its utility (or ought to). Marquette University professor John McAdams’s book, JFK Assassination Logic: How to Think About Claims of Conspiracy proposes that a larger meaning can yet be derived from study of the assassination; that is, it can serve as a template for exposing the illogic, self-delusion, and charlatanry of Truthers, Birthers, or whatever the conspiracy theory de jour is.
McAdams begins by rounding up the usual suspects behind JFK conspiracy theory-thinking: beguilement with eyewitnesses who seemingly contradict the forensic and photographic evidence; selective and misleading quotations; narrow-mindedness and ineptitude in attempting to interpret evidence; abandonment of common sense for grandiosity; reflexive prejudice against “hard” evidence that points to a non-conspiratorial explanation; kitchen sink “theories of everything” that require a conspiratorial cast of thousands; mistaking bureaucratic clueless-ness for unwitting revelation of the “secret” truth. With careful reasoning and more than a dose of sass, McAdams picks apart the leading conspiracy explanations, generalizing to show common threads of illogic and mendacity. To rescue oneself from the conspiracy theorists’ thicket of misinterpretation and paranoia, suggests McAdams, one need merely think through the implications of conspiratorial “factoids” with cool-headed reason. Time and again the implausibility of the theory at issue becomes apparent.
It is not unhelpful to have a Cliff’s Notes-style synopsis of the main currents of conspiratorial thought. And McAdams’ engaging and sometimes mocking style breathes a measure of life into an otherwise worn subject. We certainly come to understand why this topic fascinates McAdams as a kind of Rosetta stone for historical-political analysis and criticism.