For just this once, I'm going to play it straight, go with the historical record as it currently stands:
The conspiracy theorists are wrong. Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. He was the lone gunman. He assassinated John Fitzgerald Kennedy fifty years ago today in Dallas, Texas.
Earlier this year, I read Stephen King's work of fiction, 11/22/63, which tracks one man's extraordinary chance to change history when he discovers a portal to the past, which deposits him just a few years before the assassination. With the help of notes made by his predecessor, the man tracks Oswald's whole course. It's fascinating reading. King even goes so far as to suggest the most obvious way a conspiracy might have happened, but still ends up playing it straight, backing away from any real suggestion that it was anything but Oswald's idea. I would suggest that if you read any one book about it this year, this would be it.
The thing about the book is that it sort of demonstrates an eerie, fearful symmetry in the course of Oswald's life. Anyone who knows much about JFK's life should know how much of a prime motivator his father was in his decision to enter politics. If you're not being generous, you could say Joseph Kennedy harassed and bullied his son into public service. And as King depicts it, it was all but exactly the same for Oswald and his overbearing mother.
I would not go so far as to say Oswald was a monster. A horribly misguided idealist, yes, but not a monster. And a guy who was hounded all his life, maybe that above all else. He was swept up in the Cold War era, certainly. He went the full Communist. He became a zealot. He even petitioned for citizenship in the U.S.S.R. after serving in the U.S. military. He took up the Cuba cause. You have the Communist, Soviet, and Cuban connections the conspirarists are always looking for fit snugly in the one figure of Lee Harvey Oswald.
I think he managed to look as innocent as he did, gave all the fuel to the belief that he couldn't have acted alone, or perhaps wasn't guilty at all, because essentially he was the opposite of Kennedy in about every way. He was a guy who tried to do what he felt was right. He might have been wrong in every way, but he made every effort he could.
Even the day of his lasting infamy, the hand of fate seemed to be guiding him. The conspirarists insist that the shots as recorded could not have been achieved by a single shooter. There is still other testimony that he could have at least gotten off all the necessary shots in the allotted amount of time. Let's keep the argument. Suppose he pulled off the impossible. Every other thing he tried Oswald was basically a failure. But put him in the cross-hairs of history, and somehow he pulled it off. He had to. This was his moment. He succeeded in getting his message across. He struck a blow for all his most cherished beliefs.
Now, to be clear, I'm not condoning or exonerating Oswald. I contend that the course of American history shifted for the worse that day. Kennedy remains an idol of mine, flaws and all. He was perhaps the last truly great citizen we've had.
I'm just saying, maybe today we can put some of those old ideas we've been entertaining for fifty years to rest. Lee Harvey Oswald was a very small man. In his head he was much bigger. But the truth was he just wasn't. He never seemed big enough, important enough to have done the deed. But in the fearful symmetry, it's there. Perhaps because he didn't seem big enough is the only reason you need to accept that he did do it. Fates collided that day, an awful mark of destiny.
History may not soon forget either man. In fact, I think we're only starting to know both of them.
Rest in peace, Jack.