“We only deceive ourselves”

As we mark the 40th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, it’s become an article of faith among many on the Left that the murder was the product of a right-wing conspiracy. The usual suspects– the Mafia, Texas oil men, the CIA or some combination thereof– are almost secondary to the the sacred idea of Conspiracy by Powerful US Interests.

On the surface it would appear that if there was a conspiracy– which I don’t believe– the likeliest suspect would be Fidel Castro. During the Kennedy administration, Castro had been the target of several CIA attempts to overthrow or kill him. Kennedy’s assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, was a politically confused self-proclaimed Marxist and an admirer of Castro. But that would, I suppose, be too obvious. And how could the noble Fidel do such a thing?

Now it turns out that the accusations of CIA involvement– propagated by the late New Orleans district attorney Jim Garrison and sanctified forever by Oliver Stone’s movie “JFK”– were fomented in large part by the CIA’s nemesis, the Soviet KGB.

According to Max Holland— a contributing editor to the left-wing Nation magazine– the KGB planted stories in the pro-Communist press (including an Italian newspaper) suggesting CIA complicity, and Garrison took the bait.

This preposterous allegation of CIA involvement might have faded with time but for a chance encounter in a Havana elevator between the publisher of Garrison’s 1988 memoir and a powerful Hollywood director named Oliver Stone. In “JFK,” Stone reconstructs Jim Garrison’s edifice so painstakingly that 88 minutes into the movie, the KGB disinformation resurfaces. Jim Garrison (Kevin Costner) hands Clay Shaw (Tommy Lee Jones) the Italian newspaper clipping, and the implication is created that Shaw was a “contract agent for the Central Intelligence Agency.” Arguably, Stone’s 1991 movie is the only American feature film made during the Cold War to have, as its very axis, a lie concocted in the KGB’s disinformation factories.

I have no desire to engage in a debate over the mind-boggling array of conspiracy theories that have arisen in last 40 years. But it continues to amaze me how receptive many lefties are when it comes to such theories. Aren’t they really a symptom of despair and defeat? The Left has suffered too many reversals in recent decades, but the causes are usually in plain sight and not– as the conspiracy mongers would have it– the product of secret and sinister machinations.

As Holland notes, quoting an axiom of professional intelligence officers: We are never truly deceived by others; we only deceive ourselves.