Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Back and to the Left

Yesterday marked the 48th anniversary of the assassination of President Kennedy. (This probably would have been a more appropriate post for yesterday, but I forgot.)

As y'all should know at this point, I am a conspiracy theory fan. I don't believe in too many of them--I think it's too damn hard to keep a secret that is known by more than one person, at any point in history--but I love learning about them. A lot of them fill gaps in knowledge that people have a thirst to know, and so a lot of fanciful conjecture is created with plausible-sounding ideas to help explain the unexplainable.

That said, I've always been slightly uninterested in the JFK assassination. I think part of it was that there were way too many people offering their own explanations, and none of it will ever get verified. (Contrast this to, say, Watergate, where everyone and their brother wrote a book about the thing; I'm still fascinated about it because at some point enough details will be released and unclassified that we'll be able to construct a more accurate model of what happened.) Still, I'm interested enough when I learn something new about it, and I'm always up for a well-constructed book or documentary.

So, each year on the anniversary something new pops up. Sometimes it is new information, though rarely is it more than a morsel of conjecture backed up by some misremembered fact. Sometimes it is a rehashing of something old that people forgot about.

The same was true for this year. For some reason this year's "connection" was the Umbrella Man. None of this is new--we knew all the information about the Umbrella Man since the late 70's. But while most people who follow the assassination know who he is, they may not know what his role was--which, it turns out, is not much.

The Umbrella Man was significant because he was so unusual: it was a sunny day in the upper 60's. There was no need for an umbrella, unless it was to CONCEAL A WEAPON or SIGNAL AN ASSASSIN or SHOOT A POISON DART. Turns out--not so much. The man was heckling Kennedy--he was mocking him for being another Neville Chamberlain, the well-known appeaser to Hitler (and well-known for his signature umbrella). Back then, of course, Kennedy was under fire for appeasing the Soviet Union, so the Umbrella Man thought this would be an easy way to heckle the president in a subtle but flashy way. (In case you think such a reference would be too obscure, Kennedy did his thesis largely about Chamberlain, and even back then Chamberlain's actions were pretty fresh in history.)

The skeptics have a point--umbrellas are well-known assassin tools. But ultimately, it's an anticlimactic answer to a question many were asking.

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