Oswald did it, you know.

Oswald-MugshotLee Harvey Oswald murdered President John F. Kennedy 50 years ago today. Unlike almost any other possible character, he had the means, motive and opportunity. The longstanding conspiracy theories are bunk. I don’t know how many people have claimed the shot was “impossible.” Really? We could do it. You could do it. Range under 100m, scoped (if second-rate) rifle, slow-moving but steadily-moving target. Piece of cake. The difference is, of course, you wouldn’t do it. And we wouldn’t do it. Because we’re not bat guano crazy Communists like Lee Oswald, a guy who was so pro-Soviet he went there to stay, and so pro-Fidelista he tried to go there — and they wouldn’t have him. (We covered some of that last month).

Nonetheless, conspiracy theories thrive. On the 50th anniversary of the murder, one of the first events we personally remember, comes the New York Times and Washington Post to suggest… right-wingers did it. Or enabled it. Or something. Yeah, suuure. David Bernstein at the Voloky Conspiracy lawblog (“Conspiracy,” for the mouth-breathers still obsessed by the JFK whacking, is a cute name for a group blog of libertarian-minded law professors, not a description of what they do there) commits the necessary but futile attempt to straighten out the twenty-something ahistorical lightweights on the papers’ staffs:

This is really amazing to me. The New York Times and the Washington Post each manages to publish a piece on the Kennedy assassination, by two different authors, focusing on what they see as the right-wing extremist environment in Dallas in 1963, and while never saying so directly, implicitly blaming Kennedy’s assassination on that environment.

Look, guys. Lee Harvey Oswald murdered JFK. Oswald was a Communist. Not a small c, “all we are saying is give peace a chance and let’s support Negro civil rights” kind of Communist, but someone so committed to the cause (and so blind to the nature of the USSR) that he actually went to live in the Soviet Union. And when that didn’t work out, Oswald became a great admirer of Castro. He apparently would have gone to live in Cuba before the assassination if the Cubans would have had him. Before assassinating Kennedy, Oswald tried to kill a retired right-wing general. As near as we can tell, he targeted Kennedy in revenge for Kennedy’s anti-Castro actions.

via Remarkable Take on JFK’s Assassination | The Volokh ConspiracyThe Volokh Conspiracy.

The similar tropes in the two articles may be coincidence, or they may be another example of how the left-leaning press tends to work together to coordinate stories and themes. (Remember when all at once the most serious problem in the world was some golf club that didn’t admit women?) Most likely, the “conspiracy” behind the two pieces involved the publicists for the latest conspiracy book, Dallas 1963 by Minutaglio and Davis — the Post article is written by Minutaglio, who argues that the Tea Party, the universal bogeyman of Post readers, did it. This book blames, we are not making this up (although Minutaglio and Davis certainly are), the “climate of hate in Dallas.” The “hate” included a radio program that demeaned and abused Kennedy supporters as — wait for it, it’s really raw and vile — “the mistaken.” O the humanity! Bernstein doesn’t mention the book, so he may not know of it. It’s best described (based on a short examination at a bookstore) as the usual conspiracy drivel, with a buy-it-today slant. Minutaglio and Davis even identify right-wing retired general Edwin Walker, another target of Oswald, as one of the conspirators. But the Times and Post bought their message.

From there, it’s just a short step to ID the real killer: George W. Bush.

Bernstein refers readers to a former professor of his, Brandeis’s Jacob Cohen, who has a timely piece in the upcoming Commentary which is already online. This is absolutely a Read The Whole Thing™ for those of us who are not conspiracy buffs. (The sad fact is, the conspiracy buffs are not educable, for reasons Cohen covers in his class,  “The Idea of Conspiracy in American Culture.”) Cohen on Oswald’s weapon:

Here’s another for the perception-is-reality file. Shortly after the assassination, a Dallas policeman identified the rifle found on the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository, where eyewitnesses had placed a gunman, as a German Mauser. The rifle was actually the one Oswald probably ordered from Klein’s mail-order service in Chicago. It was the one ballistics tests showed had fired all the bullets, or testable portions of bullets, which were recovered. It was an Italian made Mannlicher-Carcano. It was not a Mauser. But why, Corsi fulminates, did the commission ignore the identification of a second gun, or refuse to consider the possibility that the actual murder weapon was the Mauser? After all, someone said it was a Mauser! (The Mauser has never been produced, by the way.)

The  images you’re about to see are all from world.guns.ru for consistency. The first one’s similar to Oswald’s but a 1938 7.35mm version. We’ll see Oswald’s in a moment. But our point is,  the readers of this blog would never mistake a Mannlicher-Carcano…:

Carcano M91 from world-guns-ru

For a Mauser:

Mauser K98k from world-guns-ru

Not even this Mauser (a “Commission” Gew.88), which looks a lot like a Mannlicher because it uses a Mannlicher feed system, but uses some Mauser features and was generally called by Americans in 1963 a “Mauser”:

Mauser Gew 88 from world-guns-ru


For the record, here is Oswald’s gun, in a photo taken in Washington during the 1970s. So the conspiracy theorists will say we went and swapped guns, we suppose. (Sigh).


We’d have used the Warren Commission shot, but the versions we could find are grainy. If there is one artifact in DC that has a good chain of custody, though, this one’s probably it.

But our point is, not everybody’s deeply-enough immersed in the gun culture to see the differences. What are the odds that a Texas cop fifty years ago would misidentify one foreign bolt-action for another? He probably knew US weapons (he was very likely a military veteran, as there had been a nonstop draft since 1940). But he was likely to be familiar with his service revolver, his .22, and the gun he took deer hunting, which was probably a lever-action.

There is a lot of drivel written about the Mannlicher-Carcano, and the conspiracy theorists suggest that the shot was “impossible” with that gun. Most of them, of course, are not shooters. A lot of it seems to be ethnocentric nonsense that has, at its fundament, the concept that Italians are stupid and cowardly and couldn’t or wouldn’t make a serviceable firearm. This would be news to the LRDG and SAS, who liked certain Italian heavy machine guns.

The Mannlicher-Carcano is not the best battle rifle of World War II (that would be the M1), or even of World War I, for it’s not the equal of the Mauser, but it’s equivalent to the more-respected Mosin-Nagant or Lee-Enfield. When adopted in 1891, it had adequate range, accuracy and firepower for an infantry rifle of the day, as defined not just by the Italian Army but by most of the world’s armies. In fact, it had a number of advantages over the gun the US had not yet adopted (Krag-Jorgensen), let alone the Springfield Trapdoors American soldiers were still toting when the Carcanos started coming off the line.

The Italian Army ordnance department was staffed by officers who wanted, mirabile dictu, to arm their forces with good weapons. Sometimes they succeeded, sometimes not, but the differences between the Eurasian bolt-action rifles of the 20th Century are, when they are considered as military weapons, on the margins.

Referring to an overheated conspiracy book by Jerome Corsi (another example of a Harvard PhD indicating less than some might think), Cohen talks ballistics:

The ingenuity of nearly all the conspiracies Corsi rehearses and endorses is similarly breathtaking. Asked for a favorite, I would vote for his explanation for how a bullet that ballistics established was fired from Oswald’s Italian gun—Commission Exhibit 399—found its way to a stretcher in the basement of the Parkland Hospital where Kennedy and the wounded Texas Governor John Connally were taken immediately after the shooting. CE-399 is the sine qua non of the Warren Commission’s thesis that one bullet hit Kennedy first and then Connally, causing some of the damage to Kennedy and all of Connally’s five wounds. The last of those was a shallow flesh wound in his upper thigh. For the thesis to be true, the bullet had to be capable of having broken one of Connally’s ribs, and his wrist, en route to his leg. Every knowledgeable person on all sides of the debate agrees.

Corsi describes the bullet as “pristine,” and also as “almost pristine.” He goes back and forth from one formulation to the other. In either case he stipulates that CE-399 is incapable, given its shape, weight, and metallic content, of breaking Connally’s broken bones and of leaving the lead elements that were extracted from his wrist and chest. I have dealt with and I think resolved this issue twice in articles in Commentary over the years4, so I will not rehearse that demonstration here except to speak of the nature of the would-be conspiracy involving it. Conspiracists believe it had to be placed at Parkland that day to be used as a piece of evidence to support the single-assassin theory—which would not even be formulated for another two months. The bullet was found in the basement of the hospital under Connally’s stretcher. At the time, Connally was upstairs. Kennedy, who was dead at this point, and his stretcher were also upstairs. A neutron-activation analysis of the bullet and the lead extracted from Connally’s wrist, reported by Dr. Vincent Guinn in 1978, established that the lead extracted from Connally almost certainly came specifically from CE-399. Simple logic suggests the bullet fell from Connally’s thigh when he was lying on the stretcher.

“But,” Cohen goes on to note, “simple logic is not in play here.” Indeed. It is remarkable, and amazes us as much as it does Cohen, that conspiracy-minded persons, like Corsi, are capable of protean feats of idea-shifting; as one wacky conspiratorial idea is debunked they latch onto another, without regard for the degree to which it contradicts the idea they held in an anaconda grip mere moments ago. Continue to question the illogic, screwy weighting of facts, and persistence in “facts” that are not any such thing, and the conspiracy theorist soon comes to identify you as one of them — part of the conspiracy yourself!

Welcome. We’ll show you the secret handshake later.

Cohen concludes that conspiracy buffs will always be with us — as will, of course, authors that cash in on them. Bernstein, for his part, concludes by asking conspiracy theorists to keep out of the comments. As you might expect, they fail to heed his request.

After all, Bernstein and Cohen… must be part of the conspiracy. Hey, those are both names that could be Jewish (which we hardly ever see among scholars from Brandeis, right?)…. has anyone blamed the… ?

13 thoughts on “Oswald did it, you know.

  1. Aesop

    Hitting two out of three shots from <75 yards on a slow-moving target with a scoped boltie rifle?

    Child's play, esp. for even a barely adequate Marine-trained sharpshooter.

    The biggest mystery is why people find it so hard to believe the obvious, esp. when everything else requires magical thinking.

  2. Matt

    Stephen Hunter’s last novel was a fun, plausible fictional explanation for what happened. But it’s fiction.

  3. Jim

    I figure that if there was a conspiracy, Oswald played an unknowing part in it. Hoover was known to hate the Kennedys. The FBI had been investigating Oswald. No doubt that Hoover had enough power to influence any investigation. As I understand it, Hoover, with a few discrete words could have simply ordered agents to either ignore Oswald or make him a low priority as far as being a real threat. And the myth about not being able to make those shots with a Carcano have been parroted so many times that the unknowing just accept it as fact. When compared to a Mauser sure, it’s the lesser. But it’s like comparing a Chevy to say, a Porsche. Both will get ya where ya gotta go.

  4. Joe

    Even if it was a difficult shot, nobody seems to be willing to admit that maybe Oswald hitting Kennedy was just dumb luck. Stranger things have happened that have changed the course of history.

    1. RRoy

      I’m surprised no one has taken a group of men with a similar training background, provided them with a similar/ identical weapon, and recorded their efforts to strike a similar target at a similar range and speed. That would put a fair bit of the debate to rest.

        1. Hognose Post author

          Jeepers. Some of the comments! Priceless. Especially the emergence of that hardy perennial, fact-averse conspiracy buffs.

          By the way, the Japanese destroyer skipper who sank the PT109 survived the war and attended the Inauguration as a guest of President Kennedy. No hard feelings. His ship wasn’t so lucky, but due to the circumstances of its sinking in, I believe, 1945, most of the crew survived (it hit a sea mine and took hours to sink). Most of the IJN was sunk, a few surviving ships were taken by the Allies as reparations. In the 1970s, the Japanese tried to get one back as a war memorial but it wasn’t able to (Everybody on the Pacific Rim was still sore at Japan).

  5. GunNut

    Everything about the assassination itself seems airtight to me… but still, why on earth did the relevant authorities let Oswald back into this country?

    … I guess for the same reasons the Boston bombers managed to come into this country and get on welfare. Huh.

    The more things change, the more they stay the same.

    1. GunNut


      The post was intended to refer to perennial government idiocy, and not a long chain of conspiracy theories.

  6. Three-Aught-Six

    And once again… criticism does not become a “conspiracy theory” because Oswald COULD have done it, but because of the “surrounding factors”. Why did the driver stop the car for example once the shooting started. (Most “conspiracy theory-debunkers” don’t even mention his name.) Oswald did it, yeah sure…

    Too bad it was “lefty” JFK and not “straight man” Reagan that was killed that day – the situation would be VERY different now with you people claiming that it was “obviously” a “lefty conspiracy” (“financed by the USSR and/or Cuba”) to kill him…

    1. Hognose Post author

      Who’s “you people?” We say, (1) Oswald did it, almosy certainly alone, and (2) Oswald was a commie. That’s not saying “all commies did it,” let alone “all those people on the left who are not commies did it.” And it’s definitely not the Post and the Times which seem to be saying “people on the right today, most of whom were not even born when Kennedy got whacked, did it.”

      You’re not allowed to make up your own facts here. The Zapruder film, among other things, shows the car never stops. It may slow, but then it speeds up. That’s why conspiracy nut-jobs like you have an elaborate series of lies about the film, too. You do realize you are maligning and falsely accusing SA Bill Greer, who was driving the limo, and SA CLint Hill, who’s the guy who sprints and leaps onto the car (before the fatal shot hits the President) and tries to bundle the First Lady back into the car, of complicity in the murder.

      You miserable coward. Come out from behind your computer, you immature twerp, and we’ll help you swear that charge out against them, and face them (or their memories, as Greer has passed on) in court.

      Clint Hill and three other Secret Service men from the President’s detail have written a book. None of you conspiracy losers have read it, or you’d see the real contempt in which the men who were there hold you.

      Finally, our policy here is this: apart from known special operations personnel, whom we grant the privilege of anonymity, we expect commenters to (1) comport themselves like adults and (2) identify themselves to us and to the world. We enforce this with a light hand and many exceptions, based on the quality of the comments. We made this policy in the first place because a small percentage of the people in the world are low-value trolls. Like you. (Further proof that there was no grand conspiracy is that any grand conspiracy worthy of the name would have fed all you losers to sharks with frickin’ laser beams on their heads).

      Continue to post your spittle-flecked conspiracy lies under anonymity and you’ll be banned here. We hope you liked your bullshit, because it was the last conspiracy bullshit to go up anonymously here. You want to defend your drivel, do it under your own name (NSA knows who you are anyway, pudgy little man) or do it someplace else.

  7. Stefan van der Borght

    G’day Weps, great blog, nearly RTWT and keenly devouring all updates. I saw a series of vids recently that I thought would interest you as a weaponsman. I don’t doubt nearly any competent shooter could reliably hit a human head at 100m, but there are bigger problems to consider than mere accuracy when considering the JFK hit. One major problem is the speed of the shooting. I doubt the world record holder for aimed bolt action (Sgt Snoxall, 1914) could have managed an aimed followup shot from a SMLE in 1.1 seconds, let alone with a war surplus Mannlicher Carcano M91. Mind you, he’d probably have nailed the currency meddling Prez with his first, and not needed the other two shots fired that day. Some might rail at me for being a conspiracy nut. Well, there’s nuts, and there’s also disinformation and misinformation, and folks like me that have heard so much bulldust about the whole thing that they give up on ever getting any clear thoughts on it at all; but the vids are interesting and deserve comment from someone who knows a bit about bangsticks. So, please watch the vids, and we can get to bickering about it after (not that it really makes a difference at this stage, to paraphrase that repulsive oxygen thieving rugmuncher). Here’s the duck’s guts, as we say downunder: https://www.youtube.com/user/Kens167/videos?sort=dd&view=0&shelf_id=1

    Best Regards,


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