Good History Takes Time, So Be Patient With the New JFK Documents

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tags: conspiracy theories, JFK, FBI, CIA, National Archives, Lee Harvey Oswald, JFK assassination



Nearly 54 years ago, President John F. Kennedy was fatally shot as his motorcade wound its way through Dallas. Just over an hour later, former U.S. Marine Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested for shooting a police officer, and then found to have assassinated the president. But no trial was ever held, because Oswald himself was murdered by Jack Ruby as he was escorted between jail facilities. The series of incidents shook the nation, led to an immediate inquiry into the events surrounding JFK’s assassination, and ultimately fueled the growth of numerous conspiracy theories.

A series of documents—3,000 never-before-seen documents and 30,000 documents that were partially redacted in the past—were released on Thursday to the public, as ordered by a law passed by Congress 25 years ago and permitted to proceed by President Trump. As the deadline approached, however, Trump did withold some documents after the CIA, FBI and other government agencies argued they might pose a security threat; they were put under 180-day review. And with the flood of new information, and speculation about what was held back, researchers and conspiracy-theorists alike are keen on finding answers to longstanding questions, like how Ruby managed to shoot Oswald when both were surrounded by police officers.

But not so fast, historians say.

“It’s going to be years before anybody can go through all [the documents] and put them in the right context, but by the end of the week I bet there’ll be some people pointing to one document they found saying, ‘This proves such and such,’ when in fact it doesn’t,” says historian Alice George, the author of The Assassination of John F. Kennedy: Political Trauma and American Memory. “You need so much context to be able to analyze a single document out of 5 million documents. It’s not an easy thing to draw conclusions [from].”





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