On 45th Anniversary of JFK Assassination, Lingering Conspiracies Tarnish History, Professor Says

Historians in the News

Historians should use the 45th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy's assassination as a time to focus on the historical event, while debunking still popular conspiracy theories, says a Purdue University historian.

"Historians have pretty much ignored the assassination as a historical event, and they need to weigh in against the excesses of conspiracy theory as false history," says Michael G. Smith, an associate professor of history who will teach a spring semester course on the Kennedy assassination. "We need to begin to respect the dead rather than distort their memory."

"It might take a new generation of scholars, those born after the 'Baby Boom,' who did not live through the event and who do not have a personal or political stake in President Kennedy's loss, to come to grips with his assassination. We need to mark it as a simple crime, a murder solved and closed, as well as understand it as a complex event that has been manipulated and misread."

Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963. Lee Harvey Oswald was apprehended as the suspect, but he was murdered while in custody. A 10-month investigation, known as the Warren Commission, as well as other government investigations, affirmed that Oswald was the lone assassin, but there are still many conspiracy theories today.

"There are more than a thousand major books and articles devoted to the Kennedy assassination, but hardly any of them are by history professors," Smith says. "High school and college history textbooks, for many years, entertained some of the leading conspiracy theories, and still flirt with them today, oddly enough. My profession has forfeited its responsibility, but this is an opportunity to change that."

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