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The 1960s were years of turmoil and rapid change in the US. The decade was marked with a lot of social changes like granting of the civil rights, women rights and an explosion of liberalism. It was also a time when the cold war fears were at their peak and the American public was obsessed with anti-communism feelings and fears. The decade is also notable for the high number of assassinations of leading political figures that occurred, notably that of John F. Kennedy, Martin L. King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy. The three assassinations shook the nation to its core and in their aftermath, a lot of conspiracy theories arose as to what and who was responsible for ending their lives. This paper will focus on the main reasons why conspiracy theories are offered as explanations for the assassinations of the great leaders of the 1960s. Among the main ones are a general loss of trust in the government, communist instigated fears, gaps in official explanations for the assassinations and the need to satisfy the human desire for perfect answers.
To begin with, Americans in the 1960s and onward lost trust in the government. Previous governments enjoyed unquestionable loyalty from the citizens but after revelations of official deceit in the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal in the 1970s, people’s trust in the government was considerably shaken (Campbell, 2008). People came to believe that government official were deceitful and everything coming from the government was not always to be taken as the gospel truth. Furthermore the House of Representatives Select Committee that investigated the assassinations concluded in 1979 that CIA and the FBI withheld crucial information from the Warren Commission or out rightly lied to cover-up their incompetence (Campbell 2008). This further fuelled conspiracy theories. In case of MLK, the African-Americans distrust in the government made them believe the government had a hand in his death.
The 1960s were also a time when communist fears were at their peak. It is no wonder that the death of JFK was carried out by a man that had been trained in the Soviet Union. Martin Luther himself was branded as a communist. Therefore any conspiracy theory that pointed an accusing finger at communism as the cause or reason for a leader’s death gained credibility. The Americans then were living in constant fear of communist (Callan, 2005).
Conspiracy theories have also been fuelled by gaps in the official explanations for the death. To begin with people find the official government explanations very simplistic. They cannot fathom why a man of JFK stature would have died in the hands of little known Oswald. Secondly there is a feeling that the government was too quick in concluding who was responsible and why and in some cases people who would have been thought to be key witnesses were not interviewed at all by the investigating authorities. The complete government report also tended to differ from the statements of witnesses that were present at the time of assassination. It is these statements that have been used to advance conspiracy theories.
Lastly the human nature, when under extreme distress as it were from these deaths, tends to seek for perfect answers to the problems at hand. In such cases, the official explanations become too simplistic (Ayton, 2002). The need to answer the questions of who and why give rise to conspiracy theories. For instance it seems too simplistic to believe that Oswald acted alone in assassinating JFK because of his communist belief. Conspiracy theories come to fill that gap of who and why by showing that there was more than what is said in the official explanations (Holland 2008).