Buchanan on Knight

James M. Buchanan says of Frank Knight:

There seems relatively little in this biographical account to suggest the origins of the intense critical spirit. To return to my original question: “Why was Knight so different from his peers?” my hypothesis is that he can be explained, phenomenologically, only through recalling his roots in evangelical Christianity. Only through an early experience of having wrestled with God, the source of the ultimate putative authority, and having at least held his own in the encounter, Frank Knight had no difficulty at all in taking on any or all of the lesser gods, as variously represented in the many small dogmas of science, art, politics, and history. His fascination with theological issues throughout his life can, I think, be explained by his implied acknowledgment that God had proved, indeed, to be the most difficult adversary to be faced. If man can use his own critical intelligence in wrestling God to a draw, why should he cower before any other claim to authority?

From an essay published in The Collected Works of James M. Buchanan, vol. 19, p. 80.


The JFK Assassination, pt. 14: the fundamentals

In my first post on the topic of John Kennedy’s assassination I said the Zapruder film was the “fundamental starting point” of inquiry. At the time I hadn’t seriously studied or at least seriously considered that the film might have been tampered with. It’s possible, and therefore in retrospect I should call that an earlier error on my part. I blame my having watched the Zapruder film many times trying to learn something from it as my first real exposure to this whole topic; for me it was the contingent starting point rather than the fundamental starting point.

Having said that, even before I recognized the error my thinking slowly shifted more towards the testimony of the Parkland Hospital medical staff being the starting point. The film, even if unmodified and even when stabilized, just doesn’t give us the detail we need to be supremely confident. Many people including me think it shows the Big One as coming from the front right, and we have corroborating testimony like that of Officer Hargis, riding his motorcycle to the left of and behind Kennedy, that supports a rear exit wound:

Mr. STERN. Did something happen to you, personally in connection with the shot you have just described?
Mr. HARGIS. You mean about the blood hitting me?
Mr. STERN. Yes.
Mr. HARGIS. Yes: when President Kennedy straightened back up in the car the bullet him in the head, the one that killed him and it seemed like his head exploded, and I was splattered with blood and brain, and kind of a bloody water. It wasn’t really blood. And at that time the Presidential car slowed down. I heard somebody say, “Get going,” or “get going,“—

…but you could make the case that the film does not show a rear exit wound. Anybody who supports the official Lone Gunman explanation implicitly or explicitly does.

Even so, the testimony of the Parkland staff is not enough to convince everybody although I consider it very strong evidence for a rear exit wound and hence no Lone Gunman. To cover both of these points at once I offer this from Gary Aguilar:

In an interview with the HSCA’s Andy Purdy on 11-10-77 Marion Jenkins was said to have expressed that as an anesthesiologist he (Jenkins) “…was positioned at the head of the table so he had one of the closest views of the head wound…believes he was ‘…the only one who knew the extent of the head wound.’) (sic)…Regarding the head wound, Dr. Jenkins said that only one segment of bone was blown out–it was a segment of occipital or temporal bone. He noted that a portion of the cerebellum (lower rear brain) (sic) was hanging out from a hole in the right–rear of the head.” (Emphasis added) (HSCA-V7:286-287) In an interview with the American Medical News published on 11-24-78 Jenkins said, “…(Kennedy) had part of his head blown away and part of his cerebellum was hanging out.”.

Amazingly, in an interview with author Gerald Posner on March 3, 1992, Jenkins’ recollection had changed dramatically. “The description of the cerebellum was my fault,” Jenkins insisted, “When I read my report over I realized there could not be any cerebellum. The autopsy photo, with the rear of the head intact and a protrusion in the parietal region, is the way I remember it. I never did say occipital.” (Gerald Posner, Case Closed”, p. 312) Jenkins has obviously forgotten that in his own note prepared, typed, and signed on the day of the assassination, Jenkins said, “a great laceration on the right side of the head (temporal and occipital) (sic)”, and HSCA’s Purdy reported that Jenkins said “occipital or temporal bone” was blown out.

Aguilar’s piece makes it clear that the overwhelming consensus supports a rear exit wound. Parkland staff, those who received the body only minutes after the shooting—not operating under any assumptions about the source(s) of the shots—were virtually unanimous at the time (with only one bizarre outlier) and most maintained their original positions afterwards. Many at Bethesda also recalled a rear exit wound. Testimony from Bethesda is obviously not unanimous but must be considered less weighty than that from Parkland given that (1) explanatory scenarios were already being formed by investigative authorities and (2) after the conclusion of the autopsy itself the autopsy report went through several revisions offering different conclusions before settling on the one we now have as official.

The Zapruder film may or may not have been tampered with. Admitting this possibility means we need a different starting point. In my estimation the Parkland staff testimony is that starting point. It’s possible for all those doctors and nurses, minutes after the shooting, unconcerned with explaining the wounds, to be mistaken in essentially the same way, but it’s so unlikely as to be excluded from consideration. A rear exit wound ⇒ a shooter in front of Kennedy ⇒ Oswald could not have acted alone (even assuming he acted at all). The conclusion is the same for me as watching the Zapruder film but with less suspicion.

If this is correct the overall task is now much harder. One of the nice things about the Lone Gunman scenario is its simplicity: Oswald was a lone nut communist who shot Kennedy, no other moving parts, case closed. If there’s a conspiracy, resolving it—enough to satisfy our curiosity but never completely—is orders of magnitude more difficult, but it seems that we have no other feasible choice.