Lee Harvey Oswald, lone assassin of US President John F. Kennedy.
REVISIONISM -- CULT OF THE CREDULOUS
Writing about historical events often requires keen vigilance to record the actual truth of events. All too often, the determination to present interpretations which conflict with current popular acceptances is the most critical issue connected with historical research -- the problem of revisionism. Revisionism is a deadly and contagious condition which afflicts some researchers, and its chief characteristic is the need to "reveal" something extraordinary and new to the public. It particulary appeals to credulous folk eager for dramatic revelations, and self-consciously egalitarian youth. These interpetations often cause researchers to radically change their opinion about how and why certain events occurred. Revisionism is not to be confused with research which truthfully enlarges our knowledge and understanding of the causes and effects of history. Legitimate historical research can occasionally discover new evidence that overturns accepted beliefs, and the distinction between that and sensationalism can sometimes be subtle. True revisionism, however, can be clearly identified because its thesis is always shocking in quality and turns an accepted historical happening upside down; black becomes white, and vice versa.
Have you ever noticed the prevalent view that nothing of consequence ever happened the way it was originally explained? Lee HarveyOswald did not kill JFK -- the CIA did. Sirhan did not alone kill RFK; he was a planted 'Manchurian Candidate'. Amelia Earhart did not simply crash her aircraft into the ocean and die; she was shot as a spy by the Japanese. Rudolf Hess was not the person tried at Nuremberg or the one who committed suicide at Spandau in 1987; it was a substitute double, and he was murdered, not a suicide. Napoleon Buonaparte did not die of stomache cancer, he was "murdered by the British."
James Earl Ray did not alone kill Martin Luther King; he was the patsy for some unnamed national conservative conspiracy. Marilyn Monroe did not die of a drug overdose; (you supply the name) murdered her. The same for Elvis; he is now doing undercover work for the DEA.
Although most of these examples are from the 20th Century, wise men throughout the ages have been well aware of this tendency by some to disbelieve the obvious.
Why is this belief in hidden contrarian truths so pervasive? For many members of the public, there seem to be many reasons -- an underlying distrust of anything said by authorities; a need to believe that bad things just do not happen to people in a simple or random manner; and finally, there may just be delight in gossip or sensationalism.
For historians, it is even more complicated. As human beings, they are subject to the other motives, but additionally, the very validity of their field of study rests on their ability to revise. There is a fundamental presumption by some academics and media persons that what is known to have happened did not happen in the generally accepted manner or for the generally accepted reasons. Furthermore, their professional reputations and individual egos are based on their revisions. For instance, any journalist who puts the blame solely on Lee Harvey Oswald for shooting Pres. Kennedy is considered to be hopelessly naive, and any historian who teaches the French Revolution exactly as described in history books is professionally dead.
This drive to radically alter the accepted truth is not the only reason many historians change history. For the most part, revisionism changes facts for cultural or national self-interests.