» Extending the Lesson
Trying to Make Sense
of the World
"Presidents Kennedy and Lincoln were elected 100 years apart. Both men were succeeded by Johnsons, who were also born 100 years apart. Their names each contain seven letters. Their successors' names each contain 13 letters. Their assassins' names each contain 15 letters."
(Source: Widely-circulated bit of urban folklore)
Are the preceding lines examples of coincidence? Or do they show something greater? What about the coincidences in the life and actions of Lee Harvey Oswald in the context of the larger world? Why do some people seek to put national tragedies like the Kennedy assassination or the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks into a context of coincidence and conspiracy?
Some answers the students might propose:
- People feel defenseless when something like an assassination or a terrorist attack occurs. They need to think someone or some malevolent force they can combat must be at fault.
- People fear chaos. A conspiracy theory, even if it is wrong, imposes some order.
- People are sometimes skeptical of answers the government provides (for example, in the case of the Kennedy assassination, the Warren Commission report.)
» Lesson Objectives:
- To discuss why events like the assassinations of President Kennedy and the events of Sept. 11, 2001 assume such importance in the U.S.
- To discuss why some people seek to put tragedies like assassinations or terrorist attacks into a context of coincidence and conspiracy
» Materials Needed:
If students have completed the Pre-Viewing and Viewing Activities, their notes might be helpful.
» Time Needed:
One class period
- Pose the question: Why do some people seek to put national tragedies like President Kennedy's assassination or the Sept. 11 attacks into a context of coincidence and conspiracy?
- Instruct students to think of the various issues in the film that experts like author Gerald Posner sought to prove were either unrelated or coincidences. [Note: Teachers might want to point students to the section of FRONTLINE's Web site entitled "Conspiracy: Case For/Case Against," which lays out some of the main conspiracy theories surrounding the JFK assassination. Students might also want to read the transcript of an extended interview with Gerald Posner.]
» Method of Assessment
Students should represent their thoughts on the feelings national tragedies evoke as a painting, poem, or speech.