Just in time for Hallowe’en: Lee Harvey Oswald

The bruises may be explained by the fact that Oswald not only murdered President Kennedy, but also a Dallas police office, J.D. Tippett, in a separate incident.

The bruises may be explained by the fact that Oswald not only murdered President Kennedy, but also a Dallas police office, J.D. Tippett, in a separate incident. Under teh circumstances, the Dallas cops showed remarkably professional restraint in bringing him in alive.

We have long believed in the radical, minority-held idea that President John F. Kennedy (whose assassination, and the subsequent events, form some of our earliest memories) was shot by Lee Harvey Oswald, and that nobody put Oswald up to it; he was just a loser with a lot of screwy modalities of thinking. His love for Cuba, and his unrequited love for the Soviet Union, don’t make the case that he was under their control; he always seemed too flaky to be trusted with anything, let alone anything big. Indeed, we’ve often speculated that numbers of KGB and Interior Ministry drones must have soiled themselves when they learned that the guy they’d gotten well and truly sick of during his two years under their scrutiny, had turned up and assassinated the President.

Journalist Peter Savodnik followed Oswald’s trail around Russia and the Ukraine, and talked to people who knew him during his short-lived defection.

Oswald’s Russian foray was a failure, of course. Two-and-a-half years after turning up in Minsk, he and his wife, Marina, and their baby, June, left the Soviet Union. He had hoped to join the revolution, but there was no revolution to join. Long before he arrived, it had been snuffed out by the Gulag, the purges, the war. It had been eclipsed by a new craving for stability and single-family apartments and television sets. He returned to the U.S. in June 1962 more alienated than he had ever been. Seventeen months later, he murdered John F. Kennedy—a national trauma whose 50th anniversary we mark next month.

Today, when we talk about Lee Harvey Oswald, he is usually portrayed as a cog in the detective story surrounding Kennedy’s assassination. … We seem mostly uninterested in the meaning of Oswald and much more concerned with the supposedly dark and clandestine forces behind him.

But a closer look at Oswald’s life—his history, his personality, the relationships he forged, the fragmented political tracts he wrote—makes it abundantly clear that he was capable of killing the president all by himself. ….

[Oswald’s Soviet-period friends and neighbors] offered a powerful window into Oswald’s world. Almost all of them were convinced that the man they had known did not kill President Kennedy, but, taken together, their recollections point to an underlying fury, a logic and cadence that lead, almost ineluctably, to Dealey Plaza, Nov. 22, 1963.

It’s an interesting essay, as you might expect from a writer who uses “ineluctably” confidently and correctly, so we recommend that you Read The Whole Thing™. It’s got quite a few more interesting details, extracted from Savodnik’s new book on Oswald in the USSR, and the excerpt above appears to be the conclusion Savodnik reached. (The book is called The Interloper: Lee Harvey Oswald Inside the Soviet Union). It is one of the last new sets of facts likely to be revealed about Oswald, unless or until the KGB opens their archives, which seems unlikely.

He has interesting points about how the KGB maintained Oswald (as it did other defectors) in a loose surveillance “dome” called a kolpak, with layers of informants and agents keeping him on ice while giving him the illusion of liberty. In time, Oswald became disillusioned with Soviet communism and sought new enthusiasms, just as he became disillusioned with everything in his short, miserable life before and afterwards, and always fell for some new, usually left-wing, idea. After the assassination, his Soviet-era friends got visited:

KGB agents tracked down everyone who had been a part of Oswald’s world, interrogated them, repossessed letters and photographs and issued a very important directive: For the next 25 years, these former Oswald friends were told, you are not to utter the words “Lee Harvey Oswald.” When Sergei Skop, one of Oswald’s co-workers at the factory, asked the KGB what would happen in 25 years, he was informed: “We’ll discuss that then.”

Gotta love a secret policeman with a sense of humor. We think. (“In Soviet Union, joke tells you.”)  Anyway, here’s an Oswald that followers of Alex Jones might find implausible, but that comports with every fact and document known about the man: a miserable, sometimes irrational loser, that even the KGB wanted gone from their country. We’ve ordered the book.

Oswald's Marine rifle score book is one of the items on the block.

Oswald’s Marine rifle score book is one of the items on the block.

In other Oswald news — he always crops up around the anniversary of his act of regicide, the great trauma of the spoilt Baby Boomer generation, and the anniversary coming up is the Silver Jubilee of his Kennedy murder — various effects and artifacts of his, including an Iver Johnson revolver (paging Ian…) are going to be auctioned next Thursday 24 Oct 13. There’s also what appears to be an M3 fighting knife in a homemade sheath, and his wedding ring, which he left behind when he set out to kill the President, and turned up only recently in the estate of a Texas lawyer. Whether the attorney had come into it by fair means or foul is unclear.

A page from Oswald's score book. He never shot this well again, and the auctioneer hints he may have been qualifying with the "M1 Pencil" here.

A page from Oswald’s score book. He never shot this well again, and the auctioneer hints that he may have been qualifying with the “M1 Pencil” here.

The Daily Mail (UK) has a page with some photographs of the artifacts. RR Auction, the auction house, is auctioning a total of 30 Oswald-related items, and 260 other Kennedy- or Kennedy-assassination-related artifacts.

There will always be a market for artifacts of famous criminals, but given our current societal attitudes towards law and celebrity (in which the latter gets you a pass on breaking the former) we find Oswald fandom disturbing. Bid if you want, it’s a free country, but we can’t imagine wanting anything that ever belonged to the only Marine they ever regretted teaching to shoot. We shan’t be bidding.

10 thoughts on “Just in time for Hallowe’en: Lee Harvey Oswald

  1. GBS

    Although Kennedy wasn’t quite the type of Democrat we typically see in high office today, he’s idolized by the Left, and the idea that come crazy Left-winger was solely responsible for his death makes Democrat heads explode. Hence, most of the contemporary conspiracy theories have shadowy Right-wing forces pulling the strings.

    I think the list of people the Marines regret teaching marksmanship is longer than just Oswald, Charles Whitman being an example.

    1. Hognose Post author

      Ultimately guys like Oswald don’t exist along the left-right continuum of normal politics. He was a raving nutter. (In England there was a Monster Raving Loony party that stood in some Parliamentary elections, but I think it died out — in that the one guy behind it, a very bad pop singer, died). Before setting his crosshairs on Kennedy, he schemed to kill General Walker, generally thought of as a right-wing figure. Of course, Walker and Kennedy agreed that Communism ought to be fought, they disagreed about where, when and how; and Oswald thought Communism was wonderful, although he didn’t care for the way it was actually implemented in Russia.

      There’s also this myth in the American Left that Vietnam would never have happened the way it did, had Kennedy not been slain. That seems wishful thinking; it likely would have been similar, or worse. Johnson was, largely, following the advice of his top people in State and Defense, all Kennedy men (most of them barely concealed their contempt for LBJ). Kennedy would likely have followed the advice of the same men, [i]plus[/i] his brother Robert who was not an especially stable or judicious man. Look at the Bay of Pigs for what a Kennedy foreign policy might have been: vacillating, trimming, and inconstant. At least Robert’s hatred for LBJ took him out of the decision-making circle, leaving the wishy-washy Rusk and the overconfident, purblind Macnamara running things. They were bad, but not as bad as an RFK-driven foreign policy would have been.

      Thanks for the comment; good to see you around the blog.

      1. GBS

        Totally agree wrt Kennedy and Vietnam. If you did a “man on the street” Q&A about who escalated the Vietnam War, most would probably answer “Nixon”.

        1. Hognose Post author

          Probably true. I saw a headline that the majority of people interviewed in one city about this month’s government shutdown blamed the President — George W. Bush.

  2. Aesop

    I never found it implausible that a trained ex-Marine sharpshooter could hit a slow-moving target two times out of three from inside 100 yards with a scoped rifle in 8 seconds. It’s not a particularly challenging feat.

    FWIW, his M1 was a SA example made in 1953, give or take.
    Given that it belonged to the USMC, it’s very likely packed in cosmoline, and sitting in a rack in either Barstow or Albany MCLB, next to Spanish American War mess kits and Civil War bayonets.

    1. Y.

      I had my doubts about the assassination, but there is one historian’s website which debunks almost every possible theory pretty easily and proves that had he been a spook plant, CIA would have had to be omniscient or improbably lucky. Oswald is a partially a ‘hundredth idiot’, he got really lucky, in a day when US presidents did not travel like Roman emperors..(http://www.abc.net.au/news/2011-11-16/barack-obama27s-retinue/3666994)

      Personally, I had no problems hitting @50 yards a half-head size stationary target 9/10 with a 4 moa scoped gun, offhand, standing up. Which had a pretty fucking bad trigger – wtf was ‘Walther’ thinking there, seriously.

      With a little training, and a better bolt action, huh. Though, had I been tasked to assassinate someone in a moving car back then, I’d have used an LMG. Or dug a tunnel. Franco’s right-hand man and designated successor ended thusly, blown up by 80 kilos of government explosives stolen by ETA and placed in a tunnel under a road he was likely to drive down. They blew his car right over a building.


  3. Woodsman

    Walking around Daly Plaza some years ago below the book depository and on the grassy knoll generated an eerie, hair stand up on the back of your neck feeling for me. Having watched this on TV that day as a youngster, and then being there on ground zero and imaging what transpired was a very unique evening. One I still remember well.

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