Friday, November 22, 2013

Lee Harvey Oswald did it Alone!

The question I’ve asked myself for the last fifty years is probably very much like the question some young man began asking himself in 1865, after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. How could such a loser – such a scumbag in life – have so altered the momentum and movement of history?
by Charlie Leck

Where were you on that day in 1963 – November 22, 1963 – when you first heard that John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the President of the United States of America, had been assassinated in Dallas, Texas? I don’t want to review my answer to the question. I’ve written about it before, here on this blog and in other places. Nevertheless, I will, to a certain degree, revisit some of that day in order to make a few points.

Let me just say that it was a debilitating day, weekend, week for me; and it took many weeks before I could resume anything like a normal life again.

I hadn’t voted in the 1960 election. I wasn’t old enough. I do remember the summer of ’60, leading up to that election. I was back in New Jersey after spending time in the southwest and in the great Midwest. I was uncomfortable in Jersey. My thoughts kept returning to the Midwest and I was anxious to go back there. I’d completed a satisfactory year in college. I liked the quieter, easier pace of Midwestern living.

Back in New Jersey, I worked in a factory days and played town ball a few times a week with a couple of semi-professional baseball teams in the early evenings. Both in the factory and on the ball field the discussion was often about the coming election. Richard Nixon was campaigning hard against John Kennedy. I hadn’t yet established a political stance and I didn’t know much about either of these guys. Kennedy was elegant. Nixon was workman-like. My old man was a Republican. My older brothers wouldn’t talk about the election and gave no indication about what they’d do, but I suspected they’d vote for Nixon.

I worked on an assembly line with another college guy. He was attending Drew University. He wanted to be a reporter. He liked Kennedy. He wanted to stage a mock debate over the lunch hour. He asked me to take the Nixon position. We did it as a lark. He was better prepared than I and he whipped me in every which way in our little, staged dispute; yet, the factory workers, who had happily gathered around us to listen to the debate, cheered and clapped and hooted for me and my positions on Nixon. It told me where my little, rural town in New Jersey stood on this election. My very temporary friend and I laughed about it when we got back on the line. We conceded that neither one of us really knew what we were talking about.

On the day of his inauguration, I became a Kennedy man. Within the first year of his presidency, I became a dedicated Democrat. In the fall of 1963 I enrolled at United Theological Seminary up in the Twin Cities of Minnesota. I was to study theology and prepare for a life as a clergyman in the very liberal United Church of Christ. John F. Kennedy was, at the time of my enrollment, one of the heroes of my life. I wouldn’t miss one of his televised press conferences. He handled the press with great genius, cunning and humor. His sense of humor was clever and dry. I tried to begin developing a similar approach to humor. JFK’s smile was genuine. His love of life was immense. I enjoyed the film clips of him on his sailing yacht, on the golf course, on the beach where he played with his children, and with his knockout-beautiful wife, Jackie. By mid-November, 1963, I was totally a Kennedy man and I was looking forward to the 1964 election campaign.

Then, in an instant, it all came to an end. A classmate came rushing into the lunchroom where many of us were gathered. He told us that the President had been shot. It appeared to be very serious. I had never experienced such a sense of foreboding and sorrow. The heaviness of it nearly crushed me.

The mother-fucking television could not be correct! It couldn’t be! No little, squirrely, know-nothing son-of-a-bitch socialist could possibly bring down this glorious, bright and handsome leader of the free world! NO!

I went to my one o’clock Old Testament class. Herr Doctor McCallaster stood before us, behind his lectern. He suggested we all sit silently and pray and meditate. After ten minutes, or so, someone knocked on the door and then opened it slightly. The messenger spoke in hushed words with the professor. He returned to his lectern to tell us that the President was dead. He began to speak in tones so tender and compassionate. I don’t remember what he said, but, whatever it was, it had healing qualities. Somehow he related it all to the great stories of the Old Testament, but nothing, in the end, really made sense.

Nothing would make sense to me for weeks. I knew that millions of people were feeling exactly the way I felt in these days following John Kennedy’s death. I was as low as I had ever been or ever would be in my entire life. I sat glued to the television for the funeral and burial. I remember the John-John salute to his father so clearly that it is as if it were yesterday. I cried like a baby and the pain and agony of the moment were overwhelming.

I was both stuck in desperate despair and terribly, terribly angry. Who was this miserable son-of-a-bitch who could do this to our nation? How could it happen?

Robert Stone, in the NY Review of Books, summed Oswald up brilliantly in his review the Norman Mailer’s book about the assassin [Oswald’s Tale].

Lee Harvey Oswald, as he appears in Oswald’s Tale, was a loser’s loser whose chance of fame would always be proportional to his willingness to self-destruct. He would never prove a lover or a hero; his options were only shades of villainy, something which he naturally failed to understand. In the Marine Corps, he was just another one of those mouthy sea lawyers full of pseudo-intellectual yammer about their far-out politics, one of the revolutionaries who would go to Russia when they got out. The difference between Oswald and the rest was that he actually went. And then, instead of skulking home when his money ran out, he insisted on staying, even to the point of making a superficial suicidal gesture when he was asked to leave. He was determined to achieve the status of “defector.” This was a man whose only gift was the wit to compound his mistakes exponentially. A man to turn a personal fuck-up into a national disaster and make his problems everybody’s.”

Quite early in his book Mailer, almost regretfully, writes:

“It is virtually not assimilable to our reason that a small lonely man felled a giant in the midst of his limousines, his legions, his throng, and his security. If such a non-entity destroyed the leader of the most powerful nation on earth, then a world of disproportion engulfs us, and we live in a universe that is absurd. So the question reduces itself to some degree: If we should decide that Oswald killed Kennedy by himself, let us at least try to comprehend whether he was an assassin with a vision or a killer without one.”

Vincent Bugliosi, a successful prosecutor (Charles Manson) and an immensely successful writer [Helter Skelter] of the most successful crime book in publishing history (over 7 million copies sold), has an interesting take on Oswald. He talks about the man’s great desire to do this awful deed without help, with no support, as a way of showing up the American system for which he (Oswald) had absolutely no love.

Bugliosi also talks about Oswald’s great love for Fidel Castro. And, one must remember that Oswald was a declared communist. He had early defected to the Soviet Union. He wasn’t very welcome there during the short time he lived there, but it was clear that this was Oswald’s chosen political mode. Then one must remember that shortly before his assassination, Kennedy made an appearance in Miami and spoke forcefully to the Cuban people and urged them to rise up against the dictator. It angered Oswald to no end. This has been established by entries in Oswald’s journals and in interviews with his widow, Marina.

However, I think it is Norman Mailer [Oswald’s Tale] who catches the reasons for Oswald’s actions better than anyone else who has written about this strange and very insignificant little man: “It was the logic of his life!” Kennedy represented everything and everyone who Oswald hated. If he could bring down the man on his own, with no help and no support, it would be his crowning and defining achievement. It would be worth whatever happened to him as a result.

Indeed, Lee Harvey Oswald was “a loser’s loser.”

The odds that he could succeed that day were overwhelmingly slim. Nevertheless, the meaningless little prick was able to do it against all those odds. Because there were so many impossibilities in the story of this assassination, it would quickly birth all kinds of conspiratorial tales. It is almost, even now – fifty years later – impossible to accept that one low-down, slimy, and miserable little, nearly meaningless man could have done this.

In fact, he did! He did it fifty years ago today and there are some of us who have quite literally never gotten over it.


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1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this post, I was looking for the Robert Stone quote and found it here. I enjoyed reading it. - Ken