Despite all the mystery and controversy about Lee Oswald and Russia, one thing that is clear is that his personal interest in socialism, the Marxist dialectic, social and racial justice goes back to his youth and his teenage years. As a teenager, Oswald went so far as to write the Young Socialist League about not only joining but about starting his own branch – an approach he would take a few years later with the Fair Play for Cuba Committee (Greg Parker, “Lee Harvey Oswald’s Cold War”, 263).
Oswald’s social and political views can be seen in books he read and owned and in remarks to his friends over the years. All in all they were as much a part of his personality as his inclination to be opinionated, argumentative and intolerant of things he considered routine, boring or otherwise objectionable (characteristics that surfaced throughout his time in the Marines, especially in interactions with NCOs and officers). Oswald marched to his own cadence, and was never one to follow the crowd – or to take orders readily.
On the other hand, Oswald could make friends and he could be influenced by them. He had a difficult time fitting into public school (who didn’t) but photos also show him acting up as a class clown. He was interested in science to an extent and joined an astronomy club as well as the Civil Air Patrol. And in Russia he made a series of male and female friends, all outside the standard Soviet political context.
His manuscript of his experiences there, written after his return to Texas, records many of those friendships and his admiration for Russians as individuals. It also makes pulls no punches in regard his disdain for political meetings and mandatory lectures. Perhaps most importantly it records his bitter rejection of Soviet internationalism (which he felt was simply a tool of Soviet geopolitics) and of the Communist Party of the United States – which he also felt was nothing more than a Soviet political tool.
Yet after his return, he continued to read Russian publications and literature, to be fascinated by Russian culture, and to champion relationships between average Russian and American citizens. In short, Oswald’s interest in Russia and things Russian appears to have been personal, very possibly an extension of his iconoclastic and contrarian attitudes – and not something overlaid on him by parties unknown at some fixed point in time. In that context his interest in the Russian language, his efforts to learn it and the tools he used to do so are not nearly as mysterious as we might have believed at one time. Perhaps the best exposition of that is in further work by my friend Greg Parker. It deals with Oswald’s language skills and his experience with the language in the Marine Corps – I heartily recommend it:
In contrast, one fundamental mystery that does remain after all these years is the process by which Oswald registered at a college in Switzerland, never appeared there despite an extended paper trail related to his enrollment and (with his family firmly convinced he was off to college) instead of Switzerland, ended up in Moscow.
Even the question of how he learned of Albert Schweitzer College remains in doubt – his enrollment forms all refer back to a Marine officer as his application sponsor. That mystery is addressed, but not resolved, in an extensive work by George Michael Evica, “A Certain Arrogance”. It’s a fascinating yet frustrating read (as the subject was for Evica as well) but well worth a read.
While Evica does not solve the Oswald mystery, he does explore many of the details of the very convoluted and “distance” oriented practices of manipulating individuals employed by the US intelligence community during and in the years following World WAR II.
Oswald’s college experience is also explored, and related documents are presented, on the Education forum and that is worth a read as well.
In the end, there is really little mystery in Lee Oswald deciding he wanted to go to Russia and see its people and politics first hand. The idea very likely was his own, but then personal ideas and interests also leave individuals with contrarian views open to manipulation. How and to what extent that applies to Lee Oswald and Russia remains the unanswered question.
As Oswald’s personal philosophy tended to lean leftward, there is the question of how his flirtation with Marxism may have influenced his alleged resentment of Kennedy. While it’s indeed important to understand the psychological makeup of someone as historically significant as Lee Harvey Oswald, there comes a point in JFK research when being the historian ends and being the amateur psychologist begins. Many researchers can’t seem to help to put their own values on Oswald’s alleged motivations, especially those who support the Warren Commission. Indeed, the magic bullet believers have made it almost a cottage industry, where Oswald’s motivations come from some sort of alleged mental breakdown or feelings of inadequacy.
With JFK’s efforts to end the Cold War, and his rapprochement with Russia, someone who was as leftward leaning as Oswald probably felt anything but hatred for Kennedy. Interestingly, I’ve heard that Oswald’s actual feelings about JFK were quite favorable, in fact, some accounts even say that Oswald had much admiration for JFK.
With all we know of Oswald’s personality and mindset, casting Oswald in the mold of a cold blooded killer just does not fit who he really was.
Actually the WC conducted numerous interviews in which Oswald’s friends or associates stated that he spoke favorably of JFK and his policies – that was one of the major problems with their developing a workable motive for the shooting (which they never really did, largely avoiding that whole issue).
Unfortunately over the years views of Oswald tend to have solidified, from the lone nut amateur psychology speculation you mentioned to the mantra within the JFK community which presents Oswald as not very bright, becoming essentially a puppet to be moved from one task (or mission) to another and simply taking orders along the way – a view that doesn’t align all that well with Oswald’s known propensity towards acting independently and his proven dislike for taking orders, any orders.
At this point I think we need to step back and take another look at Oswald and his ability to develop and pursue his own agendas – acknowledging his blind spots and naivete but giving far more attention to his ability to think for himself and act on his own (stumbling along the way but being something far more than a puppet).
After my own experiences in the service, and after studying Oswald’s actions, he appears to fall somewhere in the middle of the two stereotypes you describe. A person like this would be highly intelligent and rational, but at the same time excessively idealistic and thus subject to being manipulated by clever individuals. Oswald’s naivete was not a foolish one, but rather his idealized view of the world would have made him an easy target for individuals to subtly control and manipulate. A person like this may think that they are acting independently but in reality, they’re being pulled about on an invisible string. The same description could also fit individuals like Richard Case Nagel whom you had once mentioned as having having many things in common with Oswald.
Indeed, in the very first JFK assassination film drama “Executive Action” the Oswald character is shown to be covertly and quietly manipulated by the plotters in being set up to take the blame.
“We’re not employing him”, Burt Lancaster’s character says, “We’re using him”.
I don’t think anyone could have said it better.
I think that is the characterization I would give as well. And we have company in doing so, the CIA officer in charge of propaganda and political action at JMWAVE in 1963 was in the position to review and evaluate the projects in progress using Oswald (and the image he had developed in New Orleans). He supervised the case officers who worked with the DRE group that Oswald had been in contact with that summer.
When asked by his daughter about the assassination she reported that he simply told her she really did not want to know…when she asked about Oswald, his reply was that he was simply a “useful idiot”.
I can but agree. I have always felt the evidence for any intelligence community engagement with Oswald prior to his ‘defection’ to the USSR was unconvincing, and seems to have become less so over time, unlike the 62-63 period.
I think you have hit on the key concept and it has to do with “engagement” which suggests direct contact and some known tasking for Oswald or knowledge on his part. I suspect he was a known quantity in Japan and that he had files in both ONI and CIA/Soviet Branch (for reasons I’ll detail separately one day). Does that mean his Russian inclinations were known and that he was subtly maneuvered, very possibly. ONI and CIA knew about him in Minsk but the way in which he had to be “debriefed” via a manuscript and domestic ops cut out contact suggests the most subtle type of usage.
The big difference in 63, I feel, is that he had done a reset after losing his job and was playing some I Led Three Lives type games in conjunction with his own interests – that led to the creation of a public persona which allowed for his image and identity to be hijacked for sanctioned SAS/WAVE projects and ultimately by rogues in the conspiracy who had a history with him and came to realize his potential as a patsy pointing towards Cuba.