Posted on | July 26, 2012 | 25 Comments
We have recently been presented with the puzzle of James Holmes, who has been arrested for the massacre that killed 12 people and wounded dozens more at a Colorado movie theatre. You have to shake your head in dismay at reading stories like this:
Holmes was awarded a prestigious grant from the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md. . . .
It gave the graduate student a $26,000 stipend and paid his tuition for the highly competitive neuroscience program at the University of Colorado in Denver. Holmes was one of six neuroscience students at the school to get the grant money.
Then there was the report that Holmes had sent a package to a psychiatry professor detailing his mass-murder plans. At some point, we’ll get the full background on how Holmes went from being a promising science student to being a cold-blooded killer.
Tonight, however, I’m thinking about Lee Harvey Oswald.
A few days ago, I explained my idea for a book about the 15 years in American history from 1948 to 1963, from the re-election of Harry Truman to the assassination of John F. Kennedy. This idea was inspired, as I said, by Robert Bork’s observation that the radical uprising of the 1960s could not have succeeded as swiftly and easily as it did, if the Establishment had not “already been eaten hollow” by liberal beliefs.
Well, what about Lee Harvey Oswald? Wouldn’t Oswald’s life during this era provide some interesting episodes for the narrative history I have in mind? So I went to Amazon and found a 1978 book, Legend: The Secret World of Lee Harvey Oswald, by Edward Jay Epstein.
In 1948, when he was nine years old, Oswald’s mother divorced his stepfather, a divorce that had the effect of drasttically lowering the family’s socio-economic status. By the time he was 15, Oswald became an avowed Marxist, and at age 20 defected to the Soviet Union.
This was a rather extreme manifestation of alienation. What happened? Oswald later said that he became attracted to Marxism after he was handed a Communist Party pamphlet by a woman protesting the execution of Soviet spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. The Rosenbergs were executed in 1953, and Oswald was living in New York at that time, so this seems plausible.
One other interesting tidbit: Oswald’s favorite TV program was I Led Three Lives, based on the story of Herbert Philbrick, who infiltrated the Communist Party for the FBI.
While the Communists were the bad guys and the FBI agent was the good guy in the series — which aired 1953-56 — it would appear that Oswald identified with the villains.
Think about that. And consider something else: Over and over again, those who encountered Oswald described him as “arrogant.”
Oswald was intensely alienated from American society, he was very arrogant, and he identified with his nation’s Communist enemies.
Lee Harvey Oswald is, of course, just one character in a very large historical narrative of an era which preceded the eruption of Sixties radicalism, but he strikes me as a sort of symbolic harbinger.
American have become unfortunately accustomed to tragedies inflicted on innocents by angry, alienated young men. Where did it begin?