Roger Martens struggles to unravel what really happened in the JFK assassination through a series of provocative labyrinths in an article for Currents Magazine.
Searching Through The Lee Harvey Oswald Labyrinth
Roger had a third cup of coffee. And then got to the task at hand.
Once again, he invoked the “Man in the Maze” from the Pima Indians with its gingerbread figure standing at the doorway. The mythic and mischievous Siuku, who played tricks when he visited, and sometimes burgled your lodge. A figure of Native American myth.
Roger drew freely from Rachel’s biographical notes and Lee’s own writings, where he was faithful to each word, while correcting the many misspellings. He remembered reading that LHO had hoped to write a book, most likely a personal journal mixed with political reflections. And now, he was hoping to recreate Oswald by using his own words, along with a few facts from his history, and selected observations from those who knew him. Not quite the presence of a ghost. But at least the whispers of the once-living man. As he began, this time he embedded the image of Siuku into the article itself.
Echoes of a Soul: Oswald’s Maze with Himself
Like the Pima’s spirit of Siuku, Lee Harvey Oswald has remained mischievously elusive to the eyes of historians and even authors of fiction. The question remains, can he really be seen? Based on most of what’s been written, it would seem that he disappeared from history, or at least from being a meaningful human presence, after being shot by Jack Ruby on November 24, 1963, at the age of 24. But he did keep a kind of journal, which informed much of what you’re about to see here. As you proceed through these six circles, you may begin to feel the breaths behind his words and glimpse the shadows behind his actions.
The Sixth Circle: Biographical Highlights
At the New York Youth House, Lee encountered problems in school at an early age. He wouldn’t salute the flag, and he stated outright that he didn’t like his teachers or his fellow students. Instead he proclaimed, “I like myself.” He was put on probation at the age of twelve with the expectation that his mother get in contact with a child guidance clinic where he could be treated by a male psychiatrist to help address his need for a father figure.
Lee’s attention to the world and its injustices came early in his life. After the family left New York for New Orleans, several white boys beat him up for sitting in the ‘Negro’ portion of a bus. As he grew up, he became an avid reader. He liked Karl Marx. But he also had a fascination with the Marines.
On October 7, 1955, Oswald forged his mother’s name and lied about his age in an unsuccessful attempt to get into the Marine Corps, where he would eventually serve in Atsugi, Japan. In autumn of 1959 he traveled to the USSR. By March 1961, his Russian was so good that Marina, his future wife, mistook him for a Soviet citizen who came from the Baltic region. In June of 1962, he and Marina returned to the United States.
Oswald became outraged by the actions of General Edwin A. Walker. Walker called for ten thousand civilians to march on Oxford Mississippi in violent protest after JFK ordered the National Guard to support African-American James Meredith’s attending the university there. Lee told his friend and CIA liaison George de Mohrenschildt that “America is moving towards fascism.” According to some rumors, on April 10, 1963, he shot at Walker while he was sitting at his desk in his dining room. The bullet struck the wooden frame of his window and missed. The rifle Lee allegedly used, a Mannlicher-Carcano rifle he’d ordered under the alias A. Hidell, would later link him to JFK’s assassination after some contention that it had been planted there falsely.
On July 27, 1963, Oswald was invited by his cousin, Gene Murrett, to give a lecture at the University Jesuit House of Studies in Mobile, Alabama, to more than fifty student priests, all of whom were college graduates taking a four-year course for the priesthood. In a testament to his studies and his interest in the world, he spoke for one hour and ten minutes. The topic was politics, given his insights into both the Soviet Union and America. He championed neither one, but added this comment about the United States: “Americans are apt to scoff at the idea that a military coup in the U.S., as so often happens in Latin American countries, could ever replace our government. But that is an idea that has grounds for consideration.” If it were to happen, Lee suggested that it might arise from a smaller group than the army or navy. He proposed the Marines.
The Fifth Circle: From Death to Life in the Soviet Union
In October of 1959, shortly after his arrival in Russia, Oswald’s request for citizenship was denied, and he believed he would be forced to leave the Soviet Union. In his diary, he reconstructed his attempted suicide with an author’s skill: 7:00 p.m. I decide to end it. Soak wrist in cold water to numb the pain. Then slash my left wrist. Then plunge wrist into bathtub of hot water. I think when Rimma comes at 8 to find me dead, it will be a great shock… Somewhere a violin plays as I watch my life whirl away. I think to myself, “How easy to die,” and “a sweet death…” Rimma Sherikova, his Intourist Representative and liaison, found him at 8:00, screamed, and ran for help. While he was never granted citizenship, his stay was extended.
As Oswald’s nearly three years in the Soviet Union evolved, he would evolve as well, documenting trends, while shifting in his own perspectives. Early in his stay he wrote: Emigration isn’t easy. I don’t recommend it to everyone. It means coming to a new country, always being the outsider, always having to adjust. But to me, my reasons are strong and good. I believe I am doing right.
But as time wore on, he began to recognize many of the limitations of the Soviet system: As my Russian improves, I become increasingly conscious of just what sort of a society I live in. Mass gymnastics, compulsory after-work meetings, usually political information meetings. Compulsory attendance at lectures and the sending of the entire shop collective (except me) to pick potatoes on Sunday… The opinions of the workers (unvoiced) is that it is a great pain in the neck.
In Minsk, Oswald became known as Alik, the name with which he was introduced to a pretty nineteen-year-old named Marina Prusakova at a trade union dance in the Palace of Culture. They were married less than six weeks later on April 30, 1961. The affection that evolved between them is referenced multiple times in Lee’s journal, reflected in statements like: Marina arrives back, radiant, with several jars of preserves for me from her aunt in Khkov.
While in the Soviet Union, Oswald corresponded with his brother, Robert. The following request underscores Lee’s efforts to bring an awareness of America into Russia: If you like, you can send me a football (they only have round ones here). Just deflate it a send it to me like a letter, also, you can pick up diagrams of players in any filling station and send them along… [as] these Russians seem interested in learning how to play, so I thought maybe you could help me out and together we’ll show them a little bit of American sport. In the same letter, Oswald asked for updates to keep himself current on America: In the future if you send me some books, you can send me “Time Magazine” not “Ford Times.”
Before he left the Soviet Union, Oswald’s ability to study and observe cultural and political trends became ever more paramount in his journal. In this case, he zeroed in how the government leveraged movies to promote its own cause: Films carry the propaganda ball where books and newspapers leave off, with 90,872 movie houses in the U.S.S.R. with collective farm clubs bringing the total to 118,000 movie houses; the average number of times a Soviet citizen goes to the movies per year, including men, women, and children, is 16.5 times.
The Fourth Circle: Politics and Society
In June of 1962, Oswald returned to America, where his political and cultural observations continued to develop. Lee wrote the following in notes made on Holland American Line while returning to the U.S.—a short paragraph with unique insight into the difference between a ‘free market’ and free thinking: It is the much more subtle aspects of industrialization and mechanization which bring the greatest hardships among the people—a general decay of classes into shapeless society without real cultural foundations, and regimentation—not so much of people, since industrialization actually provides far more free movement of classes around each other, but rather of ideals.
In another letter to his brother, Robert, Lee wrote: In this [American] system, art, culture, and the spirit of man are subjected to commercial enterprising. Religion and education are used as a tool to suppress what would otherwise be a population questioning their government’s unfair economic system and plans for war.
Oswald’s opposition to segregation only grew as he got older, becoming very much in line with JFK’s perspectives as they, too evolved. Lee wrote the following in preparation for a debate on racism in America: My reason for concern is that undemocratic, country-wide institution known as segregation. It is, I think, the main action of a segregationist minority and the great body of indifferent people in the South who do the United States more harm in the eyes of the world’s people, than the whole communist movement.
But Oswald’s concerns about America didn’t make him naïve about the Soviet Union and America’s Communist Party: The Communist Party of the United States has betrayed itself. It has turned itself into the traditional lever of a foreign power to overthrow the government of the United States, not in the name of freedom or high ideals, but in servile conformity to the wishes of the Soviet Union.
The Third Circle: On JFK
On July 1, 1963, Oswald went to the New Orleans Public Library and checked out William Manchester’s insightful book about JFK, Portrait of a President. Two weeks later, he read Profiles in Courage. Then he took out The White Nile by Alan Moorehead because Manchester said that the president had recently read it and enjoyed it.
After the assassination, on November 24, 1963, Marina Oswald was interviewed by the Secret Service. Throughout she proposed that her husband would not have shot the president because he admired him. He told her that he “liked and approved of the president and believed that for the United States in 1963, John F. Kennedy was the best president the country could hope to have.” Lee had listened to JFK’s speeches that summer and explained to his wife that the president was making an appeal for disarmament. “Some critics blamed Kennedy for losing Cuba, whereas the president would have liked to pursue a better, more gentle policy toward Cuba but was not free to do as he wished.”
The Second Circle: Once in Custody
At 7 p.m. on November 22, 1963, Oswald was brought into a small room filled with reporters. Justice of the Peace David Johnston read the charge of assassination against him. In response Oswald said: “This isn’t an arraignment. This isn’t a court. How do I know this is a judge?” And to the reporters: “I didn’t shoot anybody, no sir. I’m just a patsy.”
The following day, Lee replied to Marina when she came to see him in prison and expressed concerns about the bruise marks on his face: “Oh no, they have not been beating me. They are treating me fine… You’re not to worry about that… There are people who will help me… Don’t cry… If they ask you anything, you have a right not to answer… You are not to worry. You have friends. They’ll help you. If it comes to that, you can ask the Red Cross for help. You mustn’t worry about me. Kiss Junie and Rachel for me. I love you… [as she’s walking away] Be sure to buy shoes for June.” Junie and Rachel—or June Lee and Audrey Marina Rachel—were Lee and Marina’s daughters.
The First Circle: After Lee’s Death
According to John Robert Conrad, ex-CIA agent who claimed to have been assigned to watch over Lee: “If I was mountain climbing, I would trust that guy to hold the end of my rope in a crisis. He had a lot of control over himself. He was articulate, though you’d never get that impression from reading what he’s written, because his spelling was atrocious. He could hold a good conversation on just about anything political. He was cautious. Certainly no raving maniac.”
George de Mohrenschildt, CIA liaison and friend of Oswald, said in an interview shortly before his death: “Whatever you write, Lee was as smart as hell. They make a moron out of him… (but) he was the most honest man I knew… Ahead of his time, really, a kind of hippie of those days. And I’m sure of this. He did not shoot the president.”
When he was done, Roger found himself standing back at the edge of the maze, the entrance to the labyrinth. And once again, Siuku was invisible—the mischievous creature obscured by too many twists and turns. But now, at least, Roger thought he saw his shadow, a fleeting trace of Lee Harvey Oswald, much like the presence of the wind is visible in the motion of the trees it touches. You cannot see it. But you can feel it. And you can at least begin to imagine its motion.