A couple years ago, I interviewed James Piereson about his book Camelot and the Cultural Revolution. He essentially argued that the intentional misinterpretation of John F. Kennedy’s assassination was to blame for the radicalization that took place in the 1960s.
Now, Peter Savodnik is out with a new book titled: The Interloper. As the subtitle betrays, it’s about “Lee Harvey Oswald Inside the Soviet Union.” And it occurs to me that this might be shocking — that many Americans probably still have no idea that the man who assassinated Kennedy was also a Communist defector.
During a recent discussion, I asked Savodnik why this is still largely ignored. “More people probably associate Oswald with the far right than the far left,” he confirmed. “And I think in this case, you know, The Manchurian Candidate [the film which came out just one year before Kennedy’s assassination] has done more harm to that cause than anything. I think, there’s a tendency to think that Oswald may have been a professed Communist or Marxist, but really, he was a puppet of the far right.”
“It’s easier to imagine him as having been a Timothy McVeigh-style murderer,” Savodnik continued, “somebody who fits neatly into his context — that is Dallas — which was known to have been home to any number of conservatives who were obviously unhappy with the Kennedy administration.”
Savodnik’s purpose was to tell the dramatic story of Oswald’s time in the Soviet Union, not to analyze how — or why — it was downplayed by LBJ, the government, and the mainstream media. But his book provides a good opportunity to once again ask these questions. And while there were various reasons for misrepresenting Oswald, the political motivation to cast conservatives (not Communists) as the real villains cannot be cavalierly dismissed.
Had alternative media existed, the narrative (which implied the right wing, or, at least, their rhetoric was to blame) might have been easily debunked. After all, why is it easier to believe a man who defected to the Soviet Union was a “puppet of the far right,” rather than to simply believe he was, in fact, a Communist? Somehow, the more convoluted narrative became the conventional wisdom.