Like many people, I used to be sceptical of the Warren Commission finding that Lee Harvey Oswald was nothing more than a misfit loner, who shot JFK. I had always assumed that there was at least one other shooter. I didn’t realize until recently that Oswald may not have shot anyone.
Besides documentaries, there have been novels about the assassination. One of the most recent is Stephen King’s, 11/23/63, a time travel story about an attempt to rescue JFK.
If that sounds intriguing, it is with King’s handling of it. The way in which the means of time travel is accidentally discovered by the operator of a roadside diner, Al Templeton, and the way in which the dying Al persuades his customer, high-school teacher Jake Epping, to go back to 1958 and resume Al’s project of rescuing JFK, are expertly done. King was born in 1947, one year after me, and I can tell you that his depiction of the 1958-1963 period is very authentic. This might be my favorite Stephen King novel.
My only complaint is the depiction of Oswald.
It’s not that King relied solely on the Warren Commission report. There are details in 11/23/63 about Oswald’s life that came out after that report. He clearly did a lot of research. Maybe, like many people, he’d been left with a grudge against Oswald that he couldn’t overcome.
Read Lamar Waldron’s 2013 book, The Hidden History of the JFK Assassination, and you will see just how weak the case against Oswald was. Waldron isn’t the only one saying this, but he’s put together the strongest case I have seen yet.
In 11/23/63 you don’t learn that there is real doubt whether Oswald’s mail-order 1940 Carcano carbine fired any of the three bullets. You don’t learn that while he was in the marines, Oswald was recruited into Naval Intelligence, that his subsequent defection to Russia, already partially fluent in Russian, may have been a plant (Waldron says there were about 50 such infiltrations attempted by Western intelligence networks when the new government of Nikita Khrushchev sought to open the Soviet Union to foreigners).
You don’t learn in 11/23/63 that when Oswald returned to the USA he continued to do sporadic intelligence work, some of it indirectly for the CIA. You don’t learn that the pro-Cuba pamphlets Oswald was handing out in New Orleans appear to have been paid for through a CIA slush fund.
You don’t get a hint in 11/23/63 that Oswald was in the New Orleans/Dallas area not to assassinate the president but in hope of getting to Cuba as a spy for the CIA. His fluency in Russian would have been a big asset, since Cuba was then full of Russian personnel.
You don’t get any idea from King’s book that Oswald was highly intelligent, as reflected in his Naval Intelligence file.
Think of this. When Oswald returned to the USA from Russia, he wasn’t put under surveillance by the FBI. Who was put in charge of him? Naval Intelligence, his old employer. And guess what records were destroyed when Oswald was arrested? Much of the Naval Intelligence file.
According to Waldron, despite the success the U.S. Congress and Senate have had in forcing disclosure of documentation over the last 25 years, much is still being withheld.
Waldron says there is no doubt now that the Kennedy assassination was engineered by Mafia bosses Carlos Marcello and Santo Trafficante (Marcello confessed to an FBI agent while in prison for something else), who have also been documented to have been working with the CIA towards a hoped for assassination of Fidel Castro. Through his own CIA contacts, Oswald had been introduced to Marcello and Jack Ruby, who he apparently believed might help him get to Cuba.
So, when Oswald was arrested and he said before the TV cameras, “I’m just a patsy here”, he may have been telling the truth. When, after the assassination, he hurried back to his apartment to get his hand gun, it may not have been the police he was trying to defend himself from. He may have known that there would be an attempt to kill him shortly, as there was.
But in 11/23/63 Oswald is only depicted as a lone, misguided misfit, just as the Warren Commission described him. It is the same Oswald that has been portrayed to us for decades, and I fault King for that.
Only near the end of the novel, when Jake Epping has an enigmatic, slightly sinister interview with an FBI agent, does King make any reference to the possibility that there may be more to the story. King knew what was there. He could have rescued Oswald, at least enough that you would have been left wondering whether he was a bad guy or a good guy, or just innocent. I really don’t understand why he chose to follow the same old worn-out path that has so darkened Oswald’s reputation, and no doubt the lives of his wife, two daughters, and any other subsequent family members since.
But, as I said earlier, this is in the context of one of the finest time travel novels written. There is a subplot which explores the the complex problems associated with interfering with the past, that is so compelling it rivals the main event. And there’s a pretty good love story too, one that steals the show at the end. So don’t let my complaints prevent you from reading the book.
Just remember that there’s more to know about Lee Harvey Oswald. Read The Hidden History of the JFK Assassination if you want to know that.