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SHAPIRO: Did Hollywood inspire Lee Harvey Oswald?
Striking parallels between film and fact have emerged
Question of the Day
On the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, many Americans still believe JFK was killed as part of a conspiracy orchestrated by our government or the Mafia, despite the evidence pointing to a lone assassin.
The facts suggest something less elaborate.
Understandably, Lee Harvey Oswald's actions were confusing and suspicious, and as a result, many people think he could have been a spy.
In reality, however, Oswald was a troubled young man who preached Marxism as early as age 15, a result of the inequality he felt from being bullied in high school. His fascination with the Soviet Union stemmed from a desperate hope that life was better on "the other side."
Signs of Oswald's instability and his capacity for delusion surfaced early. During his childhood, he was diagnosed with "schizoid personality disorder" and a New York truancy doctor who examined him noted that Oswald had a "vivid fantasy life, turning around the topics of omnipotence and power ... ."
Oswald's high school diaries contained entries praising communism, and shortly after the Marine Corps discharged him in 1959, he traveled to the USSR, where he tried to defect. The Soviets rejected his application for citizenship, however, and he unsuccessfully tried to commit suicide in his Moscow hotel room. To avoid an international embarrassment, the Soviets allowed him to temporarily stay, and they sent him to work in a television-radio manufacturing plant in Minsk.
Nearly two years later, Oswald decided that life in the Soviet Union was not all he'd hoped it would be, and he returned home with a Russian woman named Marina he'd married in the Ukraine. Happy to rid themselves of an unstable, unpredictable young man, the Soviets readily sent him and his new wife to the United States.
Upon returning home, Oswald wrangled with a personal identity crisis, enduring odd, low-paying jobs and making unsolicited visits to various ultraleft and extreme right-wing political organizations, while also communicating with federal law enforcement agencies. No worthwhile employer or organization had any use for him.
During his very apparent identity crisis, the 1962 film "The Manchurian Candidate" was released in movie theaters, a film about a communist conspiracy designed to assassinate an anti-communist presidential candidate. The film ends with an ex-Army veteran firing a rifle and killing two people from a small window above a speaking stage — much like the window in the Texas Book Depository where Oswald's rifle was found.
The real name of the lead actor in the movie even resembled Oswald's — Laurence Harvey.
Shortly after the film was released, Oswald ordered a 6.5 mm Mannlicher-Carcano rifle — the same rifle that was later found in the book depository. Oswald's wife later testified before the Warren Commission that once the rifle arrived, her husband obsessively practiced reloading its chamber as quickly as possible on a daily basis.
Only a few months later, the former Marine sharpshooter unsuccessfully tried to assassinate Gen. Edwin A. Walker in his home. Walker, a prominent voice in the anti-communist John Birch Society, barely evaded Oswald's bullet.
In October 1963, Oswald applied for a visa to visit Cuba, and 11 days before Kennedy was assassinated, he wrote to the Soviet Embassy in Washington saying, "Had I been able to reach the Soviet Embassy in Havana as planned, the embassy there would have had time to complete our business."
Clearly, leaving behind such a paper trail was not the act of a professionally trained spy. It was the act of a delusional young man who desperately wanted to believe that he was a Soviet agent.
On the morning of Nov. 22, Oswald uncharacteristically left his wedding band and $170 cash on a bedroom nightstand at his wife's bedside. Hours later, the ex-Marine positioned himself with a rifle at a small window in the depository above Kennedy's motorcade route and opened fire.
Considering Oswald's "sharpshooter" status in the Marine Corps, the speed and accuracy of his shots were not at all improbable, despite what conspiracy theorists say.
Oswald could have taken shelter anywhere after he shot Kennedy. Of all the places he could have gone, Oswald immediately fled to the Texas Theatre — a Dallas movie theater near his apartment. Not coincidentally, it was a theater that had showed "The Manchurian Candidate" only a year before.
It was the perfect place to conclude the fantasy that he had spent a year preparing to perform. When a Dallas police officer quietly approached Oswald in the theater, he opted for a dramatic ending and unnecessarily revealed his guilt by reportedly striking the officer and shouting, "This is it."
The parallels between "The Manchurian Candidate" and the assassination of President Kennedy are not a mere coincidence. Shortly after the assassination, the movie disappeared from circulation until 1989. Although there have been claims that its removal from circulation was a result of an ongoing intellectual-property dispute, it is no secret that some in Hollywood were concerned that the movie triggered Oswald's actions.
The evidence about the source of Oswald's inspiration is significant, and his guilt is beyond a reasonable doubt.
Jeffrey Scott Shapiro is a former Washington, D.C., prosecutor and an investigative journalist.
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