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Reason: Did you see her when she was first
Oglesby: I wouldn’t begin to be in touch with her now. I know what her enemies would do with a piece of information like that. They would defame me and defame her. There’s no point in it.
Reason: Is there today within her a trace of New Left anti-imperialism?
Oglesby: You got me. I don’t know much about her positions. What I think I know about Hillary Clinton is that she is honest and she’s good-hearted. She’s smart and she has lots of energy and she’s tough. I’m all for her. It’s too bad she and Barack Obama are having a faceoff. Both are good people. But she’s my guy.
Reason: Your own odyssey into American radicalism seems to have begun on November 22, 1963. Had Kennedy not been shot, do the ’60s and the New Left happen?
Oglesby: I don’t think so. If Kennedy is not shot, I think there’s not a Vietnam War and there is more energy put into civil rights. So to the extent that the movement of the ’60s was about the Vietnam War and civil rights more than any two issues, I would have to say that it was the assassination of JFK that swung that door open—or closed.
Reason: In The Yankee and Cowboy War, you theorized that “JFK was killed by a rightist conspiracy formed out of anti-Castro Cuban exiles, the Syndicate, and a Cowboy oligarchy, supported by renegade CIA and FBI agents.” Thirty years later, is that still your view?
Oglesby: These days I wouldn’t be so detailed. I still believe in the basic split between the Yankees and the Cowboys. The South, as it continually promised, is rising again. That’s a lot of what Bush is about.
Reason: But Bush is descended from Yankees.
Oglesby: He’s tried to adopt the Cowboy look.
He is a Yankee, went to all the Yankee schools, had Yankee money in
his blood. He goes to Texas, buys himself a pair of cowboy boots
and a Stetson hat, and tries to speak with a bit of a drawl. He’s a
phony. He’s a bad actor. He’s no more a cowboy than you or
I—probably a good deal less. But his handlers grasped that there is
a basic collision between the neo-Union and the neo-Confederacy.
The Civil War is not over; its issues continue to echo. Bush II
emerges from that process. He is a Cowboy, as I use that term, and
represents the movement of the Confederacy from the East to the
Reason: Do you buy the Oliver Stone thesis that JFK was a late-blooming peacenik who was planning to extricate us from Vietnam, and that LBJ was somehow implicated in the assassination?
Oglesby: I think all those things are possible. Least likely is that LBJ was involved in any positive role. He wouldn’t have had to be. His people would have been able to make a decision to promote him to the presidency without any special advice from him. The Yankee and Cowboy war continues, and the JFK assassination was part of it. The JFK side—the neo-Union side—achieved a great deal in the way of a holding action in stamping out the original desire to depict Lee Harvey Oswald as a Soviet agent. If that doesn’t work, Oswald becomes the cause of World War III. If Oswald is tied to the Soviet Union, there is a cause of war. The assassination of a head of state by another state is a classical casus belli. Whoever was managing things around the Warren Commission did a good job in keeping that theory out.
The price of it was that Oswald had to be depicted as a loner—and that’s where so many lies and half-truths got drawn into the story. But better put up with a few lies and half-truths as to Oswald’s identity than to have him linked to the Soviet Union as an agent, which would drag the world into a nuclear war.
Reason: Just to clarify: You don’t believe that Oswald was a Soviet agent?
Oglesby: No, not at all.
Reason: You released two albums, Carl Oglesby (1969) and Going to Damascus (1971). Tell me about that period.
Oglesby: I started writing songs because I was no longer able to write plays. I had been a playwright before the movement came along. I’d written four plays that had been produced, the last being The Peacemaker, about the Hatfield-McCoy feud as a mirror onto the Civil War. It was about a historical character named William Dyke Garrett who tried to broker a peace between the Hatfield clan and the McCoy clan in the period after the Civil War. His wife, Sally, thought that he was doomed to fail and that the wisest thing to do was get out of that country and head west. He goes through a big crisis of conscience and decides that he can’t leave these people to the small war that they’re about to have with each other in the Appalachians. The Hatfield-McCoy feud did take place. Probably 50 to 60 people were killed over a handful of years. When I wrote that play there was a silly song: “The Hatfields and McCoys/Those feudin’ mountain boys.” Nobody took it seriously. You had to stop and reimagine it. These were real people who were shooting real bullets at each other. Was William Dyke Garrett right or just foolish to stay in the country and try to keep the shooting from starting?