Thursday, June 22, 2023

Guest Post: JFK Survives, Lee Goes Free

This article first appeared on Today in Alternate History.

Nov 27, 2017 - Passing of Robert Oswald

Korean War veteran and former U.S. marine Robert Edward Lee Oswald, whose brother Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested for shooting John F. Kennedy in Dallas, died on this sad day aged 83.

Fortunately for all concerned in 1963, first-year surgical resident Dr. Charles James "Jim" Carrico saved the precious life of the president on the operating table of Parkland Hospital. Meanwhile, the suspected would-be assassin was arrested on a local street corner by Dallas Police Officer J. D. Tippit and taken into custody. Upon hearing the shocking news on the radio that it was Lee Harvey Oswald, his elder brother rushed to the Dallas Police Headquarters, promising to find him a lawyer.

After a protracted legal process, and largely thanks to Robert Oswald's efforts in building a strong legal team, it was finally determined within reasonable doubt that Lee Oswald was not the real shooter. The only beneficiary was their mother, Marguerite Oswald, who wrote a best-selling book Brother's Keeper named after biblical Chapter Genesis 4, verse 9. This publication cleared the legal fees and allowed her to comfortably retire to Wichita Falls, where she died in 1981.

Unfortunately, many historians argue the tragedy averted in Dallas unfolded into an even worse tragedy in South Vietnam. Kennedy's campaigning in the Southern states paid off handsomely, but the main reason for his electoral victory was that the country wasn't quite ready for Barry Goldwater's conservatism and preferred Kennedy's diplomacy and military adviser approach. Over the course of the next turbulent five years, however, the political landscape rapidly changed mainly due to the unwinnable war in South Vietnam. In late 1963, JFK had himself admitted it was beyond his crisis management skills to resolve, "We don't have a prayer of staying in Vietnam.... But I can't give up a piece of territory like that to the Communists and get the American people to reelect me [in 1964]." This dreadful conflict, and its deep societal consequences, would result in a shift to the right and the election of a Goldwater protégé, the conservative war-hawk Ronald Reagan in 1968.

Author's Note:

In reality, he moved away and died in Wichita Falls. Marguerite Oswald wrote a booklet titled Aftermath of an Execution: The Burial and Final Rites of Lee Harvey Oswald which was never published.

Further Author's Note:

In this scenario, a surviving JFK does not pull out of Vietnam as he intended (and per the conspiracy theory in Oliver Stone's movie) due to fears he would not be re-elected in 1964, and after re-election he's committed, its too late - but the Vietnam tragedy prevents a Democrat win in 1968.

Provine's Addendum:
Reagan came into office in 1969 vowing to be "tough on Communism" and to "clean up that mess" in Vietnam. The Tet Offensive of 1968 had been utterly humiliating for the Kennedy administration, although advisers suggested it was a desperate effort that largely exhausted the North Vietnamese forces. As early as 1965, Reagan was suggesting, "We should declare war on North Vietnam. We could pave the whole country and put parking stripes on it and still be home by Christmas." Voters hopeful to end the war drove Reagan ahead in the polls.

The diplomatic situation in Southeast Asia was delicate, however. China had made clear that they would enter the war if there were any invasion of North Vietnam. Cambodia had sworn passive neutrality, allowing Vietnamese military camps and supply routes in the east along with American bombing of camps and routes, although Chief of State Norodom Sihanouk publicly denounced any Cambodian injuries. Laos was in civil war between the royalists and Pathet Lao, backed by the Soviets, Viet Cong, and People's Army of Vietnam.

While the American public still did not support outright war with China, Reagan pushed his state department to lean heavily on Laos and, especially, Cambodia to drive communist forces from their borders. By 1970, Cambodian neutrality effectively ended, and US troops conducted "hot pursuits" and systematic bombing as far as the central regions of the Mekong River. Without supplies, the Viet Cong in the south began to collapse, abandoning the Mekong Delta. The war in Laos was much more of a seesaw with land constantly being handed and back and forth between the sides. Reagan maintained distant relations with China, mostly focusing on encouraging them to stop supporting military efforts in Vietnam. With the growing Sino-Soviet Split separating USSR and Chinese interests, China became more hesitant to expend resources.

Death tolls and military spending climbed, but overall the American public remained supportive as Reagan's office ensured as much censorship as possible, even in fictional accounts. Following the success of the film M*A*S*H in 1970, Regan leaned on producers to ensure the 1972 television program that continued the story of doctors in the Korean War portrayed their efforts as heroic and the overall environment as something of a "summer camp" rather than allowing any major critique of American military action.

Reagan won reelection in 1972 and focused on "Americanization" of South Vietnam and Cambodia. Aid poured in, as did efforts to encourage American business and trade. While the efforts arguably stabilized the region and repaired much of the literal and figurative damage of the millions of tons of bombs dropped, it became heavily criticized by the American public. Many joked that people in Southeast Asia were living off welfare dollars while hardworking Americans struggled in the growing decline of American manufacturing. Voters decided to turn toward Democrats for 1976, who promised a package called the "Great New Society" with improved worker relations and social programs.

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