Reflective, critical, and radical, Carl Oglesby was an eloquent voice of the New Left during the 1960s and 1970s. A native of Ohio, Oglesby was working in the defense industry in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in 1964 when he became radicalized by what he saw transpiring in Vietnam. Through his contacts with the Students for a Democratic Society, he was drawn into the nascent antiwar movement, and thanks to his formidable skills as a speaker and writer, rose rapidly to prominence. Elected president of the SDS in 1965, he spent several years traveling nationally and internationally advocating for a variety of political and social causes.
In 1972, Oglesby helped co-found the Assassination Information Bureau which ultimately helped prod the U.S. Congress to reopen the investigation of the assassination of John F. Kennedy. A prolific writer and editor, his major works include Containment and Change (1967), The New Left Reader (1969), The Yankee and Cowboy War (1976), and The JFK Assassination: The Facts and the Theories (1992). The Oglesby Papers include research files, correspondence, published and unpublished writing, with the weight of the collection falling largely on the period after 1975.
The collection is open for research.
Background on Carl Oglesby
An activist, writer, lecturer and teacher, Carl Oglesby has participated in, written about, and analyzed some of the most important events in the recent history of the United States. His experiences before, during and after the Vietnam War as a political activist changed the trajectory of his own life and contributed significantly to the American political discourse on many subjects such as Vietnam War, Watergate, World War II, and the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, and Martin Luther King. In his long career as writer and activist he has addressed many issues, spoken at hundreds of universities and protests as well as traveled the United States debating various political issues.
Oglesby was born in 1935, an only child living first in Kalamazoo, Michigan and later in Akron, Ohio. He was raised in a deep-South Christian Fundamentalist environment, one he both revered and resented, later in life referring to himself as a "silent Christian." He attended Kent State University for almost four years in the mid-fifties during which time he married Beth Rimanoczy in Kent, Ohio. In 1957, he left the university without receiving a degree. During this time, Oglesby began writing plays. His first play Season of the Beast, produced in Dallas, Texas in 1958, was promptly shut down for being a "Communistic Yankee atheist's attack on down-home religion." Although Oglesby didn't know it at the time, this was not the last time he would be accused of being a Communist or an atheist.
Despite his interest in playwriting, Oglesby sought out steady work. He became a copy editor for Goodyear Aircraft Corporation for a year before moving to Ann Arbor, Michigan in 1958. There, he headed the Technical Writing Division at Bendix Systems, a defense contractor, until 1965. Although he befriended many people in Ann Arbor who were politically active, Oglesby shied away from engaging in much activism. He felt proud of his middle class home on Sunnyside Road, his family and secure job, and was reluctant to challenge the establishment that employed him. Even though Oglesby knew that Bendix was designing systems to distribute chemicals and poisons over the Vietnamese jungle, he "was not above" his work at Bendix. He and Beth were fully prepared to raise their children in the American, middle-class tradition, even if it meant not being as politically active as they would have liked.
In 1964, Oglesby began working as a writer for the Wes Vivian Congressional campaign. At a meeting, he was asked to produce a position paper on the Vietnam War in the event the issue came up during the course of the campaign. The paper Oglesby crafted not only provided him a crash course in Vietnamese history, but it also found its way into the University's literary magazine, Generation, along with his new play The Peacemaker. The play depicted the classic feud between the Hatfields and the McCoys, and the inclusion of Oglesby's position paper in the same magazine gave his play about an age-old family feud a modern, political twist. More importantly, the unexpected publication of his position paper led him to his first introduction to Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), an introduction that would change the course of his life and force him to choose what role activism would play in it.
Oglesby's first real ideological struggle with his middle-class lifestyle and career, however, came the previous year when President Kennedy was assassinated. Despite the fact that he and his colleagues faced a looming deadline, Oglesby was concerned that the flag had not been lowered as a sign of respect to the fallen president. When he tried to urge management at Bendix to lower the flag to half mast, he encountered a strange scene in which the executives seemed actually to be celebrating Kennedy's death. Although Oglesby continued working at Bendix for several more years, he became more and more aware that his political sensibilities might be in conflict with his safe, middle-class lifestyle. In particular, as the Vietnam War was becoming more an issue of public debate, Oglesby was forced to acknowledge that his nice, secure job in the defense industry might actually be contributing to it. Indeed, his friends in Ann Arbor began to challenge him, asking how he could reconcile his job at Bendix with his own sense of values. As it turns out, he couldn't.
In 1965, Oglesby went with a friend to a meeting of the local SDS chapter. At the time, SDS was in desperate need of literature to distribute in response to the many requests they received for information about Vietnam, and Oglesby's position paper soon became their official response. Later that same year he traveled to Kewadin, Michigan to attend a national meeting of SDS. At this meeting, members hotly debated whether to eliminate the offices of president and vice president on the grounds that such roles were elitist. Oglesby spoke out against the measure claiming that an elected national leader speaking on behalf of the group would be held accountable by its members, ensuring that the SDS message would not become diluted or confused. Oglesby further argued that SDS needed a unified, national identity in order to ensure that all SDS chapters were working towards the same goals and the public was hearing the same consistent message.
After voting to keep the national officers, the members moved to elect a new president for SDS. According to Oglesby, he was nominated along with about a dozen other people. After many of the nominees declined their nominations and two rounds of balloting, Oglesby was finally elected. Although he had only attended a few meetings, he was now the national president of SDS. Having no idea of the drastic turn his life was about to take, Oglesby returned home and began his year-long tenure as the president of the most radical student organization in America.
This unexpected turn of events caused great upheaval for the Oglesby family. As president of SDS, Oglesby traveled constantly giving speeches, attending meetings, and organizing political protests. He even traveled to Cuba and North Vietnam with SDS. Within months of his appointment as president, the F.B.I. began following him and building an extensive file on him, his family, friends and fellow SDS members. SDS was often accused of being a communist organization because of their political beliefs and the way they chose to organize themselves. It was a huge transition for Oglesby to go from having a secure, white collar job in the defense industry to being the spokesman for a radical student organization. The stress only intensified as Oglesby was away from home more and having a hard time balancing his lifestyle as the president of SDS with his family's needs. He and Beth moved from Ann Arbor to San Francisco hoping to alleviate some of their stress, but the pressure was too much and they ultimately divorced in the late-sixties.
In addition to his family problems, Oglesby had a hard time understanding the accusations leveled against SDS, later observing, "I was never a radical, I just believed in democracy." For Oglesby, the government's refusal to even debate the issues that SDS and other organizations were raising demonstrated sheer hypocrisy. How could the U.S. be so aggressive in trying to spread "democracy" in Vietnam while actively silencing their own citizens? He was appalled that the government spied on him and other members of SDS, while also attempting to infiltrate the organization. Oglesby recalls that many members grew distrustful of one another as it became more apparent that some SDS "members" were actually FBI agents. In many cases these agents were the ones who advocated for a violent response or protest, and over time this became the tell-tale sign that someone was working for the government.
Although Oglesby only served as president of SDS for fifteen months, he remained active in the organization for several years. He grew very close to fellow SDS member Bernadine Dohrn and was unhappy in 1969 when she, along with other key members of the group, decided that SDS's principle of engaging only in non-violent protest was no longer an effective way to achieve their goals. Dohrn thought that the antiwar movement had embraced nonviolence long enough, and that "symbolic violence" was the only way to make the government pay attention. She and others, including her future husband Bill Ayers, seized control of the SDS national office and formed the Weather Underground Organization. The Weathermen, as they were known, began to bomb post offices and other government properties. Despite their adamance that their use of violence was meant to bring attention to their cause by harming buildings and not people, their plan backfired in 1971 when three of their own members died in an explosion in a Greenwich Village safe house.
For Oglesby, the Weatherman's actions were synonymous with the death of SDS. Although, the individual chapters of SDS continued to grow, the national office, now under the control of the Weathermen, ceased to exist. Oglesby vehemently disagreed that SDS had lost its power, but with the core organizers leaving, there was little he could do to save SDS on a national level. Over the years, Oglesby wrote several articles about the decline of SDS in which he defended the group not only for leading the way on important issues of the day, but for promoting debate and discussion as a means of educating people about the United States government, the Vietnam War, and the political ideology of the New Left.
As Oglesby moved away from SDS, he was not interested in resuming his secure, middle-class lifestyle. In 1972, he co-founded the Assassination Information Bureau (AIB), which led a successful public campaign urging Congress to revisit the investigations into the assignations of John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. He was also involved in AIB efforts in Washington, D.C. to force the release of government documents relating to the assassinations. During this period, Oglesby continued to write, working for the Boston Phoenix and Boston Magazine as a regular contributor and editor. Indeed, Oglesby was a prolific writer throughout the 1970s, publishing The Yankee and Cowboy War: Conspiracies from Dallas to Watergate in 1976, and writing numerous other articles that appeared in magazines such as Playboy, The Washington Post, The Nation, Life, the Saturday Review, Dissent and the Boston Globe. In addition to his political and social commentary he also served as the annual report writer at Massachusetts General Hospital from 1981-1988.
By the late 1980s, Oglesby was fully immersed in research relating to the end of World War II, research he first conducted while writing The Yankee and Cowboy War. In 1988, he formed the Institute for Continuing De-Nazification aimed at organizing efforts to bring full public disclosure to top-secret government documents containing information about the relationship between the Gehlen Organization, formerly the intelligence network of West Germany, and the U.S. government. Oglesby filed suit against various agencies in the federal government claiming the intelligence documents should be publicly available under the Freedom of Information Act. With the help of attorney James Lesar, this lawsuit has been moving through the federal court system for over two decades, resulting in the release of thousands of pages of classified, top-secret government documents. These documents form the backbone of Oglesby's research on the Gehlen Organization and the post-Worl War II settlement between Germany and the United States. Although, Oglesby has yet to publish a full-length book on this topic, he has lectured and written several extensive articles in this subject.
Oglesby continues to write and speak about political issues, often drawing parallels between the currant political controversies and those that SDS faced more than three decades ago. His experiences have proved invaluable to a new generation of political activists who are asking many of the same questions that Oglesby faced when he joined SDS in 1965. After many years of silence, new SDS chapters are popping up across the country drawing the old ideals of "New Left" to push their political agenda forward.
Much of Carl Oglesby's life has been spent considering and commenting on the political climate. From his 1962 play The Peacemaker to his extensive research on the Gehlen Organization, Oglesby has never been shy voicing his opinion about our government and the people who work in it. His papers chronicle the various issues and topics in which he has taken an interest over the past forty years, including the Gehlen Organization, the Vietnam War, the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., and America's post-World War II struggle for political power between the established elites of the North and the emerging ruling class of the South and West, which he defined as the "Yankee and Cowboy War."
The collection contains Oglesby's drafts, notes, outlines, correspondence, writing fragments, manuscripts, and research materials like articles, book excerpts, newspaper clippings, and interviews. F.B.I. and C.I.A. documents pertaining to the Gehlen Organization and Oglesby's work with SDS are included as are the legal papers that document the lawsuit he filed to obtain these classified materials. Also present are notes, research materials and drafts relating to his memoir, referred to early on as "Ravens on the Wing," but published as Ravens in the Storm in 2008. Finally, correspondence, family histories, and photographs provide some insight into Oglesby's personal life.
Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), the most radical student organization of the 1960s, held its first meeting in Ann Arbor, Michigan in 1960. Two years later SDS adopted as its manifesto the Port Huron Statement drafted by Tom Hayden, which identified poverty and civil rights as the group's primary concerns, and the Cold War and peace, issues that would later take on a more central role, as secondary concerns. The group's commitment to "participatory democracy" quickly catapulted them to the forefront of the New Left political movement, resulting in aggressive surveillance by the F.B.I. In fact, the bulk of this series consists of F.B.I. files documenting Oglesby's every move during his time with SDS and continuing for many years after. Individuals who associated themselves with the New Left, in particular members of SDS, were often accused of being Communists. Frequent trips to Cuba by SDS members, including Oglesby, did little to dispel this notion.
The bulk of this series is made up of copies of F.B.I. surveillance records tracing Oglesby's movements both during and after his term as SDS president. Also included are articles about SDS and the Weatherman by Oglesby and others, newspaper clippings, correspondence, interviews with former SDS people, speeches given by Oglesby, and notes.
An internationally recognized authority on the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Oglesby has written and lectured on the topic extensively. As a founding member of the Assassination Information Bureau (AIB) in 1972, he played a critical role in raising public awareness about the inconsistencies among eyewitness accounts, film evidence, and published reports of the assassintation, most notably in the findings of the Warren Commission released in 1964. After the Watergate scandal and Nixon's resignation in 1974, the AIB continued to demand the release of previously restricted documents, calling for the accountability of U.S. intelligence agencies. Indeed, the group is often credited with prompting the 1976 Congressional reinvestigation into the assassinations of Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr.
A large portion of the series consists of materials relating to the AIB, including correspondence, bibliographies, reports, and the group's newsletter, Clandestine America. Oglesby was one of a few AIB members to travel throughout the country as a part of the group's "Who Killed JFK?" program, which sought to inform the public, especially college students, of inaccuracies and inconsistencies found in published reports of the assassination. Documenting his involvement in this program are lecture scripts, notes, and publicity flyers promoting speaking engagements. Oglesby's typescript drafts and published articles are central to understanding the evolution of his thoughts about the assassination and its cover up. The various versions of articles and books included among these materials can be seen as culminating in the book proofs for Oglesby's 1992 work, Who Killed JFK?. Finally, his personal correspondence received after the December 1991 release of Oliver Stone's film JFK and the numerous articles by other authors submitted for his review illustrate Oglesby's central role in uncovering the truth about the JFK assassination.
In one of Oglesby's most widely known political theories, referred to as the "Yankee and Cowboy War," he depicts Northern, old money "Yankees" and Southern and Western, new money "Cowboys" in a struggle for power and dominance in post-World War II America. His book named for the theory traces the effects of this political struggle from the Bay of Pigs incident in 1961 to Watergate in 1973-1974.
In the book, Oglesby claims that the failure of the Bay of Pigs Invasion was the result of internal conflict in Washington, namely the shaky coalition between President John F. Kennedy (Yankee) and Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson (Cowboy). Oglesby further claims that this uneasy alliance between the North and South resulted in the escalation of the Vietnam War, as well as other foreign policy disasters that plagued the administration before and after Kennedy's death. Oglesby refers to the Vietnam War as a "Cowboy War," which ultimately resulted in such high level pressure from "top class Yankee gunslingers," such as Defense Secretary Clark Clifford, that Johnson was unable to seek re-election. He also examines events such as the suspicious Watergate plane crash that killed Dorothy Hunt, the wife of Watergate conspirator E. Howard Hunt, the possibility that James McCord, also a Watergate conspirator, was a double agent, the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and Howard Hughes' relationship with the United States government.
The series contains materials relating to Oglesby's book, such as drafts of the manuscript, research materials including articles and newspaper clippings, correspondence concerning its publication, and published reviews.
For more than three decades, Oglesby researched the Gehlen Organization and its role in post-World War II America. As the war came to a close, top-ranking Nazi officials scrambled to find a way out of Germany. One such official was Reinhard Gehlen, the head of the Former Armies East (FHO) in the German Army Headquarters, also known as the Gehlen Organization. This was an important branch of the Nazi intelligence system that oversaw all intelligence and military operations throughout Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. This arm of Soviet intelligence was particularly powerful because of Gehlen's close association with and influence over Foreign Armies West and the Odessa. The Odessa was arguably the Nazi's greatest organizational achievement because it not only controlled the SS and Gestapo but also set up "rat lines" which allowed thousands of Nazi officials to escape Germany after the war.
The U.S. government, anxious to achieve a reliable intelligence network to spy on the Soviet Union, was not opposed to making a deal with Gehlen to acquire his West German intelligence network in exchange for allowing Nazis to quietly escape Germany after the war. The FHO, after all, was the only organization in the Third Reich that gained power and recruits even as the war was winding down. On August 24, 1945, one week after the Nazi's "unconditional surrender," Gehlen arrived in Washington D.C. to sell his organization to the United States and buy himself a way out of Germany.
The meeting in Fort Hunt, Virgina, ended with a "gentleman's agreement" to employ Gehlen as an official in the newly formed C.I.A., for which Gehlen worked until 1968. Gehlen himself spelled out the terms of this agreement in his book, The Service: The Memoirs of Reinhard Gehlen, which has come under intense criticism for being inaccurate. Nonetheless, according to Gehlen, "The Secret Treaty at Fort Hunt" essentially merged Nazi Gehlen Organization and U.S. intelligence with the understanding that although the Germans and Americans would be working "jointly," the United States would provide complete funding for all activities. Interestingly, according to Gehlen, it was also understood that should German and American interests come into conflict with each other, the Gehlen Organization would "consider Germany first." This conflict of interest presented itself almost immediately as the post-war hunt for Nazi war criminals began and tensions between the Soviet Union and the United States escalated.
Oglesby's interest in the Gehlen Organization ultimately resulted in a lawsuit against the federal government. In the suit (Carl Oglesby v. Department of the Army, et al), he claims the government refused to release documents that should be open to the public under the Freedom of Information Act. This lawsuit has been circulating through the court system for almost twenty years and has forced various governmental agencies to release thousands of pages of previously "classified" and "top secret" documents to Oglesby. Oglesby's counsel in this matter, James Lesar, specializes in litigation pertaining to the Freedom of Information Act, and has logged thousands of hours over the years fighting for the release of documents pertaining to World War II, the Gehlen Organization, and former Nazi government officials and military officers.
Numerous drafts of articles, book excerpts and lectures are included in this series, although it should be noted that Oglesby has yet to publish a complete book on this topic. An extensive article by Oglesby, "The Secret Treaty of Fort Hunt," was published in Prevailing Winds magazine. A considerable portion of his research materials are also included in this series. These consist of articles, newspaper clippings, book excerpts, correspondence, charts drawn by Oglesby explaining the complicated connections between the various government agencies and people, government reports, and intelligence documents obtained by Lesar under the Freedom of Information Act.
This subseries contains drafts and research material for Oglesby's memoir, "Ravens on the Wing." In it he covers, in detail, the move away from his middle class life as a technical copy editor in the defense industry, his experiences as president of SDS, which include his relationship with Weatherman founder Bernadine Dohrn, trips to Cuba and North Vietnam, and his travels around the country giving speeches for SDS. He also discusses the painful period when the Weatherman split from SDS and his own experiences with SDS after.
Included in this subseries are numerous drafts of the memoir, published in 2008 as Ravens in the Storm. Also included is correspondence concerning the book, newspaper clippings, articles, writing fragments, notes, and some photographs from Oglesby's trip to Cuba.
This series, more than any other, chronicles Oglesby prodigious writing career. He has written extensively on SDS, the New Left, the JFK assassination, Vietnam, Watergate, and his theory of the Yankee-Cowboy war. Although the bulk of Oglesby's writing is political in nature, he has written about many things that range from discussions of the New Left, the war in Vietnam, critiques of teach-ins, literature, Cuba, Boston public transit, Boston University, genetic engineering, farms in America and many verses of unpublished poetry. Also included in this subseries is correspondence with people like Noam Chomsky, academic papers from Oglesby's undergraduate career and Oglesby's 1965 paper, "The Vietnam War: World Revolution and American Containment," which ultimately became the SDS position paper for the Vietnam War.
Although Oglesby has not written as extensively on religion, he has maintained his interest in it over the years, publishing two articles on the subject, "Rescuing Jesus from the Cross" (1983) and "Art at the Apocalypse" (1982). His unpublished manuscript "The Sermons of Judas" is also included along with research materials relating to this manuscript and other religious items such as church programs, flyers, and eulogies.
Oglesby's personal correspondence with various family members, business associates, and friends, as well as documents relating to his publishing contracts, photographs, announcements, invitations, and various printed materials and newspaper clippings. Also contains materials relating to Oglesby's work with the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Both as president of SDS and later as a founder of the Assassination Information Bureau, Oglesby traveled around the country meeting people and giving talks. His 1966 lecture at Antioch College is included here as are the numerous slides he used when delivering his presentations on the assassination of Kennedy. Oglesby used audio and video recordings as part of his own research, compiling a collection of documentary's on the JFK assassination and Reinhard Gehlen and the Nazi connection to U.S. intelligence agencies.
Includes a summary of his work with SDS, transcripts of speeches and background information with Oglesby's annotations.
The last Hurrah Bookshop (Williamsport, Pa.)
Author's surname Wynstra.
Includes a CIA name file.
Outline of book.
Talking points for a public appearance.
Includes correspondence with Clifford Irving.
Letters of James McCord.
Includes a letter to Oglesby.
Includes book proposal.
Includes book proposal.
Includes only portions of copied document.
Chapter 1, "1945: A Reintroduction."
Chapter 2, "Twilight of the OSS."
Chapter 2, "Twilight of the OSS."
Chapter 3, "Odessa."
Chapter 3, "Odessa."
Chapter 4, "Secret Wars."
Chapter 4, "Secret Wars."
Chapter 4, "Secret Wars."
Chapter 5, "Separate Peace."
Chapter 6, "Installation, Gehlen Organization."
Chapter 7, "Barbie-Gehlen Link."
Chapter 7, "Barbie-Gehlen Organization."
Chapter 8, "Gehlen Falls."
Chapter 9, "Nazism Reprieved."
Chapter 10, "Consequences of the Nazi Peace."
Chapter 10, "Consequences of the Nazi Peace."
Chapter 10, "Consequences of the Nazi Peace."
Appendix A, "Historical Profile of U.S. Secret Intelligence."
Appendix B, "The Nazification: A Chronology."
Appendix C, "The Papal Assassination Attempt: A Case Study of the Odessa Legacy."
Appendix D, "On Sources and Documentation."
Preface, "In Defense of Paranoia."
Vol. 3, no. 1.
Chapters 1, 4.
Chapter 9, multiple versions.
Chapter 10, multiple versions.
Chapter 11, multiple versions.
Chapter 12, multiple versions.
Contains photographs and clippings, of Oglesby's trip to Cuba.
SDS position paper on Vietnam.
Review of Norman Mailer's Harlot's Ghost.
Includes drafts, articles by Oglesby about Chomsky.
Review of Martin Lee's The Beast Reawakens.
Co-written by Jerry Miller.
Includes materials on various conspiracy theories.
Includes articles on conspiracy theories.
From Odonian Press.
Concerning the placement of Oglesby's papers.
Produced by Andrew Phillips and David Mendelsohn.
Produced by Andrew Phillips and David Mendelsohn.
Jeff Young interviewing Mary Ellen Reese, author of Reinhard Gehlen: The Nazi Connection.
Produced by Bob Young
Concerning Klaus Barbie.
Slides used by Oglesby in his presentations on the JFK assassination.
Both former members of the CIA.
November in Dallas Conference
Featuring Carl Oglesby.
Excerpts featuring Oglesby in the PBS special.
November in Dallas Conference
Featuring Bernardine Dohrn, Sue Eanet Klonsky, Carl Oglesby, Robert Pardun, Paul Potter; produced and directed by Helen Garvey. An SDS Oral History video, based on interview for Rebels with a Cause, a documentary film about Students for a Democratic Society.
Books in the Carl Oglesby Papers were separated from the collection and cataloged individually in the Special Collections.
Acquired from Carl Oglesby in 2005.
Collection was processed by Dominique Tremblay.
Please use the following format when citing materials from this collection:
Carl Oglesby Papers (MS 514). Special Collections and University Archives, University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries.