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«Who Was Lee Harvey Oswald? Teacher's Guide About the Film: Who Was Lee Harvey Oswald? is an investigative biography of the man at the center of the ...»

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Residence in the Soviet Union http://www.archives.gov/research_room/jfk/warren_commission/warren_commiss ion_report_chapter6.html#residence Associations in the Dallas-Fort Worth Community http://www.archives.gov/research_room/jfk/warren_commission/warren_commiss ion_report_chapter6.html#associations Political Activities Upon Return to United States http://www.archives.gov/research_room/jfk/warren_commission/warren_commiss ion_report_chapter6.html#political

2. Assign a student to be a psychiatrist testifying about Oswald's life. The "psychiatrist" can find information about Oswald's life from the following links to the Warren Commission


Chapter Seven -- Lee Harvey Oswald: Background and Possible Motives http://www.jfk-assassination.de/WCR/wcr7.html Appendix XIII -- Biography of Lee Harvey Oswald http://www.jfk-assassination.de/WCR/app13.html

3. Assign a student to be the judge and keep order. If it seems more appropriate, the teacher may take the role of judge. In the interests of time, the judge should keep the testimony of each witness short.

4. The teacher should establish the order of testimony and the trial should begin.

Note: The teacher should allow some latitude in legal tactics. The purpose of this exercise is not to teach courtroom strategies. It is to explore the motivations and life of Lee Harvey Oswald.

Method of Assessment:

After the trial, each student should write a three-part evaluation:

Part One: How well did I testify in my role?

Part Two: Which of the witnesses that I heard did I find most convincing? (Take into account both the evidence itself and how the witness presented the evidence.) Part Three: Based on the testimony I heard, how would I evaluate Lee Harvey Oswald's state of mind and reasons for assassinating President Kennedy?

EXTENDING THE LESSONTrying to Make Sense of the World

Introductory note:

"Presidents Kennedy and Lincoln were elected 100 years apart. Both men were succeeded by Johnsons, who were also born 100 years apart. Their names each contain seven letters. Their successors' names each contain 13 letters. Their assassins' names each contain 15 letters."

(Source: Widely-circulated bit of urban folklore) Are the preceding lines examples of coincidence? Or do they show something greater? What about the coincidences in the life and actions of Lee Harvey Oswald in the context of the larger world? Why do some people seek to put national tragedies like the Kennedy assassination or the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks into a context of coincidence and conspiracy?

Some answers the students might propose:

• People feel defenseless when something like an assassination or a terrorist attack occurs.

They need to think someone or some malevolent force they can combat must be at fault.

• People fear chaos. A conspiracy theory, even if it is wrong, imposes some order.

• People are sometimes skeptical of answers the government provides (for example, in the case of the Kennedy assassination, the Warren Commission report.)

Lesson Objectives:

• To discuss why events like the assassinations of President Kennedy and the events of Sept. 11, 2001 assume such importance in the U.S.

• To discuss why some people seek to put tragedies like assassinations or terrorist attacks into a context of coincidence and conspiracy

Materials Needed:

If students have completed the Pre-Viewing and Viewing Activities, their notes might be helpful.

Time Needed:

One class period


1. Pose the question: Why do some people seek to put national tragedies like President Kennedy's assassination or the Sept. 11 attacks into a context of coincidence and conspiracy?

2. Instruct students to think of the various issues in the film that experts like Gerald Posner sought to prove were either unrelated or coincidences. [Note: Teachers might want to point students to the section of FRONTLINE's Web site entitled "Conspiracy: Case For/Case Against," which lays out some of the main conspiracy theories surrounding the JFK assassination. URL: http://www.pbs.org/frontline/shows/oswald/conspiracy]

Method of Assessment:

Students should represent their thoughts on the feelings national tragedies evoke as a painting, poem, or speech.


"Truth" and "Fiction"

Note to teachers:

The film, "Who was Lee Harvey Oswald?" is a documentary. It presents what its filmmakers have identified as facts in order to support the widely accepted view that Oswald was a lone assassin and was not part of a larger conspiracy. But, of course, even what seem like absolute facts are always open to interpretation. Some authors and filmmakers go further, believing that by fictionalizing parts of a true story, they are better able to convey the tone of the times and are therefore able to represent the "truth" more compellingly. For example, if students completed the Post-Viewing Activity of putting Oswald on trial, they acted the roles of composite characters created to represent several people who knew Oswald as a Marine, in the Soviet Union, and in the United States. Similarly, when we allowed a "psychiatrist" to testify in Oswald's "trial," we were creating a fictional character to present facts and ideas about Oswald.

Though it may seem paradoxical, the idea is that including imaginary encounters or conversations may help to convey the reality of a situation. Two well-known contemporary authors, Norman Mailer and Don DeLillo, have used novelistic techniques to write about the Kennedy assassination. Similarly, Oliver Stone, a contemporary filmmaker, has used documentary footage in his film JFK as a way of legitimizing fictional scenes.

Lesson Objectives:

• To think about whether we can always draw an exact line between "documentary" and "fiction"

• To consider issues of media awareness and media literacy

Materials Needed:

• If students completed any of the other activities in this guide, their notes will be helpful.

• Either selections from Norman Mailer's Oswald's Tale, [URL:

http://www.pbs.org/frontline/shows/oswald/forum/mailer.html] a novelistic treatment of aspects of Oswald's life;


• Clips from JFK, Oliver Stone's film which uses fictional composite characters to support its conspiracy theory

• NOTE: Students may also want to read a forum FRONTLINE conducted, in which Don DeLillo and two non-fiction authors, Edward J. Epstein and Gerald Posner, debate the "Myth, Meaning and Mystery" surrounding Oswald. [URL: http://www.pbs.org/frontline/shows/oswald/forum]

Time Needed:

One to two periods, depending on whether students read the excerpts or view the film clips in class or at home.


1. Present a short excerpt from any of the works listed above (e.g. the written excerpt from Mailer, the FRONTLINE forum, or a video clip from JFK.)

2. Discuss how viewers or readers can tell what is "true" and what is "fiction."

3. Discuss what happens when it is difficult to discern the difference between "truth" and "fiction."

Note to Teachers: If you are using the JFK clips, you may also want to point students to "Hollywood and History: The Debate Over JFK," on FRONTLINE's Web site.



Method of Assessment:

Students should write a page agreeing or disagreeing with the following statement:

Once an author or a film director mixes fact and fiction, their work becomes useless as a means of discovering truth.


In addition to the Web resources included in the guide, students and their teachers might want to look further.

Media literacy note: As with all issues, especially ones charged with controversy, students must learn to be savvy and discriminating readers. No Web site can provide all the information a student needs to know, and teachers should encourage students to "interrogate" Web sites even as they are reading.

Guiding questions as they work through these activities should be: What did you learn from this source? What didn't you learn from this source? Who sponsors this source?

What bias might the sponsor have?

Who Was Lee Harvey Oswald?

http://www.pbs.org/frontline/shows/oswald The companion Web site to the FRONTLINE film offers more on Oswald's life and activities, including a forum in which Don DeLillo, Edward Epstein and Gerald Posner discuss the "Myth, Meaning, and Mystery" surrounding Oswald. Also, a look at the major conspiracy theories surrounding JFK's assassination.

The Kennedy Assassination http://mcadams.posc.mu.edu/home.htm This comprehensive Web site supports the theory that Oswald was a lone assassin. Filled with informative links, it will be useful for students who want to check on their notes from the film about main characters and issues.

JFK -- The Assassination Movie http://mcadams.posc.mu.edu/jfkmovie.htm This site systematically addresses both the distortions and the possible agenda behind them in

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