A West Point grad with a brilliant war record in both World War II and Korea, he was the officer ultimately responsible for seeing that Little Rock Central High School was peacefully integrated in 1957. He had the task of protecting the young African-American students and their families from mob violence.
Despite his deep misgivings as a Southerner, he carried out President Eisenhower’s orders to the letter. Reassigned to Europe, he became a divisional commander but was relieved of his post for allegedly trying to indoctrinate his troops with right-wing propaganda. (He claimed to be trying to preemptively counter Communist brain-washing techniques he’d seen in Korea.) At least one of the charges, that he’d directed his troops which way to vote, turned out to be false when it turned out he only published directions on how to cast an absentee ballot, directions which are still in use in the military.
Disgusted, he resigned from the Army (which cost him his pension benefits), and became an increasingly strident right-wing activist. This was particularly so after he came under the influence of John Birch Society founder Robert Welch, oil baron H.L. Hunt, and evangelist Billy James Hargis, a sort of proto-Falwell/Robertson. He ran for governor of Texas in 1962 as a conservative Democrat but was defeated by John Connally.
By now Walker, who by all accounts was a skilled orator, had a national following among the far right. He decided to show up in the fall of 1962 at the University of Mississippi, right as it was plunged into crisis by the enrollment of its first African-American student, James Meredith. Addressing an angry crowd of whites, he told them that while he was ashamed that his own government was trying to impose its will on the people of Mississippi by force, violence would only serve to discredit the conservative and anti-Communist cause. He was jeered off the podium after he memorably proclaimed; “This is not the road to a Free Havana!”
Charged with sedition and rebellion by Bobby Kennedy’s Justice Department, he was also arrested and thrown into a mental hospital in an attempt to get him declared insane. This even provoked outrage in the psychiatric community, not exactly a bastion of the right-wing, and he was released after five days because of what was clearly seen as an attempt to use confinement in a mental hospital as a political weapon to silence opponents. All the federal criminal charges against him were ultimately dropped.
On Sunday, November 3rd, the Kansas City Star published a favorable review (written by one David Conrads) of a book by Bill Minutaglio and Steven L. Davis, “Dallas 1963.” The Star reviewer clearly agrees with the book’s authors that the real instrument that caused President Kennedy’s death was not a bullet from a 6.5mm Mannlicher-Carcano rifle but the “climate” of right-wing “vitriol” in Dallas. Chief among the “haters” that produced this vitriol, “their point man,” in fact (according to the authors and the reviewer), was our friend Edwin Walker.
There is no question that Walker helped orchestrate a lot of the opposition in Dallas to the Kennedy administration and liberal causes generally. (A “little old lady in tennis shoes” follower of his had swatted Adlai Stevenson with a cardboard sign reading “Get the US out of the UN and the UN of out of the US.” We aren’t exactly talking Beirut or Belfast levels of political violence.) He was prominent enough that he was singled out as a “Fascist leader” by a brooding loner named Lee Harvey Oswald and marked for elimination. (The next time I hear of some book or movie glorifying a hero who is “a loner who bucks the system,” I want to say; “You mean like Lee Harvey Oswald, Sirhan Sirhan, James Earl Ray, and John Hinckley? They all fit that description!”)
Oswald, you will recall, was a former Marine who had defected to the Soviet Union in 1959, but who had been allowed to return to the US in 1962. He was a self-proclaimed ‘Marxist-Leninist’ and was a member of a pro-Castro group, “The Fair Play for Cuba Committee,” (a leftist organization that had more prominent adherents like Norman Mailer). Determined to rid the world of “fascists” like Walker, Oswald purchased a high-powered rifle in early 1963 and stalked the retired general for weeks before trying to kill him on the night of April 10, 1963. The shot, into Walker’s dining room, missed him but he was wounded by stray bullet fragments when the bullet struck the wall just over his head and exploded.
Seven months later, Oswald killed John Kennedy in Dallas. Why is Walker responsible for a murder committed by someone who tried to murder him? It’s like the 2006 British “mockumentary,” Death of a President, which presents a fictionalized account of the assassination of George W. Bush. The film had a clear message; 1) Bush deserved such a fate, 2) He not only had it “coming to him,” but should be blamed for the savage repression and totalitarian rule that followed at the hands of now-president Dick Cheney!
I guess it’s not enough to say that conservatives deserve to be killed. They also must get the blame for all the terrible consequences of their own murder (or, in Walker’s case, near-murder, i.e., if Oswald had killed Walker, he wouldn’t have had to target another “fascist” like John F. Kennedy!)
In 1991, during the presidency of George H. W. Bush, The New Yorker magazine favorably reviewed an off-off-Broadway play, which sympathetically portrayed the assassins of US Presidents like Garfield, McKinley, etc. as sensitive, tortured souls. They reran the review when the play was revived in 2002 during the presidency of George W. Bush.
General Walker won verdicts of $3,000,000 against newspapers who had defamed him in 1962 by alleging that he was responsible for the violence at Ole Miss that year. Isn’t this new book which suggests that he somehow was responsible for President Kennedy’s death just as defamatory? (Only someone with the intellectual dishonesty of the KC Star could blame a professional anti-Communist like Walker for a murder committed by a Communist sympathizer like Oswald.) However, the old Popular Front slogan must still apply, i.e., No Enemies to the Left!
To quote one of The Left’s own favorite tag lines; “Have you no decency, sir?”