Like Oil And Water – Poets And The CIA Don’t Mix

There is a feeling among those of us who have been laid off, fired, dumped or otherwise let go of a job that somehow it is always our fault. That sort of feeling goes on in any community where the big employer has decided to cut back, diminish the work force, save overhead and increase profits at labor’s expense. People need to work for money, yes, but they also need it for self respect. Well, let me tell you a story that may make you feel a whole lot better.

Oswald LeWinter is a friend of mine from years ago when we were both graduate students in English at San Francisco State University and were teaching freshman English as graduate assistants. He was the grandson of an underachiever, which may explain why Oswald worked so hard in school. His grandfather was a high school drop out, but more about this grandfather later.

LeWinter had his B.A. from the University of California Berkeley, and I had mine from SF State. We finished the master’s at the same time and we went our separate ways, he to Columbia University in New York City to do a doctorate, after which Oswald taught for a while at Columbia and I lost track of him, only stumbling on him again within the last two months. He was broke, out of a job, near suicide, living in a one room walk-up in Germany. So – what happened?

He told me that he left Columbia after a few years to lecture at Oxford University in England, surely a prestigious job. Bill Clinton could have been his student there. But from there he got himself entangled in the world of spooks. I cannot exactly tell you who was paying the bills for him, but for the next 17 years Oswald was involved in some of the leading spook stories of our time: He had military rank and ended up as a prisoner of war in Korea during that conflict; he was involved in arranging for Freddy Laker’s discount airline between the U.K. and the U.S. to go out of business, for which he did some time in prison; he was an insider in the Iran-Contra deal during the Reagan years, for which he again went to prison, this time with Admiral Poindexter. Remember him?

While involved with the world of so-called “intelligence” gathering, Oswald went to a prestigious German university and received a second Ph.D., this time in psychotherapy. Having been born in Austria, Oswald had maintained dual citizenship, and when it came time to go to prison once again, the Austrian government had the pleasure of entertaining him for two years. This time it was a charge involving the sale of perhaps forged documents he was to deliver to the father of the man who died in Paris with Princes Diana. Remember her?

I’m sure there are many other facets to this story, including how Oswald attained the U.S. military rank of major general, and how and why he was now in a dank, dark room in a small Germany village near Frankfurt, near suicide, having run out of options. But I offer his experiences to you as evidence of how even the best, the brightest, the most privileged among us can have a very bumpy ride in life.

I don’t quite understand: where were Oswald’s pensions checks.? Where were all his friends and contacts? And oh – just in passing I must add that he is said by many modern and contemporary American poets, including the late John Berryman and Karl Shapiro, to be a poet’s poet. He has published eight books including Shakespeare in Europe, one of the most famous scholarly studies of the Bard, and two of his books were published in Portugal.

(He lived in Lisbon for many years and is fluent in Portuguese, German and Russian.) I have a ninth poetry manuscript of his he wants me to place, plus he has almost finished a 600 page novel.

After speaking to him by telephone recently for about one hour and checking his curriculum vitae, I asked my friends at the Polish university where I lectured for an academic year if they would be interested in hiring Oswald – and the rest is history. He got a terrific contract, and he was no longer contemplating ending his life but planned a move in the lucrative world of a visiting professor. It is a job he could have presumably kept for life.

Unfortunately it didn’t work out that way. The administration of the university found out about LeWinter’s political imprisonment, phoned the U.S. Embassy in Warsaw asking for more information, and the official line from our American diplomat was that Oswald is “persona non grata.” He was canned, left before the semester began, and I have been unable to find him. He has not yet answered any of my emails. Certainly, a sad ending.

Now about that grandfather who, I think, would be very proud of Oswald, if he were alive today. Austrian born, Oswald’s grandfather didn’t make it through high school but made a name for himself in science as a young man. He came to America to escape the Nazis, and ultimately did, literally, world-shattering work, was awarded the Nobel Prize in his field and taught for many years as a distinguished professor at Princeton University. Not bad for a high school drop out. And oh, Oswald’s grandfather’s name ——– Albert Einstein.

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