Carl Oglesby, the son of a rubber mill worker, was born in Akron, Ohio on 30th July, 1935. He went to Kent State University but dropped out in his final year and moved to Greenwich Village where he made attempts to become an actor and playwright. After failing to establish himself in his chosen profession, he returned to Kent to complete his degree.
In the years following graduation he did a variety of different jobs, including working as a technical editor for Bendix, a defense contractor in Michigan. He got married and over the next few years his wife Beth, had three children, Aron, Caleb, and Shay. While working for Bendix he studied part-time for a second degree at the University of Michigan.
Oglesby was radicalized by the Vietnam War and eventually joined the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), a group that organized opposition to the war. Hillel Italie has pointed out: "The SDS had been founded in 1960 at the University of Michigan, and its early declaration, the Port Huron Statement, helped embody the idealism of the early '60s. The SDS supported civil rights and opposed the nuclear arms race. It was strongly critical of the U.S. government and called for greater efforts to fight poverty and big business." Oglesby became a full time Research, Information, Publications worker for SDS. In 1965 he was elected as president of the organization. In this role he was instrumental in organizing the SDS peace march in Washington on 17th April, 1965.
Mike Davis was a fellow member of the SDS at the time. "He was ten years older than most of us, had just resigned from Bendix corporation where he had worked as a technical writer, and wore a beard because his face was cratered from a poor-white childhood. His father was a rubber worker in Akron and his people came from the mountains. I’m not capable of accurately describing the kindness, intensity and melancholy that were alloyed in Carl’s character, or the profound role he played in deepening our commitment to the anti-war movement. He literally moved the hearts of thousands of people."
On 27th November, 1965, Oglesby made his Let Us Shape the Future speech: "We are here again to protest a growing war. Since it is a very bad war, we acquire the habit of thinking it must be caused by very bad men. But we only conceal reality, I think, to denounce on such grounds the menacing coalition of industrial and military power, or the brutality of the blitzkrieg we are waging against Vietnam, or the ominous signs around us that heresy may soon no longer be permitted. We must simply observe, and quite plainly say, that this coalition, this blitzkrieg, and this demand for acquiescence are creatures, all of them, of a Government that since 1932 has considered itself to he fundamentally liberal. The original commitment in Vietnam was made by President Truman, a mainstream liberal. It was seconded by President Eisenhower, a moderate liberal. It was intensified by the late President Kennedy, a flaming liberal. Think of the men who now engineer that war - those who study the maps, give the commands, push the buttons, and tally the dead: Bundy, McNamara, Rusk, Lodge, Goldberg, the President himself. They are not moral monsters. They are all honorable men. They are all liberals."
Oglesby argued that radicalism, not liberalism, would be needed to bring an end to America's foreign policy. Oglesby added that it was also important to look at domestic issues: "Can we understand why the Negroes of Watts rebelled? Then why do we need a devil theory to explain the rebellion of the South Vietnamese? Can we understand the oppression in Mississippi, or the anguish that our Northern ghettoes makes epidemic? Then why can't we see that our proper human struggle is not with Communism or revolutionaries, but with the social desperation that drives good men to violence, both here and abroad?"
Another SDS activist, Todd Gitlin, compared Oglesby's oratory to that of Martin Luther King: "The only other person who compared to him was Martin Luther King. He had the mastery of vivid phrases and also the power of mobilizing people." Tom Hayden called Oglesby a "radical individualist" in the tradition of Henry David Thoreau. "He used to think you could argue with Pentagon intellectuals like Robert McNamara and get them to change their minds... But he later decided there would have to be a fundamental power shift."
Kirkpatrick Sale was one of those who witnessed Oglesby's speech. He wrote in SDS: Ten Years Towards a Revolution (1974): "It was a devastating performance: skilled, moderate, learned, and compassionate, but uncompromising, angry, radical, and above all persuasive. It drew the only standing ovation of the afternoon... for years afterward it would continue to be one of the most popular items of SDS literature."
In his 1967 essay Vietnamese Crucible, Oglesby rejected the "socialist radical, the corporatist conservative, and the welfare-state liberal" and "challenged the new left to embrace American democratic populism and the American libertarian right." Oglesby, who described himself as a "radical centrist", came under attack from those of the radical left, such as the Weathermen, who described him as a "hopeless bourgeois liberal." However, he was invited by the Black Panther leader Eldridge Cleaver to be his vice-presidential running-mate for the Peace and Freedom party in 1968, but he declined.
In 1969 Oglesby left the Students for a Democratic Society. His friend, Todd Gitlin, commented: "He suffered greatly from that, maybe more than anyone else of the older crown, from being targeted by the Weathermen as a bad guy. He used to say that the Weathermen were like the children of his generation, dismantling what had been achieved."
Godfrey Hodgson has pointed out: "Oglesby was essentially an autodidact and developed a hybrid political philosophy of his own. He made himself unpopular with some by insisting that the men who led the US into the war were not bad people as individuals, and that the war was the product of systemic faults in American society. He came under the influence of the libertarian thinker Murray Rothbard and even aspired to a kind of fusion between the old right, in which he included such conservative figures as General Douglas MacArthur and Senator Robert Taft, and the new left."
Oglesby went on to teach politics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Dartmouth College. He also released two albums, Carl Oglesby (1969) and Going to Damascus (1971), that were praised for their "psychedelic folk rock sound." In 1972 Oglesby was one of the founders of the Assassination Information Bureau. His writings include the afterword On the Trial of the Assassins, in the book written by Jim Garrison.
Oglesby is also the co-author of Containment and Change (1967) and the editor of The New Left Reader (1969). Oglesby has written several books on the assassination of John F. Kennedy and related topics such as Watergate. This included the publication of The Politics Of Conspiracy (1975), The Yankee and Cowboy War: Conspiracies from Dallas to Watergate and Beyond (1976).Who Killed JFK? (1991) and The JFK Assassination: The Facts and the Theories (1992). This was followed by Ravens in the Storm: A Personal History of the 1960s Antiwar Movement (2008).
Carl Oglesby died of lung cancer at his home in Montclair, New Jersey on 13th September, 2011 at the age of 76. He is survived by his children Aron DiBacco, Shay Ogelsby-Smith, and Caleb, and Carl's partner, Barbara Webster.