Interview with Tom Wicker

What are your recollections of Commissioner Oswald?


I had, I had, considerable admiration for Russell Oswald. I think that he really wanted to settle that affair without violence if it were possible. In the long run he wasn't able to do that because he wasn't really in charge. Governor Rockefeller didn't come to Attica but he had his representatives there from his office and they, to do them credit, they went along with Oswald for a few days, two or three days, but ultimately they took charge and the political reality of the situation I suppose was that there were demands on the governor to, and at least he certainly said so, to retake the institution, reopen the institution, res--restore law and order, and that was, if you will recall, we're talking about 1971, that was in a period when law and order was probably the highest political issue in the nation. President Nixon was in the White House and he campaigned a year later on the whole issue of law and order. So, and, and Governor Rockefeller was at that time, I think it's fair to say, moving from the generally liberal position he'd had in the '60s more to the right under the political influences of the time and so I think Oswald if he had been left to own devices, would have made even longer efforts and strong efforts to resolve the situation peacefully. Now, I want to hasten to say that when, that that might not have been possible. I believe that you could have simply waited out the inmates there and ultimately you would have gotten a solution in which 10 hostages didn't die and, and all the inmates that were killed too, I, and 83 people wounded. I should add here out of what may be, what is lasting indignation that you had 83 people wounded to the point of needing hospital care and, as I recall it, 39 people killed and they made no effort to provide any medical care beforehand. They did later on, but they made no effort beforehand to provide for what any fool knew was going to happen. But in any case, I think if Oswald had had his way, all that would have been avoided. Ah, and, ah, and, ah, he, he regarded himself as a prison reformer, as a liberal on these questions. That was a long time ago, the inmates didn't regard him that way and perhaps his liberal instincts at that time would not be so regarded now, I don't know. But what I think that Russell Oswald was a man of good faith and good intentions who would have settled that affair peaceably if he'd been allowed to do so.


OK, can we cut now?