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Douglass, JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, April 2008).
Preface [dated Jul. 29, 2007]. Thesis: “[T]he truth is available” and the conspiracy to kill Kennedy can “now be seen in detail”: “Kennedy was murdered” because after the Cuban missile crisis he turned against the Cold War and “turned toward peace” (ix). His turn toward dialogue with enemies was a step toward nonviolence (x). Thomas Merton is “my Virgil on this pilgrimage” (x; x-xi). Introduction. Douglass corresponded with Thomas Merton about nuclear war beginning in 1961 (xiii). Despite Merton’s doubts that JFK was capable of it, in fact Kennedy “was turning . . . toward a new, more peaceful possibility” (xv). He entered into “deadly conflict with the Unspeakable,” Merton’s term for “a kind of systemic evil that defies speech,” or, in Merton’s words, “the void that contradicts everything that is spoken even before the words are said; the void that gets into the language of public and official declarations at the very moment when they are pronounced, and makes them ring dead with the hollowness of the abyss” (xv). It is “the unspeakable void of responsibility in our own national security state” (xvi). Though in three decades of anti-nuclear activism Douglass failed to perceive the connection, JFK, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., and Robert Kennedy were all killed for the same reason (xvi-xvii). The Unspeakable is in all of us and is the basis of “citizen denial” and shared culpability: “By avoiding our responsibility for the escalating crimes of state done for our security, we who failed to confront the Unspeakable opened the door to JFK’s assassination and its cover-up” (xvii). Theological remarks: Douglass interprets the New Testament “son of man” to signify “human being” and Jesus’s gospel to signify that “what we as human beings are all about in our deepest nature, is giving our lives for one another” (xviii). “Let the reader decide” whether JFK was a “martyr . . . one who in spite of contradictions gave his life as witness to a new, more peaceful humanity” (xviii; xviii-xix). Chronology 1961-1963. 12 pp. Lays out chronology of Kennedy’s plans to come to terms with the USSR and Cuba, reach accommodation on Laos and remove U.S. troops from Vietnam, and pursue disarmament, and also assassination plans which culminate in an assassination “in Dealey Plaza, Dallas,” carried out by “sniper teams . . . by crossfire” (xxx; xxi-xxxi). Ch. 1: A Cold Warrior Turns. Thesis restated (1-2). JFK’s early brushes with mortality (2-5). Preserving peace was his motivation for entering politics, but Cold War policies often obscured this (5-10). Thomas Merton became preoccupied with the danger of nuclear war; in the early 1960s, he wrote: “In fact it would seem that during the Cold War, if not during World War II, this country has become frankly a warfare state built on affluence, a power structure in which the interests of big business, the obsessions of the military, and the phobias of political extremists both dominate and dictate our national policy. It also seems that the people of the country are by and large reduced to passivity, confusion, resentment, frustration, thoughtlessness, and ignorance, so that they blindly follow any line that is unraveled for them by the mass media” (11; 10-11). Kennedy thought a coup was possible in the U.S. (12-13). The Bay of Pigs fiasco led Kennedy to move against the CIA (13-17). Merton’s letters at that time (17-20). The Cuban Missile Crisis (20-31). Kennedy’s June 10, 1963, commencement address at American University proposed an end to the Cold War (31-37; cf. text 382-88). When he defected to the USSR, Lee Harvey Oswald was working for U.S. intelligence (37-41). In his American University speech, Kennedy echoed themes of Pope John XXIII’s Pacem in Terris (Apr. 11, 1963) (42-46). Oswald’s return to the U.S. (46-49). Limited nuclear test ban treaty with Khrushchev in mid 1963 (49-54). Ch. 2: Kennedy, Castro, and the CIA. Kennedy was initiating discussions with Fidel Castro (55-61). Oswald seems to have been working both with the CIA and the FBI while posing as a pro-Castro activist (61-66). Maneuverings to have diplomat William
Atwood meet secretly with Castro (66-74). Oswald (or an impostor) applied at the Cuban and Soviet consulates in Mexico City in September-October 1963 (74-84). Castro learns of Kennedy’s assassination (84-90). The assassination put an end to U.S.-Cuba rapprochement ( 90-92). Ch. 3: JFK and Vietnam. Kennedy had resolved to leave Vietnam and issued on Oct. 11, 1963, a “secret order for a U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam in National Security Action Memorandum (NSAM) 263” (93; 9396; 186-90). “[K]ennedy was locked in a struggle with his national security state” (96). Gen. Lyman L. Lemnitzer, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, presented Operation Northwoods” to Sec. of Defense McNamara in Mar. 13, 1962, to justify war on Cuba (9698). Kennedy sought a neutral Laos, accommodating the Communists (98-102; 113-15). Abraham Bolden, the first black Secret Service member of the White House detail, said Secret Service agents protecting Kennedy were lax, even hostile (103). Kennedy’s was determined not to be dragged into Vietnam (103-09). Kennedy resisted military efforts to escalate the 1961 Berlin crisis (109-13). Kennedy had lost confidence in the CIA (115-17). He was pursuing diplomatic avenues in SE Asia (117-25). But he said the opposite in public, “lied to the public” in order to be reelected and to be able to carry out withdrawal (125-26). The CIA was behind supposedly Communist terror attacks in 1963 (127-34) Ch. 4: Marked Out for Assassination. Kennedy’s courage (135-36). The militaryindustrial complex (136-37). Kennedy won his struggle with Big Steel but provoked deep enmity in corporate leaders (137-42). “We have no evidence as to who in the militaryindustrial complex may have given the order to assassinate President Kennedy” (142). But the CIA was obviously the agency who carried it out; Jim and Elsie Wilcott, former CIA employees, revealed Oswald’s connection to the agency (143-48). June 1963 (148-49). Kennedy’s anticolonialism (149-52). Richard Case Nagell, a double agent who died mysteriously in 1995, was an “active participant” in the assassination plot (152-58). The September 1963 Odio incident, in which Oswald or a look-alike discussed killing Kennedy (158-62). Vietnam
diplomacy, fall 1963; Kennedy persuaded to endorse Aug. 24, 1963 telegram drafted by Roger Hilsman, Averell Harriman, and Michael Forrestal to newly appointed U.S. Ambassador to South Vietnam Henry Cabot Lodge endorsing a coup d’état against Diem (162-67). Oswald in Dallas; Michael and Ruth Paine (168-73). Ch. 5: Saigon and Chicago. A “deepening Kennedy-Khrushchev détente” led “America’s power brokers” to consider JFK “a traitor” (175; 174-75). Kennedy pushed peace in a Sept. 20, 1963 U.N. address (175-77). Oswald was prepared as scapegoat, but J. Edgar Hoover was apparently not involved; the plot came from “a greater authority” (179; 177-80). Kennedy faced enormous internal opposition in pursuing Vietnam withdrawal (180-85). The CIA manipulated the SouthVietnam government (185-86). Kennedy signed on Oct. 11, 1963, National Security Action Memorandum (NSAM) 263, a secret order for a U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam (186-90). The appointment of Henry Cabot Lodge as ambassador to South Vietnam proved to be a mistake; Kennedy was “losing control of his government” (192; 190-92). The CIA suspended economic aid to the Diem government without Kennedy’s approval as a signal that the U.S. would support a coup (192-95). The CIA had “undercover agents in every branch of the American government in Saigon by the fall of 1963” (196; 195-97). Kennedy tried and failed to block the coup against Diem (197200). A plot to kill Kennedy in Chicago on Nov. 2, 1963; Thomas Arthur Vallee arrested (200-01; 202-07). Diem made an effort to appeal to Kennedy through Lodge (201-02). Diem’s assassination on Nov. 2, 1963 (20710). Kennedy’s anguish at Diem’s assassination echoed his shock at learning of Lumumba’s assassination, which he learned of only on Feb. 13, 1961 (210-13). Chicago trip canceled; black Secret Service agent Abraham Bolden, who suspected at this time that the Kennedy assassination was in the works, was later framed and imprisoned for selling secret files to a counterfeiting ring, where he was committed to a psychiatric unit and drugged; he resisted, however, and through a prearranged signal he was able to get word to his wife who stopped the treatment (213-17; Douglass interviewed
Bolden many times). The Chicago plot was “the model for Dallas” (218; 217-18). Ch. 6: Washington and Dallas. As Kennedy pursued détente with Khrushchev, he discovered that with the public “peace is an issue” (220; 219-21). Oswald was being set up as the assassin (221-22). Kennedy, meanwhile, was conscious of the risk of assassination and seemed to be preparing himself for death; on Oct. 5, 1963, five-yearold Caroline Kennedy recited in its entirety Alan Seeger’s “Rendezvous” (“I have a rendezvous with Death/At some disputed barricade . . .”) to her father in the middle of a National Security Council meeting (22225). Early November sightings of Oswald or his double (225-27). The Soviet Union was also being set up (227-32). Ruth Paine’s claim she saw Oswald writing the letter to the Soviet embassy (232-34). There is a possibility the assassination was to be used as a reason to attack Cuba and the USSR; preemptive war on the Soviet Union was discussed by the National Security Council on Sept. 12, 1963 (234-42). There were plans to rent a plane for Oswald’s escape to Cuba (242-43). Rose Cheramie, a heroin addict who died in mysterious circumstances on Sept. 4, 1965, said that on Nov. 20, 1963, she met in Eunice, Louisiana, two men (identified by Jim Garrison as Emilio Santana and a former Cuban diplomat named Sergio Arcacha Smith [died in 2000]) who said they were going to kill Kennedy (242-48). In early November, Kennedy continued to pursue a secret dialogue with Castro (248-50). Meanwhile, the CIA was pursuing assassination plots against Castro (250-52). Castro gave a speech on Nov. 23, 1963, in which he raised obvious suspicions about Kennedy’s death and later expressed appreciation and approval of his conduct (252-54). Julia Ann Mercer recognized Jack Ruby carrying a rifle to the grassy knoll near Dealey Plaza on the morning of Nov. 22, 1963; her later statements on the subject were altered (254-57). On Nov. 19, Kennedy expressed willingness to visit in the spring of 1964 Pres. Sukarno of Indonesia, whom the CIA wanted to kill (257-60). Individuals posing as Secret Service agents blocked pursuit of the real assassins (260-62). A deaf-mute, Ed Hoffman, witnessed the real assassin and the disposal of the murder weapon (262-67). Khrushchev’s last letter to
Kennedy (Oct. 10, 1963); Kennedy’s reply was never sent (267-69). Protection of Kennedy was withdrawn by the Secret Service at the moment of his murder (27073). Oswald was seen on grassy knoll getting into a station wagon owned by Ruth Paine shortly after the assassination (27077). Jacqueline Kennedy’s lost her premature baby Patrick on Aug. 9 (277-81). JFK autopsy X-rays were faked (281-83). Oswald seems to have been having lunch on the first floor of the Texas School Book Depository when Kennedy died (283-87). The murder of Dallas Police Officer J.D. Tippit (287-91). Two Oswalds were arrested (29198). By chance U.S. Air Force Sgt. Robert Vinson was on the CIA plane that picked up an Oswald double and another man in Dallas and flew them to Roswell AFB (official name Walker AFB) in New Mexico (298-304). Hours before he was killed, Kennedy told his asst. press secretary the U.S. would leave Vietnam (304-06). Based on testimony from Dr. Malcolm Perry and Dr. Charles Crenshaw that Kennedy was shot from the front, Staughton Lynd and Jack Minnis published the first critique of the official account of the assassination in the New Republic (Dec. 21, 1963) (307-11). The military and FBI disrupted JFK’s autopsy and prevented examination of the neck wound (311-15). Lt.Com. William Bruce Pitzer, who photographed the autopsy and later showed First Class Hospital Corpsman Dennis David the images indicating Kennedy was shot from the front on a film-editing machine, was murdered at the National Naval Medical Center on Oct. 29, 1966 (315-18). Army Special Forces Lt. Col. (ret.) Daniel Marvin declined to assassinate Pitzer in August 1965 (318-21). There were many signs that Kennedy was turning to peace (321-30). Though it’s impossible to know what scapegoat Lee Harvey Oswald was thinking before he was killed, there are some indications that he had come to sympathize with Kennedy and his vision of peace (33035). The Warren Commission was forced to cover up excessive evidence of Oswald, since it indicated a conspiracy (335-38). Norman Cousins, editor of the Saturday Review, brokered a three-way push for peace involving Kennedy, Khrushchev, and the dying Pope John XXIII; it led to Kennedy’s Jun. 10, 1963 American University speech (33851). Because he had the misfortune to
pickup what was apparently an Oswald double carrying “curtain rods” to the Book Depository and then to stick to that story when the Warren Commission already had another version of the curtain-rod story it preferred, Ralph Leon Yates was institutionalized in mental hospitals, drugged, given shock treatments, and died at the age of 39 (351-56). JFK’s last visit to his son’s grave and to his father (356-58). Jack Ruby, of the Mafia (which worked with the CIA in the late 1950s and early 1960s) was a key player in the assassination plot, and the backup to kill Oswald should the Dallas Police not do so (358-63). “Lee Harvey Oswald was a questioning, dissenting CIA operative, who had become a security risk” (363-68). Kennedy discussed the possibility he’d be assassinated in Texas but took a fatalistic attitude (368-70). “[T]he evidence we have points toward our national security state” (370). A Cuban pilot working with Wayne January, owner of American Aviation in Dallas, revealed to him that “they” planned to kill JFK, Robert Kennedy, “and any other Kennedy who gets into that position”; January revealed this only in 1992 and his name was revealed only posthumously (371-74). Kennedy’s death preempted withdrawal from Vietnam (37476). It allowed an anti-Communist bloodbath in Indonesia to go forward(376-78). It allowed the Cold War to continue (378-81). Two versions of Jacqueline Kennedy’s words to the Soviet representative at the funeral: “Please tell Mr. Chairman President that I know he and my husband worked together for a peaceful world, and now he and you
must carry on my husband’s work” and “My husband’s dead. Now peace is up to you” (381). “The essence of her message is appropriate to us all. John F. Kennedy is dead. Now peace is up to us” (381).
Appendix: Commencement Address at American University (June 10, 1963) by President John F. Kennedy. (382-88). Acknowledgments. Friends, assistants, researchers, archivists, helpers with documentation, witnesses (389-91). Notes. 97 pp. Index. 22 pp. About the author. James W. Douglass (born in late 1930s?) is a longtime peace activist and co-founder of the Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action in Washington State. He and his wife Shelley later opened a Catholic Worker hospitality house in Birmingham, AL. He is the author of The Nonviolent Cross (1968; 2006 reprint); Resistance and Contemplation (1972; 2006 reprint); Lighting East to West: Jesus, Gandhi, and the Nuclear Age (1983; 2006 reprint); The Nonviolent Coming of God (1991; 2006 reprint). In 1997 he and his wife received the Pacem in Terris Peace and Freedom Award. In 2003 he participated in a Christian Peacemaker Teams mission to Iraq.
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