Author’s Thanksgiving thoughts turn to JFK’s assassination, legacy
Today is the 49th anniversary of the president’s shooting in Dallas
A bronze statue of President John F. Kennedy stands in downtown Fort Worth as part of the JFK Tribute that was dedicated Thursday, Nov. 8, 2012, in Fort Worth, Texas. The exhibit that includes a granite wall with photographs and Kennedys quotes is near the site where he gave one of his last two public speeches the morning of Nov. 22, 1963, before he was assassinated hours later in nearby Dallas. (AP Photo/Angela K. Brown)
GREENFIELD — When he sits down for today’s Thanksgiving dinner, James Douglass will offer thanks for John F. Kennedy, assassinated exactly 49 years ago.
“Had he not been willing to risk his life for peace, there wouldn’t be anybody to sit down for Thanksgiving dinner,” says the 75-year old Christian theologian.
Douglass’ 2008 book, “JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters,” describes how — and why — the 35th president was assassinated with close coordination and involvement by the national security community for bucking the very military-industrial complex his White House predecessor had warned of.
His 560-page book looks at how Kennedy’s shift from Cold Warrior to world peace advocate in his June 10, 1963 American University speech, as well as his post-Bay of Pigs vow to “splinter the CIA in a thousand pieces and scatter it to the winds,” contributed to his Dallas murder.
Douglass will present a Dec. 14-16 workshop at the Rowe Conference Center that will explore the implications of Kennedy’s rejection of nuclear war and “toward a new, more peaceful possibility in his and our lives.”
The weekend also includes the reading Dec. 15 of “Noah’s Ark,” a play by Pittsburgh playwright Ginny Cunningham based on Douglass’s book, directed by Court Dorsey of Wendell. (Registration for either the entire weekend or Saturday’s dinner and play can be arranged by contacting Rowe Conference Center.)
“From the Bay of Pigs on, and especially from the Cuban Missile Crisis on, Kennedy was in mortal conflict with his intelligence advisers, especially the Central Intelligence Agency and the Joint Chiefs of Staff,” says Douglass, who spent 12 years researching and writing his book, published by Simon & Schuster Touchstone. “That’s why he was assassinated.”
Douglass, whose “Gandhi and the Unspeakable: His Final Experiment with Truth,” was published this year, says, “Had (JFK) not been willing to turn from nuclear war in the midst of the Cuban (missile crisis), had he not been willing to appeal to his enemy, (Russian Premier) Nikita Khrushchev, for a way out of that crisis, thereby alienating his entire national security establishment, we would not have a life to be thankful for right now. That’s why his assassination matters, for us to understand that. Because we’re still in that process with any president of the United States and any national security establishment following his.”
Kennedy’s inauguration was preceded by outgoing President Dwight Eisenhower’s farewell address outlining the dangers of the military-industrial complex: “(Its) total influence — economic, political, even spiritual — is felt in every city, every state house, every office of the federal government.”
Beginning with the CIA’s covert Bay of Pigs invasion in April 1961, for which the new president had been set up, according to agency documents revealed later, Kennedy fired CIA Director Allen Dulles (who was later named to the Warren Commission investigating the JFK assassination) and said he wanted “to splinter the CIA in a thousand pieces and scatter it to the winds.”
The collision course between former Naval hero and his military and advisers had been set, Douglass says.
From there, JFK refused later in 1961 to agree with his generals to put troops in Laos or to use nuclear weapons in Berlin and Southeast Asia, refused to bomb and invade Cuba in 1962 and then in his American University speech called for abolishing all nuclear weapons, the end of the Cold War and the “Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war.”
Calling for “general and complete disarmament,” JFK signed a limited test ban treaty with Khrushchev and in October 1963 signed a national security memorandum calling for withdrawal of 1,000 U. S. troops from Vietnam by the end of the year toward a total withdrawal by the end of 1965.
All this, Douglass explains, Kennedy did while secretly engaging in negotiations with Khrushchev and with Cuban President Fidel Castro through various intermediaries, JFK also provoked the wrath of the nation’s business leaders when he successfully fought a price hike by six American steelmakers, despite an inflation-control agreement.
“The evidence is overwhelming,” Douglass says, emphasizing each syllable. “The question is not what killed Kennedy. The question is why isn’t that a conscious truth among all of us, because of the of overwhelming evidence?”
In a December 2010 Tikkun magazine article, Douglass writes “President Kennedy’s courageous turn from global war to a strategy of peace provides the why of his assassination. Because he turned toward peace with our enemies, the Communists, he found himself at odds with his own national security state. Peacemaking had risen to the top of his agenda as president. That was not the kind of leadership the CIA, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the military-industrial complex wanted in the White House. Given the Cold War dogmas that gripped those dominant powers, and given Kennedy’s turn toward peace, his assassination followed as a matter of course. Given what we know now, there can be little doubt it was an act of state.”
Lee Harvey Oswald, JFK’s presumed assassin, had a long, twisted connection with American intelligence agencies that’s recounted in Douglass’s book. The litany of swings between pro-Communist and anti-Communist associations and seeming disassociations begin as a Marine at the CIA’s U-2 spy base with top security clearance years before a U-2 plane was shot down by the Soviets, and then defecting to the Soviet Union and denouncing the United States but later returning to this country to work with a variety of anti-Castro paramilitary figures.
“Why was Lee Harvey Oswald so tolerated and supported by the government he betrayed?” asks Douglass.
In his review, Edward Curtin, a sociologist at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in North Adams, writes, “The evidence for a conspiracy organized at the deepest levels of the intelligence apparatus is overwhelming. Douglass presents it in such depth and so logically that only one hardened to the truth would not be deeply moved and affected by his book.”
Dorsey, who will also play one of several roles in the play reading at Rowe, agrees: “I think he makes a really compelling case. I think it’s exactly the kind of things we as American citizens ought to feel a tremendous responsibility to uncover. … It’s really important for the preservation of the will of the people that we take this document that he’s written and seriously consider it.”
Douglass borrows the term ‘unspeakable’ from Trappist monk Thomas Merton, who coined it in the midst of the further assassinations of Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King and Malcolm X as “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.”
Merton, who died in 1968 and was Douglass’s “spiritual adviser” in writing this book, “understood the question about Kennedy before Kennedy was assassinated. Merton wrote a letter to a friend, saying that if John Kennedy — about whom he had serious reservations — were to change in the direction of hope, if he were to develop a kind of ... compassion that was needed for a president at that time, he would be marked out for assassination. Merton has helped me understand that the stakes were enormous, and the possibilities of change were such that if a president — and the president at that time — were to move in that direction, it would be profoundly hopeful for the world and would result in martyrdom.”
As the size and power of the national intelligence community has grown dramatically over time, so have the stakes, to an age when terrorism has replaced the Cold War as its target, says Douglass, who spoke at the 25th anniversary of the Leverett Peace Pagoda in 2010 on the subject of President Barack Obama’s backing down from questioning his advisers’ urging a “surge” of troops to Afghanistan.
“The intelligence establishment has expanded to a huge degree because of the failure to confront. If you allow the president of the United States to be assassinated with impunity because he was seeking peace in the world, then the flood gates are open. Anything can be done in the name of national security. …We all have really good instincts and we get overwhelmed by lies.”
Douglass, who attended the 1999 “wrongful death” trial brought by the King family, says he believes the government also was complicit in the assassinations of King, Malcolm X and Robert Kennedy, if only by ignoring clear evidence that they were about to take place.
“The assassinations of those four articulate spokespeople for that change, without being dealt with created a despair that’s been present ever since,” says Douglass, who taught theology at the University of Hawaii, Notre Dame and Bellarmine College and devotes his time to writing and peace advocacy, including, with his wife, running a Catholic Worker House for the homeless in Birmingham, Ala.
Ultimately, he believes, “What’s worse than killing Kennedy is lying about why he was killed. We kill ourselves when we kill the truth, or when we allow it to be killed.”
He adds, “If we understand the assassination of John Kennedy, it confers on us an enormous responsibility: to seek peace with our lives to as high a degree as he did if we want to remain free and peaceful on this planet. Without that kind of effort, that won’t happen. We have a very short time span left. People realize that to some extent today because of the crisis we’ve created through living habits that are overwhelming us … So it’s just too much to think about. But it’s very necessary to think about.”
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