Wednesday, July 02, 2008

A book worth buying 

JFK and the Unspeakable, by the longtime peace activist and Catholic theologian James W. Douglass. It contends that JFK had a change of heart in the last year of his life (much like that of his brother, Bobby, in 1968) -- a change of heart against the Cold War and toward the peace of Christ -- and that this change was what got him killed.

The reviews are extraordinarily strong, and most of them are not from Christians but from international relations experts, political scientists and left-wing dissenters. "By far the most important book yet written on the subject," says a former staff investigator on the U.S. House Select Committee on Assassinations. Daniel Ellsberg says that the book "presents an unfamiliar yet thoroughly convincing account of a series of creditable decisions of JFK -- at odds with his initial Cold-War stance -- that earned him the secret distrust and hatred" of CIA and Joint Chiefs hard-liners and dead-enders. Richard Falk calls the book "remarkable" and "devastating."

Here are some bits from a review by the Jesuit activist John Dear:

Douglass tells the story as no mere reporter. He keeps an eye on the mystical veins of history, relying at times on the prophetic voice of his friend Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk, a reliable and prophetic commentator on world events in his day. It was Merton who first wrote about the "unspeakable" in his classic collection of essays, Raids on the Unspeakable (a favorite of mine).

"I have little confidence in Kennedy," Merton wrote a friend in January, 1962. "What is needed is not shrewdness or craft, but what the politicians don't have: depth, humanity, and a certain totality of self-forgetfulness and compassion, not just for individuals, but for humanity as a whole: a deeper kind of dedication. Maybe Kennedy will break through into that some day by miracle. But such people are before long marked out for assassination."

What the visionary Merton foretold, the chronicler Douglass charts in detail. JFK, along with Khrushchev and Pope John XXIII, had brought the world back a step from nuclear war. Kennedy planned to remove all U.S. troops from Vietnam. His heart was coming into its own. He embraced global peace; he broke through toward compassion for all of humanity under nuclear siege. And among obstinate powers, his compassion marked him as a candidate for the anonymous bullet...

Could they go so far as to assassinate a president? Certainly national institutions aren't as insane as all that? The thought sets us reeling. But take a moment to ponder and the dissonance eases. If officials can institute policies that kill three million people in Southeast Asia, a million and a half in Iraq, half a million people in Central America and Colombia, if they shrug at global warming, if they institute a vast, secretive industry for building a nuclear arsenal, controlling outer space, stealing the world's natural resources -- surely they can dispatch a prominent leader who tries to reverse direction, and dispatch him without compunction...

Jim weaves no hovering dream. While his sober eye searches out the moral and spiritual dimensions, he's an assiduous journalist as well. Here is a story told with immense skill. He lays out the fine details (his endnotes run a hundred pages). He chronicles the details of Lee Harvey Oswald, how CIA and Mafia operatives framed him, how the assassination was set for Chicago, how the plan was foiled, how they had a contingency, and how the deed was done in Dallas. He chronicles the spate of witnesses that died or disappeared during the few years following -- details to make us recoil and blanch...

The Unspeakable. Merton was trying to name that ineffable systemic evil that dominates us and beggars our powers to define them. St. Paul tried his hand at it; he gave it a sweeping name, "the principalities and the powers"

Other names have emerged over two millennia: Eisenhower's "the military-industrial complex," Walter Wink's "the domination system," "Babylon," according to John of Patmos, or in Dorothy Day's idiom, "the filthy rotten system." However we name it, Jim urges us to face it and expose it...

Is it possible that JFK actually was the nation's only Catholic president, and that his loyalties actually were, as they should have been, divided?


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