Dying for peace
Several blogs ago I promised to write more on Thomas Merton's prediction of the assassination of President Kennedy, and since the 45th anniversary of his murder just passed on November 22, this is about the best time to make good on that promise.
I read about the prediction in the book “JFK and the Unspeakable: Why he died and why it matters” by James W. Douglas (Orbis Books 2008). I read a review of the book while staying at Catholic Worker Dorothy Day House in Washington (I was on trial at the time for the Supreme Court action) in the June/July issue of “The Catholic Radical,” the newsletter of Little Flower Catholic Worker farm in Louisa, Va. After reading the review I couldn't wait to get my hands on a copy.
This is one astounding book. I know what you're thinking, “OMG! Please! Not another conspiracy book!” I can promise you that it is not like any other book about the subject that has been previously written.
Let me set the stage. Douglas is a noted theologian and longtime peace activist known for his intelligence, diligence and integrity. The reputation of his other books is that they are scholarly and well reasoned. He took 15 years to write this book and has 104 pages of meticulous notes (the operative word being “meticulous”). He had access to material that was only recently declassified – some of it mistakenly. He never makes a statement or claim that he cannot back up with some kind of documentation, be it a memo or an interview or some other backup piece of evidence.
After reading the book, I liken the solving of JFK's assassination to the building of a nuclear bomb by searching the Internet. The information is all there if you know where to look and how to put it together.
Douglas starts out with Kennedy turning from “Cold Warrior” to peace activist. With his presidency in the future, Kennedy wrote to a friend, “Things cannot be be forced from the top [sound familiar?]. The international relinquishing of sovereignty would have to spring from the people – it would have to be so strong that the elected delegates would be turned out of office if they failed to do it. ... War will exist until that day when the conscientious objector enjoys the same reputation and prestige as the warrior does today.”
Anyone with a similar attitude today would not be elected, in my humble opinion.
Douglas weaves in the Cold War Letters, a series of private correspondence written by Thomas Merton just before and while Kennedy was president to several private citizens that not only protested the physical destruction of war “... but against a suicidal moral evil and a total lack of ethics and rationality with which international policies tend to be conducted [and those were the good old days]."
Merton goes on to write to his friend, W.H. Ferry, “What is needed is really 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 man as a whole: a deeper kind of dedication. Maybe Kennedy will break through into that someday by miracle. But such people are before long marked out for assassination.”
Telling the story against the background of Merton's spiritual prophesies of our times is a large part of what makes this book so different from anything else that has been written on JFK's assassination – aside from the meticulous scholarship and factual detail. And I use the word prophesies in the Biblical sense; that is to be able to read the signs of the times and make sense of, or make known, what is really happening around us.
“The Unspeakable” is a term coined by Thomas Merton after the assassinations of JFK, RFK, Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the Vietnam war and the nuclear arms race. In these events he sensed an evil, the deceit and depth of which exceeds the capacity of words to describe.
Douglas tells the story (our story really) of Kennedy's assassination against the backdrop of his work with Khrushchev towards world peace through the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, Kennedy's plan to end our involvement in Vietnam (he had signed orders for a complete withdrawal of our troops before his murder that Johnson then rescinded) and just before his death, reaching out to Castro to try to work for a lasting world peace.
Kennedy and Khrushchev were appalled at the thought of millions upon millions of people dying and the unrepairable damage to the planet that a nuclear war would unleash. Gen. Lemnitzer, who was the head of Kennedy's Joint Chiefs of Staff in 1961, told Kennedy at a cabinet meeting that 30 million dead Americans as a result of a nuclear war would be acceptable. Kennedy walked out saying, “These people are crazy.”
I think that statement enunciates Kennedy's genteel upbringing. I'd argue for evil.
In the process of working towards peace, Kennedy alienated the CIA (especially the CIA), his Joint Chiefs of Staff, the National Security Agency and just about everybody else in his government, including the Secret Service. The running joke among those people whose job it was to protect the president was that if he was ever shot at they would get out of the way. They all saw him as a traitor, and that working for peace was to be soft on Communism (These days it is seen as soft on terrorism).
With some of the outright vicious comments (and on occasion actual objects) I've had hurled at me while witnessing for the Gospel of Peace, this is not hard to believe, even without the documentation Douglas provides. Peace is still considered by many to be the work of traitors and un-American.
While they may not have been as culpable as the actual assassins, the military industrial complex was thrilled to have Kennedy out of the way. The “Vietnam Song” by County Joe McDonald and the Fish pretty much sums it up: “Now come on wall street don't be slow, why man this's war a-go-go, there's plenty good money to be made, supplyin' the army with the tools of the trade, just hope and pray that when they drop the bomb, they drop it on the Vietcong”. See the documentary “Why We Fight” for a more detailed explanation.
The biggest impediment to peace that both Kennedy and Khrushchev had to face was opposition from their own governments. One of the most poignant parts of the book is when Sergy Khrushchev, Khrushchev's son, describes his father's reaction to Kennedy's murder, how he wept for hours and actively grieved for months for his lost peace partner, knowing he would neither have another partner nor another chance for world peace.
Khrushchev was removed from power by his government a year after Kennedy. At least the KGB had the decency not to murder him.
Then there is the exquisite, gut wrenching detail Douglas provides of the events surrounding the actual assassination. It is hard to know where to begin in a short article.
I'll start with the passage of quotes from Fidel Castro after the assassination:
“How strange it is really that the assassination of President Kennedy should take place at a time when there was unanimous agreement of opinion against certain aspects of his policy. How strange this all is. "
Castro also commented on the strangeness of the wire service reports the day after the assassination that had identified Lee Harvey Oswald as the assassin. On November 23, 1963 he asked brilliantly obvious questions about Oswald that have been suppressed in the U.S. media from then until now.
"Can anyone who has said that he will disclose military secrets [as Oswald said to the Soviet Union] return to the United States without going to jail?
"How strange that this former Marine should go to the Soviet Union and try to become a Soviet citizen and that the Soviets should not accept him, that he should say at the American embassy that he intended to disclose to the Soviet Union secrets of everything he learned while he was in the U.S. service and that in spite of the statement, his passage is paid by the U.S. Government....He goes back to Texas and finds a job. This is all so strange.”
One of the first thoughts that struck me was that apparently our “out to lunch” media is not a new phenomenon and in fact appears to be generational (some cold comfort, huh?!). We had the Communist dictator of a neighboring country asking the questions that should have been asked by our media, let alone our government.
Castro by the way, like Khrushchev, was most distraught at Kennedy's murder. He too wanted a lasting peace.
There are a number of accounts from people who saw evidence of the assassination who were either discounted by the official investigations or excluded entirely. Here is but a small sample:
- Dr. Charles Crenshaw, one of the 26 emergency medical staff at Parkland Hospital who told the press on the day of the assassination that the president had been shot in the neck, which left a massive exit wound in his head. Realizing that Oswald could not have fired that shot, ambiguous government agents applied intense pressure and ALL 26 doctors, nurses and orderlies changed their stories the next day.
Dr. Crenshaw wrote a book in 1992, “JFK: A Conspiracy of Silence,” in which he stated, “I was as afraid of the men in suits as I was of the men who had assassinated the president. ... I reasoned that anyone who would go so far as to eliminate the President of the United States would surely not hesitate to kill a doctor.”
- Col. Daniel Marvin volunteered for the U.S. Army's Special Forces unit on November 22, 1963, and was trained at the Special Warfare School, Fort Bragg, N.C. There he learned not only guerrilla warfare and terrorism but also how to assassinate people, especially a nation's leader, and make it look like a lone gunman did it. His CIA teachers even had a mock up of Dealey Plaza that showed where the shooters were. He and another trainee overheard one of the CIA instructors say to the other something like, “Things really did go well in Dealey Plaza, didn't they?”
- Edward Hoffman, a deaf-mute who was on the grassy knoll and actually saw the setup for the assassination and the assassin himself. He tried in vain to tell police and the FBI what he saw. When he saw Oswald on television, he insisted the police had the wrong man.
“The real killers got away! The authorities don't know about the shot from behind the fence. They have to be notified!”
His uncle, Dallas police Lt. Robert Hoffman, sensing that Edward was himself now in grave danger, told him, “You stay down. You talk, you get shot.”
There is ample credible evidence to show that Jack Ruby was not only seen in Dealey Plaza just before the assassination, but also was at Parkland Hospital when the president was brought in, was at the theater when Oswald was arrested and as was present both times that Oswald was transferred by Dallas police, finally killing him the second time. No one is that lucky. The only way he could have been at all of those significant places was that there was a plan and he was in on it.
Douglas says that the truth is the most powerful force on earth, what Gandhi called “satyagraha,” the truth-force or soul-force. Gandhi said, “truth is God”. Douglas asserts that we can know the truth of Kennedy's assassination and it can set us free to be peacemakers.
By and large, most of the people of the U.S., folks like you and me, were ready for peace and supported Kennedy in his quest. The assassins not only killed the president, they killed a vision. But it doesn't have to be this way. Grassroots movements can stop the power of “The Unspeakable”. This is exactly what happened when the American people demanded a stop to nuclear testing and the Vietnam war.
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the War on Terror and the pretexts that have been used to justify the suppression of our civil liberties and engaging in torture, as well as our obscene military spending and arms sales to rthe est of the world, need to be examined in the context of the history that Douglas has exposed.
Like I said, this is one astounding book. It is full of stunning revelations (I call them “Holy s--t moments”), and I'll guarantee that you will stop and read passages out loud to anyone who will listen. I did several times to my husband.
You can order a copy of the book through Simple Gifts Books by contacting Walt Chura at email@example.com. Your purchase will help with the local peace and justice efforts (they are two sides of the same coin) of Emaus House, the Catholic Worker house in Albany.
Reading the book made me remember why, 45 years later, I still cry when I see old news clips of the assassinations of JFK, RFK and Dr. King. It reminded me of why “waging peace” is so hard, so dangerous and so important.