A casualty of peace


Book cover of JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters

JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters

by James W. Douglass

(Touchstone Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, 2010)

reviewed by Ralph Maud

• I had been waiting for this book for a long time. It finally answered, to my satisfaction, the big questions about John F. Kennedy’s assassination on November 22, 1963.

The best we had to go on before was the simple fact that whoever did it knew one thing for sure: that LBJ would succeed JFK. So it seemed very much as though a bunch of Texans, with a few well placed shots, got in one of their own as president. I went to Dealey Plaza and saw how perfect it was for an ambush; just as in any good western, they had cut him off at the pass.

JFK and the Unspeakable reveals the much bigger story. It was the military-industrial complex that Eisenhower warned about – in league with the CIA – that did it. And they did it not only because Kennedy was going to withdraw from Vietnam and make up with Castro, but he was also going to stop the Cold War altogether.

Most of us assumed Kennedy was a war president. At the time of the Cuban missile crisis, he was on television warning us that atomic reprisals might come down on us. I was in a bar in Buffalo and looked up at the screen and thought, “You bastard.” But what I didn’t know until now was that Kennedy had initiated a personal and friendly correspondence with Khrushchev and that the sabre-rattling was just a posture, for the time being. He was not a war president at all; he was a peace president. And the military-industrial complex, which needed the Cold War for pride and profit, knew it and felt so threatened by him they took measures.

Before this book, I had not been aware that two weeks before Dallas, there had been preparations for an assassination attempt during a scheduled visit of the president to Chicago. Some of the Secret Service seem to have been in on the plot, but there was a leak and the Chicago visit was cancelled. In Dallas, the Secret Service kept mum and stood aside while the CIA manoeuvred its puppets.

One puppet, of course, was Jack Ruby, the club owner who was later given the job of taking out Oswald, the CIA patsy. The story of Julia Ann Mercer summarizes the banality of the “unspeakable.” An employee of Automat Distributors in Dallas, twenty-three-year-old Mercer was caught in a traffic jam in Dealey Plaza about an hour and a half before the presidential motorcade would pass through. She saw a green van parked up on the curb and, before her eyes, a man pulled out a rifle case wrapped in paper and carried it up the grassy knoll. Later, on TV, she recognized the driver of the green van as Jack Ruby. She talked to the FBI at some length, but when her testimony was referred to in the Warren Commission report, it was the opposite of what she actually said: “Mercer could not identify any of the photographs.” The FBI was covering up any evidence that suggested conspiracy. Where had the orders come from?

We learn from this book that on the morning of May 1, 1962, President Kennedy met in the Oval Office with “a delegation of Quakers dedicated to a process of total disarmament and world order.” That group, in this Pleromic story, can represent the light that JFK was moving toward. Who then, were the representatives of the “unspeakable” darkness that fatally overwhelmed him? That is the one weakness of Douglass’ substantial and courageous book. We get no names attached to the “unspeakable” evil at the core of the conspiracy. Yet we do know who was responsible, who made the decision to go ahead with the killing. Those names have to be included in the roster of large multinational organizations, especially those in the armaments and death-dealing businesses. However, one looks in vain in the index of Douglass’ book for any company names.

All right. James W. Douglass can’t do everything. At least, we now know where to look.

Ralph Maud was a professor in the Simon Fraser University Department of English from the charter year 1965 to his retirement in 1994 and the founder of the library’s Contemporary Literature Collection.

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