Book Review

JFK – The Unspeakable – Why he died and Why It Matters
by James W. Douglass

Review by Frank Thomas Smith

Do you remember where you were when President Kennedy was killed? I do.

I was in a cafe on a street in downtown Buenos Aires. It was a warm southern hemisphere spring day and I was waiting for a colleague who should have arrived a few minutes ago; but this being Argentina, where punctuality is a mere theoretical virtue, I was accustomed to waiting. There was a buzz of voices in the rear of the café that seemed to be creeping nearer and louder.

Suddenly Osvaldo rushed in. He didn't stop to even say Buenos Días. “Did you hear that Kennedy has been shot?” he blurted out.

“Kennedy?” I repeated stupidly.

“Sí, sí, el presidente.”

“Where?” I meant in what city, but Osvaldo understood where in the body.

“I don't know,” he said. “La Nación ……”

Of course La Nación newspaper was on the next block, across Avenida Corrientes. Up over the first floor was a running electric teleprinter showing the up-to-date news. I threw a bill on the table and ran out and down the street, crossed Avenida Corrientes and mingled in the growing crowd staring up at the news:

President John F. Kennedy shot in Dallas Texas the teleprinter announced in Spanish. I waited with the rest as President Kennedy rushed to hospital.. and, finally:

President Kennedy confirmed dead.

A moan spread over the crowd like a dark cloud; it soon dispersed in murmuring and sobs – including mine. It is hard for those who were not adults, young or old, in 1963 to understand the love felt by so many for John Kennedy – and the hate felt by others. I had been in Argentina a little over a year and was greatly surprised by the admiration and affection felt even here and, by extension, almost everywhere. I received letters of condolence (no email then) from people I barely knew.

The American consulate was in a downtown building in Buenos Aires those days. They put a condolence book on a desk on the ground floor and the line of Argentinians waiting to sign stretched around the block for three whole days.

A few days later on returning home to a suburb of Buenos Aires I stopped in a local pub for a beer or two. Heinz, the German owner, almost yelled at me when I entered, that the guy who shot Kennedy had also been shot and killed while in police custody in Dallas. That was too much. I gulped down my beer and sat at the bar mumbling – it couldn't be – to myself. But it was indeed.

The alleged killer, Lee Harvey Oswald, was shot to death by Jack Ruby, a Dallas nightclub owner, well known to the police because many of them frequented his joint and he frequented theirs.

Something sinister is going on there, I thought. Something more than meets the eye.

Kennedy is cruising slowly in a open sedan through downtown Dallas when he is shot in the head from above and behind by Lee Harvey Oswald from an open window on the sixth floor of the Book Depository building. Did anyone see Oswald shoot him? No, but shots were heard and the rifle and cartridge shells were found at the window later. But shots were also heard coming from the infamous “grassy knoll” in front of Kennedy; no rifle or shells were found there though.

There were many other things that didn't add up, about the shooting itself and Lee Harvey Oswald and Jack Ruby (Jacob Rubinstein). Ruby, by the way, died in prison on Jan, 3, 1967, aged 56, 3 years after he killed Oswald. A retrial for him had been scheduled because of tainted evidence, but he didn't live to see it.

Convinced a conspiracy was involved, I wondered who could have been behind it. Well, there was the Soviet Union of course. Did that make sense? Not really. If real evidence had ever been found it would have caused a crushing attack from the American military machine. Then the mafia. Make sense? it's true that Robert Kennedy, as Attorney General, was giving the mafia a hard time. But then why not kill him rather than the president? There was also talk about the U.S. government itself being responsible. I thought that quite impossible, simply because too many people would have to know about it for the government to be able to keep it a secret. And, after all, why? And Fidel Castro and Cuba? No, Castro is not crazy.

Now, however, after reading “JFK – The Unspeakable”, I have switched tracks. Not the whole government of course, only a small group of fanatics within that government. The CIA? Yes, a small group within that organization. The military? Yes, a small group. Industrial capitalism? Yes, also them.

I can't hope to convince anyone else of this here. I can only try to convince you to read the book and come to your own conclusion. I'll start with motivation

Something else it's hard for people today to understand is the fear and hate toward communism prevalent in America those cold-war days. These feelings were directed especially toward the Soviet Union and Cuba. Despite the latter being a small island without any appreciable military or industrial power, the mere fact that it had the temerity to exist and openly attempt to spread communism – especially by Che Guevara – was enough to feed the CIA's hunger to attack it.

The Bay of Pigs

When John Kennedy took over the presidency in 1961 he was confronted by a CIA operation approved by his predecessor, Dwight Eisenhower. A group of anti-Castro Cubans would sail from Mexico to Cuba and land in the infamous Bay of Pigs. It would be supported by U.S. air-force cover.

Kennedy was as anti-communist as the next guy, but he was unwilling to allow American military forces to openly participate in an invasion and thereby risk war with Cuba's protector, the Soviet Union. He allowed the operation to proceed, but without open American military aid. The CIA calculated that once the Cubans landed and set up a defense perimeter there would be a people's revolution and Castro and gang would be cast out or, better, executed.

The invasion predictably failed. Castro's guys were waiting for them and killed or captured them all.

You can imagine the CIA's and the Miami based Cuban diaspora's fury at Kennedy, whom they blamed for the disaster. In a way, they may have been right. Where they were wrong however, was expecting a revolt against Castro, when the great majority of Cubans still supported him.

The Cuban Missile Crisis

in July 1962 Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev reached a secret agreement with Cuban premier Fidel Castro to place Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba to deter any future invasion attempt. Construction of several missile sites began in the late summer, but U.S. intelligence discovered evidence of a general Soviet arms build-up on Cuba, including Soviet IL–28 bombers, during routine surveillance flights, and on September 4, 1962, President Kennedy issued a public warning against the introduction of offensive weapons into Cuba. Despite the warning, on October 14 a U.S. U–2 aircraft took several pictures clearly showing sites for medium-range and intermediate-range ballistic nuclear missiles (MRBMs and IRBMs) under construction in Cuba. These images were processed and presented to the White House the next day, thus precipitating the onset of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Most of President Kennedy's advisors, the CIA and the joint chiefs of staff, argued for air strikes to destroy the missiles, followed by an invasion of Cuba. Kennedy resisted, however, and began secret communications with Chairman Khrushchev of the Soviet Union, using letters carried by hand by intermediaries of confidence. (All this is described in detail and documented in James Dougless's book.) Finally, Khrushchev and Kennedy agreed that if the Soviets withdrew the missiles from Cuba, the U.S. would promise never to invade Cuba. A part of the agreement revealed later was that the U.S. would withdraw nuclear missiles based in Turkey and Italy.

What most influenced Kennedy – and Khrushchev as well – was the knowledge that bombing Soviet missiles and invading Cuba would inevitably result in war with the Soviet Union which would result in millions of Americans and Russians being killed or horribly wounded by nuclear weapons.

For some of the top military analysts, however, more important was which side would have the most casualties. They decided that with a “first strike” the U.S. would suffer fewer millions than the Soviet Union, and would therefore win. But thanks to Kennedy and Khrushchev – who had his own hawks to deal with – nuclear war was avoided.

JFK's World Peace Speech

The last straw for the American hawks was JFK's “Peace Speech” which he gave at the American University in Washington. D.C. on June 10, 1963. Read it, it's truly awesome. The topic, which he calls the most important one on earth, was “World Peace”.

“What kind of peace do I mean? What kind of peace do we seek? Not a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war. Not the peace of the grave or the security of the slave. I am talking about genuine peace, the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living, the kind that enables men and nations to grow and to hope and to build a better life for their children–not merely peace for Americans but peace for all men and women–not merely peace in our time but peace for all time.

He states that the United States' primary long range interest is “general and complete disarmament– designed to take place by stages, permitting parallel political developments to build the new institutions of peace which would take the place of arms”.

Just imagine what that would mean for the American so called “defense” establishment. Soldiers love war. The higher you go in the officer ranks the more so. Promotions come more quickly, the money is good, even half-pay at retirement after twenty years and full-pay after thirty years. And you are considered a hero by the brain-washed at home. And what would the armament industry – in the united States the largest in the world, by far, do? It would no longer exist!

For our cold-war hawkish generals and the arms industry and, above all, the CIA decision makers, President Kennedy was a appeaser of communism. He trusts the evil communists, our bitter cold-war enemies, who would never live up to such agreements. He is, in fact, a traitor to capitalism, his own class and his own country. He must go. But how? He would almost certainly be reelected in 1964. The CIA, together with the FBI, were the only organizations with the means and the ability to eliminate him.

I have only spoken of motivation here. But in James Douglass's book he goes into great detail describing how the president was assassinated, citing documentation not available to the Warren Commission, which finally declared that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. (They couldn't very well say: “We don't know.”)

He questions whether Oswald was really the killer. So many witnesses heard shots from the “grassy knoll” – located in front of Kennedy. A piece of his skull was found behind him, which could only have come from a shot in front of him. And so forth. I cannot go into detain here. You'd just have to read the book to be convinced, based on very strong circumstantial evidence.

Only the patsy

Lee Harvey Oswald's only chance to speak was when, in police custody, he shouted to the journalists, and Jack Ruby: I'm only the patsy! (slang for a person upon whom the blame for something falls; scapegoat; fall guy.) This clearly indicates that he was ready to explain his true role in the conspiracy. Douglass presents evidence that Oswald was a CIA asset when he first went to Russia, when he returned to the United States and up to and including the assassination day.

The Unspeakable

The "unspeakable" in the title comes from Trappist monk/peacemaker Thomas Merton's book, “Raids on the Unspeakable”. It is a term he used to describe the confluence of evil within systems like governments, corporations, and other power centers. Walter Wink uses the term "the Domination System". St. Paul referred to "the Principalities and Powers". President Eisenhower coined the phrase "the Military Industrial Complex". Catholic Worker Dorothy Day talked about "this filthy, rotten system.

The "unspeakable" that conspired (breathed together) against JFK (and, possibly, his brother Robert as well) was the manifestation of the national security state that insisted on total allegiance to both its ideology and methodology. Kennedy ran for office as a cold-war warrior. Only his glimpse into the abyss that was the Cuban Missile Crisis allowed him to see how close that system pushed toward a nuclear holocaust. President Kennedy had decided to pull all American troops out of Vietnam in 1964, despite all his own government's objections. Instead Lyndon Johnson became president and he and Nixon prolonged the Vietnam disaster another 12 years, ending in a humiliating defeat and thousands of deaths.

I am adding Martin Luther King Jr. as the third victim of the confluence of evil. MLK was 39 when assassinated; RFK was 42 and JFK was 46. All within the 1960 decade: JFK 1963; RFK 1968; MLK 1968. Think how the history of the world would have changed had this trinity of hope lived a few decades more.