JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died & Why It Matters
By James W. Douglass
Orbis Books. 510 pp. $30
By John McAdams
James Douglass treads a familiar path in JFK and the Unspeakable. It is yet another book that claims John Kennedy was killed because he had decided to withdraw from Vietnam. Kennedy’s “rejection of Cold War politics was considered treasonous by forces in his own government,” according to Douglass, and supposedly made JFK’s violent removal an urgent necessity.
What makes Douglass’s volume unique is that his argument is dressed up in verbiage unfamiliar to JFK assassination buffs. Most authors of books on the assassination attempt to cloak their political views, and pretend to arrive at the truth about the assassination after a supposedly objective analysis of the facts. Douglass wears his politics on his sleeve. He is a Catholic “peace activist” and disciple of Thomas Merton, whose observations infuse the book. Self-styled activists like Douglass have a long history of being opposed to the use of military power by the United States, although they don’t seem to mind as much when military power is used by America’s adversaries. And while they employ religious rhetoric to justify and rationalize their unilateral pacifism, their worldview, ultimately, is indistinguishable from that of secular leftists like Oliver Stone (who, not surprisingly, is a big fan of Douglass’s book).
Douglass’s key villain—the “Unspeakable” of his title—turns out to be the same kind of opaque nemesis that Stone is fond of conjuring up. The best identification Douglass can offer is “shadowy intelligence agencies using intermediaries and scapegoats under the cover of ‘plausible deniability,’” and even more vaguely, “an evil whose depth and deceit seemed to go beyond the capacity of words to describe.” How convenient: a culprit who is indescribable. In essence, though, Douglass’s evil-doer is indistinguishable from that bogeyman of vulgar, atheistic, and leftist radicals from the ‘60s: the “military-industrial complex,” except that he adds to the stew the Central Intelligence Agency.