John McAdams: Another "Unspeakably Awful" Book About the JFK Assassination
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 Jwd 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.
JFK and the Unspeakable is structured so that it develops two parallel but supposedly complementary narratives: Kennedy’s statements and actions regarding Vietnam (in public, private, and in policy-making circles), and, simultaneously, the machinations of those who are conspiring to kill Kennedy. Both story lines are chock full of problems and cannot withstand elementary scrutiny. Long before Kennedy ever arrives in Dallas, Texas, and the strands finally come together, the book ceases to be non-fiction and enters the realm of a self-indulgent political fantasy.
The first narrative tries to portray Kennedy as a politician who started out a Cold Warrior, but broke through to a “deeper, more universal humanity” during his brief time in office. This is not as easy to pull off as it might sound, because Douglass knows full well that many of Kennedy’s statements, as late as the morning of his death, were anti-Communist in thrust and substance. Accordingly, Douglass has to fudge and equivocate constantly, as he tries to depict Kennedy as “trapped in the contradiction between the mandate of peace . . . and the continuing Cold War dogmas of his national security state.”
One particular trick Douglass uses is to conceal sources that show Kennedy to be a Cold War liberal. Douglass devotes page after page of analysis to Kennedy’s American University commencement address from June 1963, and the president’s admonition in this speech that “our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.” Coming eight months after the Cuban missile crisis, the address was an inspiring call for keeping the peace in the hair-trigger nuclear age. But Douglass conspicuously fails to mention some other remarks Kennedy made in the same breath. “It is discouraging to think that [the Soviet Union’s] leaders may actually believe what their propagandists write,” Kennedy noted; moreover, the “Communist drive to impose their political and economic system on others is the primary cause of world tension today.”
There is none of the moral equivalence here, in short, that suffuses Douglass’s view of the Cold War, nor any hint of the idea that America’s military-industrial-intelligence complex was primarily responsible for the superpowers’ nuclear brinksmanship. Indeed, on the morning of November 22, during his breakfast address in Fort Worth, Kennedy hailed that city’s role as an arsenal in the Cold War, though one would not know that from reading Douglass’s book....
comments powered by Disqus
John McAdams - 12/20/2009
You might try reading the speech.
Ike was miles from the vulgar leftists of the late 60s.
American makers of plowshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well. But now we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense; we have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions.
Ike also said the influence of the Military-Industrial complex might be "sought or unsought."
He didn't believe the Military Industrial Complex was to blame for the Cold War.
And on and on.
Arnold Shcherban - 12/14/2009
<bogeyman of vulgar, atheistic, and leftist radicals from the ‘60s: the “military-industrial complex,”>.
So, President Eisenhower was also that kind of radical when he warned this country of the threat posed by the US “military-industrial complex...”
Tim Fleming - 12/14/2009
Like all disinformationists and lone nutters, you must igonore a mountain of evidence and an ocean of coincidence to expound your dishonest version of events. You excoriate others' work on the matter in the same way. What you left out of your review of Douglass's book is his stunningly rational and meticulously documented evidence for conspiracy.
McAdams, I do not know what your motives are, but you are an unspeakable monster. Each time you open your mouth or tap on your keyboard, you deliver a right cross to the truth. You want names instead of "military-industrial complex"? How about Curtis Lemay, Lyman Lemnitzer, McGeorge Bundy, D.H. Byrd, Kellogg, Brown and Root, and Bell Helicopter (Michael Paine and Walter Dornberger). You want names instead of vague intelligence operatives? How about Allen Dulles, Dick Bissell, Charles Cabell, Ed Lansdale, and David Atlee Phillips.
- Did a historian who said he’s a victim of McCarthyism get the story wrong?
- Stephanie Coontz’s work on the history of marriage cited by the Supreme Court.
- How Does It Feel To Have One’s Work as a Historian Cited by the Supreme Court? Cool. Very Cool. Thank You Very Much.
- NYT History Book Reviews: Who Got Noticed this Week?
- David Hackett Fischer wins $100,000 prize for lifetime achievement in military writing