Can Obama Face the 'Unspeakable'?

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If there’s
one book I wish President Obama would read over the holidays, it
is JFK
and the Unspeakable

Obama, like
President John F. Kennedy, has had his first encounters with the
permanent warfare establishment, and so far, has been persuaded
by their arguments. This book could open his eyes – and ours
– to the possibility of another path.

In this eloquent,
remarkable book, longtime peace activist and theologian Jim Douglass
uses Thomas Merton, a prominent Catholic monk, to elevate the study
of Kennedy’s presidency to a spiritual as well as physical
battle with the warmongers of his time.

In 1962, as
Douglass records in his preface, Merton wrote a friend the following
eerily prescient analysis:

“I have
little confidence in Kennedy. I think he cannot fully measure up
to the magnitude of his task, and lacks creative imagination and
the deeper kind of sensitivity that is needed. Too much the Time
and Life mentality ….

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.”

Merton coined
the term “the Unspeakable” to describe the forces of evil
that seemed to defy description, that took from the planet first
Kennedy, then Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, and Robert Kennedy,
and which tragically escalated the war in Vietnam.

Merton warned
that “Those who are at present too eager to be reconciled with
the world at any price must take care not to be reconciled with
it under this particular aspect: as the nest of the Unspeakable.
This is what too few are willing to see.”

The Unspeakable
represents not only willful evil but the void of an agenda for good,
an amorality that, like a black hole, destroys all that would escape
from it.

Douglass defines
the Cold War version of the Unspeakable as “the void in our
government’s covert-action doctrine of ‘plausible deniability,’”
that sanctioned assassinations and coups to protect American business
interests in the name of defeating communism.

Douglass traces
Kennedy’s confrontation with the Unspeakable and his efforts
to escape that trajectory. Kennedy came to understand that peace
through war would never bring us true peace, but only a “Pax
Americana,” which would foster resentment among the conquered,
sowing the seeds of future conflicts, a fear that has proven true
over and over in the years following his death.

Mea Culpa

Douglass opens
with a sort of mea culpa, noting that by failing to see the connection
between Kennedy’s assassination and his own personal fight
against nuclear weapons, he “contributed to a national climate
of denial.”

Douglass explains
that the cover-ups of the assassinations of the Sixties was enabled
in large part by denial, and not just by the government, but by
those of us who never clamored for the truth about what happened.

Douglass reminds
us that “The Unspeakable is not far away. It is not somewhere
out there, identical with a government that has become foreign to
us. The emptiness of the void, the vacuum of responsibility and
compassion, is in ourselves. Our citizen denial provides the ground
for the government’s doctrine of ‘plausible deniability.’”

Douglass quotes
Gandhi on the principle of satyagraha, how truth is the most powerful
force on earth, and how, as Gandhi said, “truth is God.”
If you want to see God, you must first be able to look truth in
the face.

Douglass frames
Kennedy’s assassination as rooted in our Cold War past. Our
collective failure to demand accountability for the crimes done
in our name came back to haunt us in the most visceral of ways on
Nov. 22, 1963, when the President was shot dead in the street in
front of us.

With astonishing
moral clarity and elegant prose, Douglass lays out Kennedy’s
multiple battles with the military, industrial and intelligence
establishments, which are not really separate entities, but deeply
interdependent on each other.

The well-documented
(and footnoted and indexed) book opens with a succinct chronology
of major events during Kennedy’s administration. Seeing all
the events laid out simply, end-to-end, makes the book’s conclusions
all the more powerful.

The answer
to the question implied in the book’s subtitle of “Why
he was killed and why it matters” seems self-evident when you
strip away all the false history and distractions that have been
injected into the record to muddy the waters and look simply, finally,
at what happened.

Douglass takes
us back to what may well be the source of John Kennedy’s courage
– the sinking of his PT boat and his heartbreakingly difficult
but ultimately successful efforts to rescue his comrades. Kennedy
faced his own death several times during that first long night,
and told his fellow crewmembers when he got back to shore that he’d
never prayed so much in his life.

Even after
he was safe, Kennedy plunged back into the ocean a second time in
an attempt to signal another boat. Kennedy’s utter selflessness
was not some liberal fantasy; it was an actuality, for his PT crew.

the rest of the article

17, 2009

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