The CIA Coup That Kept America on the Road of Militarism

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and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters
, by Jim
Douglass, Orbis, $30, 510 pages

Jim Douglass’s
bona fides as a peacemaker are impeccable: civil disobedience, protesting
Trident submarines and White Trains at Ground Zero in Washington
for years, four books of Christian peacemaking theology (cf. The
Nonviolent Coming of God
, 1991), founding a Catholic Worker
House of Hospitality in Birmingham, and importuning John Paul II
to encamp in Baghdad to prevent the 1991 Bush I attack. Why would
he then spend a decade or more holed up, writing a book on Kennedy’s
presidency and assassination?

JFK and
the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters is the answer.
Douglass was familiar with Thomas Merton’s anxieties about
a nuclear holocaust. Merton feared for Kennedy if he turned away
from the Cold War, concerns he shared with Ethel Kennedy. Douglass
shares John XXIII’s hopeful view that “everything is possible,”
which Kennedy and Khrushchev had begun to demonstrate by the time
of Kennedy’s death.

At the center
of the short history of Kennedy’s thousand days is his aversion
to war, which began with the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban missile crisis.
He was determined to end the Cold War by reaching rapprochements
with Nikita Khrushchev and Fidel Castro, and he made courageous
moves in that direction. These moves met with bitter opposition
from the CIA, the Pentagon, and military-industrial leaders. They
were determined to win the Cold War by a nuclear first strike, and
saw Kennedy as treasonous. They stubbornly resisted his directives,
and when he decided to pull US troops from Vietnam, end the isolation
of Cuba, and work with Khrushchev for disarmament, a network of
CIA operatives assassinated him.

closed ranks to lay it all at the feet of Lee Harvey Oswald. Kennedy
had foreseen his end. Early on he observed that he might survive
one or two Bays of Pigs, but not a third. In fact, he had escaped
the CIA Bay of Pigs entrapment. The CIA wanted to entrap him into
a war with Cuba. When the attack failed, Kennedy refused to send
in planes and ground troops. He rejected the military-CIA recommendation
to attack Cuba in the missile crisis there and nuke the Soviet Union
if it intervened. He and Bobby had beaten back an inflationary steel
price increase. He again rejected military counsel to nuke the Soviets
when the Berlin Wall went up (they foresaw 140 million Soviet deaths
and 30 million US victims). He negotiated a neutral Laos government
with Khrushchev (the Pentagon wanted air attacks), and rode a swelling
public tide to easy Senate approval of a nuclear test ban treaty
that no one had anticipated being ratified. In an American University
speech and in another at the United Nations he called for a rapprochement
to end the Cold War’s danger. He pursued an understanding with
Castro, and formally declared his intention to withdraw all US troops
from Vietnam.

Even cats have
only nine lives. Kennedy had used all nine.

Kennedy stood virtually alone against aides, the CIA, and the Joint
Chiefs who were not averse to rank disobedience and acting behind
his back. The CIA tried to kill Castro with a poisoned diving suit,
a plot Kennedy knew nothing of, but since his emissary had already
given Castro a diving suit, there was no need to deliver the CIA’s
suit. Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge promoted the assassination of
Diem in Vietnam and deflected every Kennedy effort to stop it. The
CIA ran South Vietnam and was determined to remain there.

the rest of the article

1, 2010

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