JFK 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.
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