It seems the truth, if this is the truth- and I've no reason to think it's not- about JFK's assassination goes far beyond the noir musings of novelists like Ellroy and DeLillo. In fact, Douglass' book is probably as noir as true crime gets. I have to admit, I've never been one to declaim JFK as a man of peace. Nor did I believe he was on the verge of withdrawing from Vietnam. At the same time, I've always considered the assassination a watershed in American culture. It was also an essential element in the creation of neo-noir fiction that appeared during and in the aftermath of the Vietnam war (which I discuss in my books Pulp Culture and Neon Noir). At the very least it helped promote the nation's obsession with conspiracies regarding the government, and the national security state. But Douglass' book prompted me, albeit some six years after its publication, to reassess JFK's assassination and the circumstances surrounding it.
Even though I'd never considered Oswald the lone shooter, but most likely part of a right-wing conspiracy involving the CIA and organised crime, I had no idea the extent of that conspiracy and subsequent cover-up, the reasons behind it, or JFK's evolving post-missile crisis politics. This even though I'd once been an avid reader of JFK assassination books by the likes of Mark Lane and Jim Garrison. But the scrupulously documented JFK and the Unspeakable brings all that past research together, and much more, including further information regarding the national security state's attempt to maintain the cold war, invade Cuba, launch a preemptive strike against the USSR and prolong the war in Vietnam. Against that, Douglass maintains that JFK had decided to dismantle the CIA and, with his test ban treaty, work with Khrushchev to end the cold war. That being the case, Douglass, a Catholic theologian and peace activist, insists that Kennedy was a threat to the military industrial complex- which Eisenhower had warned about only a couple years earlier- the CIA- about which Truman, even though he created it, had reservations- and the continuation of the cold war. And so had to be taken out of the picture.
This was a conspiracy both complex and paper-thin instigated, according to Douglass, by the likes of CIA head Allen Dulles, veteran spook-poet James Jesus Angleton, and perhaps Henry Cabot Lodge, who came from a family bitterly opposed to the Kennedy's. Unfortunately, JFK made the mistake of appointing Lodge ambassador to Vietnam, only for Lodge to subvert every attempt JFK made to wind-down US presence in the region. Though LBJ refused to scapegoat the USSR for the assassination, which could have turned the cold war into a hot war, he did little to confront the military-industrial complex regarding the assassination, their cold war perspective, or the country's presence in southeast Asia. No hagiography, Douglass doesn't gloss over JFK's faults, but conducts a thorough investigation of the era and events culminating in the most famous cover-up in modern history which Douglass, quoting Thomas Merton, categorises as the Unspeakable- "the void that contradicts everything that is spoken even before the words are said.; the void that gets into the language of public and official declarations at the very moment when they are pronounced, and makes them ring dead with the hollowness of the abyss." If you're going to read one book on JFK's assassination, or, for that matter, one true crime book, this is the one you should go for.
Some miscellaneous afterthoughts:
- I was surprised at just how close the US was to a military coup during the Cuban missile crisis. However, it wouldn't be an overstatement to say that JFK's assassination was, in fact, a military coup. Unfortunately, LBJ never sought to question the national security state, the military industrial complex, or US presence in Vietnam. But, as Douglass points out, though LBJ belonged to a different party, he had always had a good working relationship with Lodge.
- In the less than three years JFK had to deal with the Bay of Pigs, the missile crisis, the Berlin Wall, Laos, Vietnam, and Indonesia, any of which, if mishandled, could easily have resulted in a nuclear war.
- While living in Mexico City in 1965, I was told by another American that Oswald had been seen at the Russian embassy in that city. If the likes of young Americans living in Mexico such as myself knew about his presence in the city, you can bet that CIA wanted such information disseminated, and so add to the evidence that Oswald had a pretext- his hatred of America- to kill the president. Of course, we now know there was more than one Oswald, that the real Oswald most likely never visited Mexico City.
- The post-assassination fear that the CIA controlled the government has been represented in various films (Manchurian Candidate, Parallax View, etc.), and any number of spy and crime novels. In many ways it's trope that has outlived its usefulness. Which doesn't mean it wasn't true, at least until the Church hearings, only that most accepted it as fact. But today's nemesis is Wall Street and global capitalism, linked as they are to the military-industrial complex, which has grown out of proportion thanks to America's particular brand of military Keynesianism. When it comes to those in control, it's hardly the CIA, but the oligarchs and plutocrats, while their War on Terror has curtailed the rights of those at home and abroad, turning the CIA into a surveillance and killing machine, sub-contracting more than ever. A scenario that goes far beyond what the national security state sought during JFK's time.
London-based journalist and author of Pulp Culture: Hardboiled Fiction and the Cold War; Neon Noir: Contemporary American Crime Fiction; and Heartbreak and Vine: The Fate of Hardboiled Writers in Hollywood.