Sunday, October 24, 2010

"The assassination of JFK: A parable for our times"

Oct. 21, 2010

National Catholic Reporter


"The assassination of JFK: A parable for our times"


by Claire Schaeffer-Duffy <>


Writer Jim Douglass says it is “no secret” John F. Kennedy’s

assassination was a government job, CIA coordinated but involving

people in other federal agencies.


The JFK Records Act passed in 1992 made it a crime to withhold

information on the former president’s death. Anyone can consult files

on the topic that are now stored in a huge building in Columbus Park, Maryland.


Douglass, a theologian, long-time peace activist and Catholic Worker,

pored over these records while working on JFK and the Unspeakable: Why

He Died and Why it Matters (Orbis 2008), a heavily-researched tome

with a hundred pages of endnotes.


This month Douglass has been lecturing throughout the northeast. On

Wednesday he spoke at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. His talk

“JFK, Obama, and the Unspeakable” will be published in the next issue

of Tikkun magazine.


Those of you worried about being subjected to another “who-shot-JFK”

wacko, keep reading. The evil doings of the CIA are not Douglass’

preoccupation. Instead he regards the Kennedy presidency, despite its

violent end, as a tale of hope -- relevant for our day -- in which God

is the primary character.


According to Douglass, Kennedy’s turn toward peacemaking during his

presidency -- his implementation of the Partial Nuclear Test Ban

Treaty, his initiation of a secret dialogue with Fidel Castro to

normalize US-Cuban relations, his signing of a memorandum calling for

troop withdrawal from Vietnam, and most significantly, his

communication with Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev -- put him

violently at odds with the Joint Chief of Staffs and the CIA.


Amidst a Cold War that was rapidly heating up, the American and Soviet

leaders secretly corresponded.


Khrushchev, the atheist, compared their predicament in a

nuclear-saturated world to being on Noah’s Ark. It mattered not

whether “clean” or “unclean” boarded. All were committed to keeping

the boat afloat.


Kennedy, the Catholic, agreed. “Whatever our differences, our

collaboration to keep the peace is as urgent -- if not more urgent --

than our collaboration to win the last world war,” he wrote to



The two men’s common belief that the world was worth saving helped

avert the Cuban Missile crisis, argues Douglass.


At the peak of the conflict Kennedy rejected pressure to retaliate for

the Soviet downing of a U.S. reconnaissance plane over Cuba and turned

to Moscow for help. His brother Robert secretly met with the Soviet

Ambassador to, as Robert puts it, “personally convey the president’s

great concern.”


“We have to let Kennedy know we want to help him,” was Khrushchev’s reply.


“Neither John Kennedy nor Nikita Khrushchev was a saint,” says

Douglass. “Each was deeply complicit in policies that brought

humankind to the brink of nuclear war. Yet, when they encountered the

void, they turned to each for help. In doing so, they turned humanity

toward the hope of a peaceful planet.”


Both men paid high prices for their choice. Kennedy was killed and

Khrushchev removed from office in 1964, never to serve again.


Kennedy’s assassination is a history many writers have already

dissected. So what is new here? Perspective.


Douglass views the JFK story as “a parable of turning” and like any

good parable this one instructs. Kennedy’s assassination reveals the

dark quandary looming over the highest office in American government.


“Can a peacemaking president survive a warmaking state?” wonders

Douglass, who finds parallels between the Kennedy and Obama

administrations. “The president’s vulnerability, while he tries to

turn a massive Washington warship toward peace and disarmament, is the

unspeakable fact of our politics.”


Yet even here Douglass finds hope. During his recent interview with

The Catholic Agitator, a publication of the Los Angeles Catholic

Worker, he said:

    The major character in the [JFK]story…is God (or to put it in

different terms: Enlightenment, or the Power of the Universe that

Bends toward Justice as Dr. King put it).


    An absolute miracle occurred. Here we find the two most powerful

men in the world -- engaged in a titanic struggle on behalf of

irreconcilable ideologies, as they saw it at the time -- both holding

the power to destroy the entire world.


    One of these men reaches out to the other and says: ‘I need your

help,’ and the other says: ‘We need to help him.’


    They come together fulfilling the teaching of Jesus in the gospel:

Love your enemies.


    And that is not a sentimental kind of love. It is the kind of love

Gandhi understood Jesus to be talking about -- recognizing the truth

in your enemies.


    * Claire Schaeffer-Duffy's blog:




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