Oct. 21, 2010
National Catholic Reporter
"The assassination of JFK: A parable for our times"
by Claire Schaeffer-Duffy <email@example.com>
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
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,
“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
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
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
Ambassador to, as Robert puts it, “personally convey the president’s
“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
unspeakable fact of our politics.”
Yet even here Douglass finds hope. During his recent interview with
The Catholic Agitator, a publication of the
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: http://ncronline.org/blogs/claire-schaeffer-duffy