“It’s never gone away, the nightmare of November 22, 1963,” a recent article in Vanity Fair laments. Yet the writer dutifully toes the line, insisting that the official explanation about the murder of President John F. Kennedy 46 years ago is correct.
Ahem. One of the major reasons the nightmare continues is because the official explanation is a tissue of lies and distortions. The 1964 Warren Report, thrown together to appease the public, instead unleashed a torrent of critical books, documentaries, and movies that is unabated close to five decades later. This onslaught was entirely predictable. For every action (the grotesque cover-up), there is an equal and opposite reaction (numerous attempts, however misguided, to set the record straight).
The nightmare goes on because we the people have never learned the truth about what happened in Dallas, and we know this, in our heart of hearts. The profound wrong of Kennedy’s death was compounded tenfold by the fact that the guilty got away not just with murdering one individual, but with undoing the U.S. Constitution and overthrowing the people’s will.
In his 2008 seminal work, JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died & Why It Matters, James W. Douglass calls it the “unspeakable,” these un-exorcised national demons driving Kennedy’s murder. In examining the motives behind the death of the president, not merely who did it or the how, Douglass, a longtime peace activist, imbues the discussion with a long-missing, much-needed spiritual dimension.
Douglass’s “unspeakable” refers to so much more than merely the identities of who pulled the triggers or even the ones who hired them to do so. Part of the “unspeakable” is the sharp divergence between the high ideals of this country’s founding and our current national security state, established in the aftermath of World War II, that promotes endless war and profits from it.
It is this untreated, denied poison that, Douglass argues, corrodes the national soul and breaks out like violent boils every so often in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, and, on Sept. 11, 2001, in New York City and Washington, D.C., and over the skies of Pennsylvania. Unafraid of the unspeakable, the author poses the unframed and unspoken question: Can the United States be a global empire that spends more on its military each year than all other western, industrialized nations combined, yet remain a representative democracy?
The signs are not promising. The parallels between now and Kennedy’s day make Douglass’s book about the past all the more critical to the present. Just as Kennedy stared down his generals, President Barack Obama faces truculent military leaders determined to force his hand in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
According to the Durham Herald Sun, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Seymour Hersh recently told an audience at Duke University that the U.S. military “is in a war against the White House – and they feel they have Obama boxed in.” While Hersh may be accurate in citing racism behind the tension between today’s commander in chief and the Pentagon, the real issue is the unspeakable. Just what kind of country do we want to be anyway?
This issue goes to the very soul of this nation, and this tension has existed since before this country was born. Do we keep shedding blood for profit? Or do we beat our swords into ploughshares and make peace the cornerstone of all our national policies? The political founders of our nation were divided over whether or not to risk foreign entanglements, but from the outset U.S. business leaders saw no problem in using the power and money of the U.S. government to advance their narrow interests.
To date, business has had the upper hand, masking a profits-at-all-costs agenda behind an anti-terrorism (previously, anti-communism) smokescreen. After the implosions of Chrysler, Enron, Global Crossing, GM, and Worldcom, the massive Bernie Madoff and other investment fraud, and the Wall Street meltdown, however, it’s a little harder to pretend that business is better run or more effective than government.
How long will ordinary Americans remain silent about the unspeakable before they start roaring out loud and then, en masse, revolt?