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JFK & The Unspeakable

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Book review, by Mike Palecek

JFK And The Unspeakable

By James W. Douglass

Orbis Books,  2008

I waited my whole life to read James W. Douglass' new book, "JFK And The Unspeakable."-

The wait was not worth it. I should not have had to wait, at all.
This is supposed to be America, but it is not. That is why I was made to wait. Americans should not have to wait. We like to have it right now. We want what we want when we want it. Now. Please.

Sister Ellen walked into our third grade classroom, hands tucked neatly into the opposite brown sleeve. She was the principal at Sacred Heart elementary, and she only came to the classrooms to announce that the poorest kid in our class and his large family had run off a bridge this morning on the way to school, or lead us down to the gym for the Christmas movie and extra chocolate milk.

So on Nov. 22, 1963, when lean, tall, straight Ellen floated in just after lunch recess--pre-Vatican II sisters had no feet, legs, arms, no hair-- we saw the Franciscan specter of death.

Later, Mom ironed while she watched the caisson and "Black Jack," the riderless horse, on the black and white television in the front room.

This was Norfolk, Nebraska. The Norfolk Daily News and WJAG told us it was Oswald. We just assumed, along with the Omaha World-Herald, that the Warren Commission had been commissioned by God.

Hometown hero Johnny Carson grilled an actual hero, attorney Jim Garrison, because Garrison had the gall to think for himself.

Then followed days and decades of lies.

My mother and I watched out the back door at the turn of the "70s, toward the railroad track, to see if Dad might go past, while grandma Josie sat in her room in the dark, afraid to speak at all.

My dad died to open the '80s, the day before Ruth and I were married. Football on TV, and lies. Pot roast on Sunday, with lies. Turkey and dressing for Thanksgiving. White lies? Dark lies?

Most recently Peter Jennings and ABC News felt the need to cement the lies some forty years after the Kennedy coup.

The program includes a computer-generated reconstruction of the shooting that confirms that Oswald was the lone gunman. And it finds no persuasive evidence of a conspiracy to kill the president.

Through it all, through the fog of American cultural propaganda, some persisted, some wanted the truth, some like Oliver Stone in "JFK" in 1991, hit hard enough to make the ground quiver for a moment, crack in some places. But the cracks were quickly filled by volunteers with footballs, turkey, dressing, cranberries, credulity.

Now comes James W. Douglass, long-time peace activist, professor, Catholic Worker. Why is his book the one I've been waiting for? Maybe it's because of the flood of new information, at least new to me.
Maybe it's the way Douglass lays it out, on the line, straight and true, brick by brick, looking us in the eye and telling us it was the CIA who killed John F. Kennedy. And that it was because of money. Of course. Is there something else?

I'm not an assassination expert. I am an expert in living in America. I am a Ph.D in suffering through America, its propaganda, its holiday dinners, football afternoons, coffee conversations, newspaper articles, television news shows, entertainment shows.

If there were one thing worth listening to or hearing out of all those, there would be no need to excuse oneself to go stand in the garage smoking hidden cigarettes, holding the knife at your neck, then putting the cigarettes back into the hiding spot and the knife as well, and going back, to try once more to think and live and act as an American.

I happen to hold several advanced degrees in American Culture--years  and decades spent sitting in comfortable chairs wearing new Christmas pajamas, balancing a Jethro Bowl of cherry black walnut ice cream in my lap, seeking enlightenment by watching Johnny Carson, Don Rickles, Dean Martin, Ed McMahon.

And then going to bed convinced beyond any reasonable doubt there is nothing more. This is what there is. This is life.

All there is to see and know is what I can see in my peripheral vision while watching Big Red Football, Gunsmoke, Mayberry RFD, Happy Days, Survivor.

That is all our Norfolk High School "U.S. History" books, all my parents, Isabel and Milosh, the parish priests, mailman have to tell us.

They were my Socrates and I was their Plato, and in our daily discourse I learned not to ask certain questions.

Over the years and decades I had it drilled into me the beauty and wonderment and majesty that the rain was good for the farmers and that it would get cold again this winter.

In the Athens that I imagined Norfolk to be, with its Central Park band pavilion and its "world's largest stockyard," which was also a lie, I learned not to learn.

But now "an unknown stone falls from the sky. Well - someone pick it up. What's this? There is more? A lot more.

The land of the free and the home of the brave murders its own presidents when they threaten the men with the money, like the ones who contributed to the schools we grew up in and the newspapers and the "- Oh, my. The amber waves of grain will roll right over you, your children, your house if you stand in their path in any meaningful way.

Murder, Inc. The business of America is business. To protect and to serve.

We will kill you and you and your sons and daughters, grandmothers to get what we want. What we want is to eat and watch television in the dark.

While we grow wrinkles trying to figure out two plus two, those who have made that their profession, manipulate - everything.

We vote and we work and we study and we worry about our children having Ho Ho's in their lunchbox and friends on the bus.

And we pay money earned on our knees to hire men and women to kill leaders and overthrow governments to make more money for those who built our schools and run our newspapers, and 

And if those people also decide that our president should die, then we can do that too.

And we pay to have that done. Like having the carpet cleaned, the lawn mowed, the oil changed. And no newspaper or radio station or TV station will ever talk about it. Unless telling us that it never happened.
And we will believe them. Because not believing them means figuring out something else to believe. And we have things to do. We have lives  to live.

And those lives mean nothing, less than nothing, because they are built, constructed - days laid down unevenly, brick by brick - on lies and murder.

Lies. Murder.

Lies. Killing.

Lies. Death.

And it goes on and on as if it will never stop.

And then one unexpected day, along comes a brave man, like those brave men murdered, who is not like the weak men with the lies. And everything changes.

A revolution without guns.

A cultural revolution, an undelicate purging of turkey and cranberries, a detoxification. A new enlightenment, like the one that spawned the men who made this country--that the recent men have destroyed.

And the time does not seem quite so long. Then and now are connected. Brought together. Come together. And now maybe. Maybe our children will not live within lies, houses of lies, schools of lies, lives of lies.

Just maybe.
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Author, former peace prisoner, journalist, candidate.
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