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Life Arts    H4'ed 1/2/10

Speaking of the Unspeakable

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James W. Douglass' book "JFK and the Unspeakable - Why he Died and Why it Matters" is getting the attention of readers and writers, including those on OpEdNews. On first reading I am not able to lay out a review. Herewith is an overview.

The actual narrative covers 388 pages, divided into five chapters and President Kennedy's commencement address to American University graduating students on June 20, 1963--which was a call to global leaders against war in Viet Nam. To read the book in depth requires using 120 pages dedicated to Notes and Index. To read the Introduction and Chronology of JFK's administration takes 30 pages until we get to official page 1. Acknowledgements instruct who Douglass' sources were.

Document, document, document is the watchword of serious writing dealing with conspiracy theories. Such a mother lode requires a first reading for general meaning and then further study. For example Thomas Merton is considered an influence on the president as he was on many others espousing peace and civil disobedience. One can get a broad picture of how a monk from the hills of Kentucky fit. Actually, Ethel Kennedy was the one who was his friend.

During the 1960 presidential campaign two Senators, both WWII veterans, were mired in foreign policy as it pertained to fear of communism. Kennedy prevailed over Nixon by the smallest of margins. Chicagoans were quick to point out that their efforts helped to turn the tide.

When JFK was inaugurated, events were waiting to test his leadership. Bay of Pigs, the Cuban missile crisis and hunger in Berlin threatened. In the process of defusing crises it was necessary to explain the United States to the Soviets' Kruschchev. Back channel discussions pointed to deescalating of arms in Viet Nam. There was a sizeable number of American citizens anxious for peaceful resolution, including Catholic leaders like the Berrigan brothers. On a broad scale, dedicated peace activists were stymied unless they were active enough to make the CIA back off. One can see that fear mongering was at play with the population.

It was Kennedy himself which brought matters to a head when he gave the commencement speech to the graduating class of American University on June 10, 1963. He had "turned" as the peace movement used the change from Cold War advocacy, In the days leading up to the assassination on November 22, 1963 the book describes Lee Harvey Oswald's actions, as it also delves into double agent possibilities.

When Ray McGovern wrote a piece for OpEdNews about whether presidents were afraid of the CIA, I took note. On Rob Kall's radio show, where McGovern was interviewed, the possibility of whether the CIA had a part in President Kennedy's death seemed to be more than just another fantasy conspiracy.

I am asking for help from this venue.

Granted, I need to study the book more thoroughly than I have at this writing. But when all is considered I am not a professional historian. What I like to do is look at events important to the United States and link them over the years to how I remember current accounts I heard. Then it is time to read more. I did that with John Kennedy in mind when I read Taylor Branch's trilogy of the King Years. Some of it was relevant to the years I lived in Chicago. But much of it seemed so different from my original conclusions when I realized how AG Robert Kennedy was a part of the story. It's no secret that during the 1960 campaign I was bored as the two young Senators, recent veterans, seemed to outdo each other over who was the hard liner against the communists. My thoughts then involved domestic policy, especially civil rights, in order to position the nation for a bigger role.

Skulking below all rhetoric was the issue of the atom bomb. It seemed necessary to take a stab at universal assurance of a test ban treaty. With the facilitating of others such as Norman Cousins and the Pope, movement was made in that direction. Peace activists such as the Berrigan brothers, and of course Thomas Merton, became advocates for taming the Unmentionable.

Herein is where I found I needed to appeal to those who like to write stories of those eventful years. A couple at the University of Iowa were mentors to me. Lillian Willoughby, a Quaker from Iowa, was married to George Willoughby, a converted Quaker, whom I knew well. He managed the duties of the Cooperative Dormitory Association and I lived in a dorm and participated in Association meetings. When they asked me whether I would like to spend time on the weekends at Scattergood Settlement House in West Branch, I was more than eager. Scattergood is where Herbert Hoover spent some of his youth and where his presidential library is now. During World War II the Friends took in refugees from Germany--mostly professional persons who came for a short time to orient themselves to a new country before going on to be near their sponsors. My part was simply to help with any language problems they had. Lil was a dietician and made the weekly menu, created a grocery list, and helped those who worked in the kitchen.

When I saw George and Lillian Willoughby acknowledged in Douglass' book I needed to know more.

It's hard not to find many stories but an obituary which attracted me told about how Lil at 93 (1915 to 2009) was a member of the Philadelphia meeting and participated in MOVE and Grannies for Peace.

Now I realize stories bring peace.

This is a none too subtle plea for writers to go back in the history of American peace advocacy and fashion human interest stories. I just know that there are readers at OEN who probably met Lil and others as dedicated as she.

And regardless of how much we try to decipher Douglass' book, it's for sure we'll run across the names of people who deserve a profile in these pages.

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Margaret Bassett passed away August 21, 2011. She was a treasured member of the editorial team for four years.

Margaret Bassett--OEN editor--is an 89-year old, currently living in senior housing, with a lifelong interest in political philosophy. Bachelors from State University of Iowa (1944) and Masters from Roosevelt University (1975) help to unravel important requirements for modern communication. Early introduction to computer science (1966) trumps them. It's payback time. She's been "entitled" so long she hopes to find some good coming off the keyboard into the lives of those who come after her.
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