excerpts from the book

JFK and the Unspeakable

Why He Died and Why It Matters

by James W. Douglass

Touchstone Books, 2008


Our collective denial of the obvious, in the setting up of Oswald and his transparent silencing by Ruby, made possible the Dallas cover-up [of the JFK assassination]. The success of the cover-up was the indispensable foundation for the subsequent murders of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, and Robert Kennedy by the same forces at work in our government - and in ourselves. Hope for change in the world was targeted and killed four times over. The cover-up of all four murders, each leading into the next, was based, first of all, on denial - not the government's but our own.

The only trial ever held for [for Martin Luther King's murder] took place in Memphis, only a few blocks from the Lorraine Motel where King was killed. In a wrongful death lawsuit initiated by the King family, seventy witnesses testified over a six-week period. They described a sophisticated government plot that involved the FBI, the CIA, the Memphis Police, Mafia intermediaries, and an Army Special Forces sniper team. The twelve jurors, six black and six white, returned after two and one-half hours of deliberation with a verdict that King had been assassinated by a conspiracy that included agencies of his own government.

JFK [John Kennedy] , Malcolm [X], Martin [Luther King], and [RFK [Robert Kennedy] were four proponents of change who were murdered by shadowy intelligence agencies using intermediaries and scapegoats under the cover of "plausible deniability".

Our citizen denial provides the ground for the government's doctrine of "plausible deniability". John F. Kennedy's assassination is rooted in our denial of our nation's crimes in World War II that began the Cold War and the nuclear arms race. As a growing precedent to JFK's assassination by his own national security state, we U.S. citizens supported our government when it destroyed whole cities (Hamburg, Dresden, Tokyo, Hiroshima, Nagasaki), when it protected our Cold War security by world-destructive weapons, and when it carried out the covert murders of foreign leaders with "plausible deniability" in a way that was obvious to critical observers.

June 10, 1963: President Kennedy delivers his Commencement Address at American University in Washington proposing, in effect, an end to the Cold War. Rejecting the goal of "a Pax Americana enforced on the world by "American weapons of war," Kennedy asks Americans to reexamine their attitudes toward war, especially in relation to the people of the Soviet Union, who suffered incomparable losses in World War II.

October 11, 1963: President Kennedy issues National Security Action Memorandum 263, making official government policy the withdrawal from Vietnam of "1,000 U.S. military personnel by the end of 1963" and "by the end of 1965 ... the bulk of U.S. personnel."

The national security doctrine of "plausible deniability" combined lying with hypocrisy. It marked the creation of a Frankenstein monster.

Plausible deniability encouraged the autonomy of the CIA and other covert-action ("intelligence") agencies from the government that created them. In order to protect the visible authorities of the government from protest and censure, the CIA was authorized not only to violate international law but to do so with as little consultation as possible. CIA autonomy went hand in glove with plausible deniability. The less explicit an order from the president, the better it was for "plausible deniability".

The military-industrial complex was totally dependent on "a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war." That Pax Americana policed by the Pentagon was considered the system's indispensable, hugely profitable means of containing and defeating Communism. At great risk Kennedy was rejecting the foundation of the Cold War system.

The pressures on President Kennedy came less from constituents than from the weapons-making corporations that thrived on the Cold War, and from the Pentagon and the CIA that were dedicated to "winning" that war, whatever that might mean.

In the summer of 1963, the leaders of the military-industrial complex could see storm clouds on their horizon. After JFK's American University address and his quick signing of the Test Ban Treaty with Khrushchev, corporate power holders saw the distinct prospect in the not distant future of a settlement in the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union.

... In [the] direction of U.S.-Soviet disarmament lay the diminished power of a corporate military system that for years had controlled the United States government. In his turn toward peace, Kennedy was beginning to undermine the dominant power structure that Eisenhower had finally identified and warned against so strongly as he left the White House.

John and Robert Kennedy had become notorious in the ranks of big business. JFK's strategy of withdrawing defense contracts and RFK's aggressive investigating tactics toward men of power were seen as unforgivable sins by the corporate world. As a result of the president's uncompromising stand against the steel industry - and implicitly any corporation that chose to defy his authority - a bitter gap opened up between Kennedy and big business, whose most powerful elements coincided with the military-industrial complex.

President Kennedy to his advisors Sorenson, O'Donnell, and Schlesinger

I understand better every day why [Franklin] Roosevelt, who started out such a mild fellow, ended up so ferociously anti-business. It is hard as hell to be friendly with people who keep trying to cut your legs off.

In his deepening alienation from the CIA, the Pentagon, and big business, John Kennedy was moving consciously beyond the point of no return. Kennedy knew well the complicity that existed among the Cold War's corporate elite, Pentagon planners, and the heads of "intelligence agencies." He was no stranger to the way systemic power worked in and behind his national security state.

We have no evidence as to who in the military-industrial complex may have given the order to assassinate President Kennedy. That the order was carried out by the Central Intelligence Agency is obvious. The CIA's fingerprints are all over the crime and the events leading up to it.

In the fall of 1963, the president [John Kennedy] ordered a U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam... Kennedy's horror of the nuclear war he had skirted during the [Cuban] missile crisis [1962], his concern for American troops in Vietnam, and his turn toward peace with Nikita Khrushchev and Fidel Castro, had, in his critics' eyes, made him soft on Communism.

For our covert action specialists in the shadows, accountable only to their own shadows, what Kennedy's apparent defeatism meant was clear. The absolute end of victory over the evil of Communism justified any means necessary, including the assassination of the president.

a month and a half after the Cuban Missile Crisis [1962], Nikita Khrushchev sent John Kennedy a private letter

"We believe that you will be able to receive a mandate at the next election. You will be the U.S. President for six years, which would appeal to us. At our times, six years in world politics is a long period of time... during that period we could create good conditions for peaceful coexistence on earth and this would be highly appreciated by the peoples of our countries as well as by all other peoples.

To the power brokers of the system that [President] Kennedy ostensibly presided over, his and Khrushchev's turn toward peace was, a profound threat... As the Cold War elite knew, Kennedy was already preparing to withdraw from Vietnam. They feared he would soon be able to carry out a U.S. withdrawal from the war with public support, as one part of a wider peacemaking venture with Khrushchev (and perhaps even Castro).

The pressures on [President] Kennedy for an attack on the Soviet missile sites in Cuba were overwhelming, from both his military and civilian advisers. He resisted those pressures and instead worked out the mutual concessions with Khrushchev that resolved the crisis. The Joint Chiefs of Staff were infuriated by his steadfast refusal to launch an attack. The president said to Arthur Schlesinger, "The military are mad. They wanted to do this." By "this" he meant an attack on Cuba, perhaps involving also a preemptive strike on the Soviet Union. For the joint Chiefs, Kennedy's peaceful resolution of the crisis with Khrushchev meant a lost opportunity to defeat the enemy, the best opportunity they ever had to "win" the Cold War.

One month after the [Cuban] Missile Crisis, the Joint Chiefs pushed for a buildup in U.S. strategic forces to a disarming first-strike capability. On November 20, 1962, they sent a memorandum to Secretary of Defense McNamara stating: "The Joint Chiefs of Staff consider that a first-strike capability is both feasible and desirable."

At the risk of his political future (and his life), John Kennedy continued to pursue a secret dialogue toward a rapprochement with Fidel Castro.

The CIA had not only closely monitored Kennedy's secret turn toward Castro from the beginning... The Agency had also divulged the Kennedy-Castro connection to its Cuban exile network in Miami, thereby inflaming the exiles' anti-Kennedy sentiment that went back to the Bay of Pigs. From the CIA's command center in Langley to its largest hub of activity in Miami, President Kennedy in his developing détente with Fidel Castro was now regarded as a total traitor to the anti-communist cause.

The withdrawal of agents from the presidential limousine in Dallas "was a Secret Service decision, not a JFK desire as 'official' history (Warren Commission]... The Secret Service lied, using JFK as a scapegoat."

Besides withdrawing security from Dealey Plaza and the presidential limousine, the Secret Service also planned the turn that slowed Kennedy's limousine to a crawl. That forced slowdown completed the setup for the snipers in waiting.

... Thus, not only did the Secret Service plan and coordinate a turn that flagrantly violated its own security rule of a forty-four-mile-an-hour minimum speed for the presidential limousine. Through orders from Washington, the agency responsible for the president's security created a vacuum of security - in Dealey Plaza, all around the presidential limousine, and on the surrounding buildings as well.

... The only "Secret Service Agents" in Dealey Plaza when the shots were fired were imposters and killers, bearing false credentials to facilitate their escape and coerce witnesses into handing over vital evidence that would vanish. The vacuum created by orders from Washington was immediately filled. When the president's security was systematically withdrawn from Dealey Plaza, his assassins moved swiftly into place.

The CIA coordinated and carried out the president's murder... Yet understanding that the CIA coordinated the assassination [of John Kennedy] does not mean that we can limit the responsibility to the CIA..

... The CIA was the coordinating instrument that killed the president, but the question of responsibility is more systemic, more personal, and more chilling.

Hospital corpsman James Jenkins, who assisted in the autopsy [of JFK}, confirmed that the doctors were obeying military orders. Jenkins said the pathologists' failure to probe the president's wounds was done at the command of Admiral Calvin Galloway, the hospital commander, who directed the autopsy from the morgue's gallery.

Jenkins thought it odd the autopsy would even be done at Bethesda, rather than by the civilian doctors at Parkland Hospital in Dallas:

"In retrospect, I think it was a controlling factor. They could control Humes, Boswell, and Finck because they were military... I think they were controlled. So were we. We were all military, we could be controlled. And if we weren't controlled, we could be punished and that kept us away from the public."

Jenkins said his experience of the president's autopsy changed forever his view of his own government:

"I was 19 or 20 years old, and all at once I understood that my country was not much better than a third world country. From that point on in time, I have had no trust, no respect for the government."

The process of killing President Kennedy and covering up the conspiracy relied on parties whom the plotters knew in advance they could count on to enter into a conspiracy of silence. Those few witnesses who courageously broke the silence, such as Dr. Charles Crenshaw, suffered the consequences of being isolated and singled out. But the Dallas and Bethesda doctors who changed their testimony under stress, who lied out of fear for their lives, or who followed orders in not probing wounds and then stonewalling questions, were not alone. They joined in a larger conspiracy of silence that would envelop our government, our media, our academic institutions, and virtually our entire society from November 22, 1963, to the present.

The doctrine of "plausible deniability" in an old government document was a key enabler of the assassination of President Kennedy. The document was issued in 1948, one year after the CIA was established, fifteen years before JFK's murder. That document, National Security Council directive 10/2, on June 18, 1948, "gave the highest sanction of the [U.S.] government to a broad range of covert operations" - propaganda, sabotage, economic warfare, subversion of all kinds, and eventually assassinations - all seen as necessary to "win" the Cold War against the Communists. The government's condition for those covert activities by U.S. agencies, coordinated by the CIA, was that they be "so planned and executed that ... if uncovered the US government can plausibly disclaim any responsibility for them.

What George Kennan and Harry Truman realized much too late was that in the name of national security, they had unwittingly allowed an alien force to invade a democracy. As a result, we and the world had to deal with a U.S. government agency authorized to carry out a broad range of covert, criminal activities on an international scale, theoretically accountable to the president but with no genuine accountability to anyone.

President Kennedy's courageous turn from global war to a strategy of peace provides the why of his assassination. Because he turned toward peace with our enemies, the Communists, he found himself at odds with his own national security state. Peacemaking was at the top of his agenda as president. That was not the kind of leadership the CIA, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the military-industrial complex wanted in the White House. Given the Cold War dogmas that gripped those dominant powers, and given Kennedy's turn toward peace, his assassination followed as a matter of course.

At the climax of his presidency in the missile crisis, john Kennedy turned a corner. Although JFK was already in conflict with his national security managers, the missile crisis was the breaking point. At that most critical moment for us all, he turned from the remaining control his security managers had over him toward a deeper ethic, a deeper vision in which the fate of the earth became his priority. Without losing sight of our own best hopes in this country, he began to home in, with his new partner, Nikita Khrushchev, on the hope of peace for everyone on this earth - Russians, Americans, Cubans, Vietnamese, Indonesians, everyone-no exceptions. He made that commitment to life at the cost of his own.




excerpts from President John F. Kennedy's Commencement Speech at American University, June 10, 1963


I have chosen this time and place to discuss a topic on which ignorance too often abounds and the truth is too rarely perceived-yet it is the most important topic on earth: world peace.

What kind of peace do I mean? What kind of peace do we seek? Not a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war. Not the peace of the grave or the security of the slave. I am talking about genuine peace, the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living, the kind that enables men and nations to grow and to hope and to build a better life for their children-not merely peace for Americans but peace for all men and women-not merely peace in our time but peace for all time.

... We {United States and Soviet Union] are both devoting massive sums of money to weapons that could be better devoted to combat ignorance, poverty, and disease. We are both caught up in a vicious and dangerous cycle, in which suspicion on one side breeds suspicion on the other, and new weapons beget counter-weapons.

Both the United States and its allies, and the Soviet Union and its allies, have a mutually deep interest in a just and genuine peace and in halting the arms race.

... We must persevere in the search for peace in the hope that constructive changes within the Communist bloc might bring within reach solutions which now seem beyond us. We must conduct our affairs in such a way that it becomes in the Communists' interest to agree on a genuine peace. Above all, while defending our own vital interests, nuclear powers must avert those confrontations which bring an adversary to a choice of either a humiliating retreat or a nuclear war.

... We have been talking in Geneva about other first-step measures of arms control, designed to limit the intensity of the arms race and to reduce the risk of accidental war: Our primary long range interest in Geneva, however, is general and complete disarmament - designed to take place by stages, permitting parallel political developments to build the new institutions of peace which would take the place of arms.

... Chairman Khrushchev, Prime Minister Macmillan, and I have agreed that high-level discussions will shortly begin in Moscow looking toward early agreement on a comprehensive test ban treaty.

... l now declare that the United States does not propose to conduct nuclear tests in the atmosphere so long as other states do not do so. We will not be the first to resume.

... The United States ... will never start a war. We do not want a war. We do not now expect a war. This generation of Americans has already had enough ... of war and hate and oppression. We shall be prepared if others wish it. We shall be alert to try to stop it. But we shall also do our part to build a world of peace where the weak are safe and the strong are just.

Assassinations page

Home Page