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Confronting the John F. Kennedy Assassination
Where Do We Find Hope When A Peacemaking President Is Assassinated?
By James W. Douglass, author of acclaimed book JFK and the Unspeakable
I believe this experiment we are doing into the dark truth of Dallas (and of Washington, D.C.) can be the most hopeful experience of our lives. But, it does require patience and tenacity to confront the unspeakable. We, first of all, need to take the time to recognize the sources in our history for what happened in Dallas on November 22, 1963.
The doctrine of “plausible deniability” in an old government document provides us with a source of the assassination of President Kennedy. The document was issued in 1948, one year after the CIA was established, and 15 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 — that were seen as necessary to “win” the Cold War against the Communists. 
In the 1950s, under the leadership of CIA Director Allen Dulles, the doctrine of “plausible deniability” became the CIA’s green light to assassinate national leaders, conduct secret military operations, and overthrow governments that our government thought were on the wrong side in the Cold War. “Plausible deniability” meant our intelligence agencies, acting as paramilitary groups, had to lie and cover their tracks so effectively that there would be no trace of U.S. government responsibility for criminal activities on an ever-widening scale.
Truman warns about the CIA
The man who proposed this secret, subversive process in 1948, diplomat George Kennan, said later, in light of its consequences, that it was “the greatest mistake I ever made.”  President Harry Truman, under whom the CIA was created, and during whose presidency the plausible deniability doctrine was authorized, had deep regrets. He said in a statement on December 22, 1963:
“We have grown up as a nation, respected for our free institutions and for our ability to maintain a free and open society. There is something about the way the CIA has been functioning that is casting a shadow over our historic position and I feel that we need to correct it.” 
Truman later remarked: “The CIA was set up by me for the sole purpose of getting all the available information to the president. It was not intended to operate as an international agency engaged in strange activities.” 
One assumption behind Kennan’s proposal unleashing the CIA for its war against Communism was that the Agency’s criminal power could be confined to covert action outside the borders of the United States, with immunity from its lethal power granted to U.S. citizens. That assumption proved to be wrong.
During the Cold War, the hidden growth of the CIA’s autonomous power corresponded to the public growth of what was called a fortress state. A democratic national security state is a contradiction in terms.
The insecure basis of our security then became weapons that could destroy the planet. To protect the security of that illusory means of security, which was absolute destructive power, we now needed a ruling elite of national security managers with an authority above that of our elected representatives.
So from that point on, our military-industrial managers made the real decisions of state. President Truman simply ratified their decisions and entrenched their power, as he did with the establishment of the CIA, and as his National Security Council did with its endorsement of plausible deniability.
Kennedy sacks CIA leaders
We know how JFK reacted to the CIA’s setting him up. He was furious. When the enormity of the Bay of Pigs disaster came home to him, he said he wanted “to splinter the CIA in a thousand pieces and scatter it to the winds.” 
He ordered an investigation into the whole affair, under the very watchful eyes of his brother, Attorney General Robert Kennedy. He fired CIA Director Allen Dulles, Deputy Director Richard Bissell, Jr., and Deputy Director General Charles Cabell. That was a huge decision — firing the top of the CIA’s hierarchy, including the legendary leader who had come to personify the agency, Allen Dulles.
The president then took steps “to cut the CIA budget in 1962 and again in 1963, aiming at a 20 percent reduction by 1966.”  He was cutting back the CIA’s power in very concrete ways, step by step.
JFK alienates CIA and Pentagon
JFK had to confront the unspeakable in the Missile Crisis in the form of total nuclear war. At the height of that terrifying conflict, he felt the situation spiraling out of control, especially because of the actions of his generals.
The White House tapes show Kennedy questioning and resisting the mounting pressure to bomb Cuba coming from both the Joint Chiefs and the Executive Committee of the National Security Council. At the same time, John Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev, the two men most responsible for the Cuban Missile Crisis, seemed locked in a hopeless ideological conflict. The U.S. and Soviet leaders had been following Cold War policies that now seemed to be moving inexorably toward a war of extermination.
Kennedy and Khrushchev: Two enemies become peacemakers
Yet, as we have since learned, Kennedy and Khrushchev had been engaged in a secret correspondence for over a year that gave signs of hope. Even as they moved publicly step by step toward a Cold War climax that would almost take the world over the edge with them, they were at the same time smuggling confidential letters back and forth that recognized each other’s humanity and hoped for a solution. They were public enemies who, in the midst of deepening turmoil, were secretly learning something approaching trust in each other.
On what seemed the darkest day in the crisis, when a Soviet missile had shot down a U2 spy plane over Cuba, intensifying the already overwhelming pressures on Kennedy to bomb Cuba, the president sent his brother, Attorney General Robert Kennedy, secretly to Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin. RFK told Dobrynin, as Dobrynin reported to Khrushchev, that the president “didn’t know how to resolve the situation. The military is putting great pressure on him… Even if he doesn’t want or desire a war, something irreversible could occur against his will. That is why the President is asking for help to solve this problem.” 
In his memoirs, Khrushchev recalled a further, chilling sentence from Robert Kennedy’s appeal to Dobrynin: “If the situation continues much longer, the President is not sure that the military will not overthrow him and seize power.” 
At a moment when the world was falling into darkness, Kennedy did what from his generals’ standpoint was intolerable and unforgivable. JFK not only rejected his generals’ pressures for war. Even worse, the president then reached out to their enemy, asking for help. That was treason.
When Nikita Khrushchev had received Kennedy’s plea for help in Moscow, he turned to his Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko and said, “We have to let Kennedy know that we want to help him.”
Khrushchev stunned himself by what he had just said: Did he really want to help his enemy, Kennedy? Yes, he did. He repeated the word to his foreign minister:
“Yes, help. We now have a common cause, to save the world from those pushing us toward war.” 
How do we understand that moment? The two most heavily armed leaders in history, on the verge of total nuclear war, suddenly joined hands against those on both sides pressuring them to attack. Khrushchev ordered the immediate withdrawal of his missiles from Cuba, in return for Kennedy’s public pledge never to invade Cuba and his secret promise to withdraw U.S. missiles from Turkey — as he would in fact do.
When President Kennedy stood up to the Pentagon, the CIA, and the military-industrial complex, he was treated as a traitor. His attempt to save the planet from the weapons of his own nation was regarded as treason. The doctrine of “plausible deniability” allowed for the assassination of a president seen as a national security risk himself.
Committing heresy for peace
At American University on June 10, 1963, President Kennedy proposed an end to the Cold War. Kennedy’s rejection of “a Pax Americana” was an act of resistance to the military-industrial complex. 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 his own risk, Kennedy was rejecting the foundation of the Cold War system.
Kennedy said he wanted to negotiate a nuclear test ban treaty with the Soviet Union in Moscow — in their capitol, not ours — as soon as possible. To clear the way for such a treaty, he said he was suspending U.S. atmospheric tests unilaterally.
Kennedy’s strategy of peace penetrated the Soviet government’s defenses far more effectively than any missile could have done. The Soviet press, which was accustomed to censoring U.S. government statements, published the entire speech all across the country. Soviet radio stations broadcast and rebroadcast the speech to the Soviet people. In response to Kennedy’s turn toward peace, the Soviet government even stopped jamming all Western broadcasts into their country.
His speech was received less favorably in his own country. The New York Times reported his government’s skepticism: “Generally there was not much optimism in official Washington that the President’s conciliation address at American University would produce agreement on a test ban treaty or anything else.” 
In contrast to the Soviet media that were electrified by the speech, the U.S. media ignored or downplayed it. For the first time, Americans had less opportunity to read and hear their president’s words than did the Russian people. A turn-around was occurring in the world on different levels. Whereas nuclear disarmament had suddenly become feasible, Kennedy’s position in his own government had become precarious.
Nuclear test ban treaty
President Kennedy’s next critical conflict with his national security state, propelling him toward the coup d’etat he saw as possible, was the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty that he signed with Nikita Khrushchev on July 25, 1963, six weeks after the American University Address. The president had done an end run around the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He negotiated the Test Ban Treaty without consulting them, because they opposed it.
On September 20, Kennedy spoke to the United Nations. He suggested that its members see the Test Ban Treaty as a beginning and engage together in an experiment in peace:
“Two years ago I told this body that the United States had proposed, and was willing to sign, a Limited Test Ban treaty. Today that treaty has been signed. It will not put an end to war. It will not remove basic conflicts. It will not secure freedom for all. But it can be a lever, and Archimedes, in explaining the principles of the lever, was said to have declared to his friends: ‘Give me a place where I can stand — and I shall move the world.'” 
JFK reaches out to Cuba
In the month leading up to the assassination, Kennedy and Castro actually began a dialogue on normalizing U.S.-Cuban relations, through the mediation of French journalist Jean Daniel who personally visited both men. Daniel was actually eating lunch with Castro in his home on November 22, conveying Kennedy’s hopeful words, when the Cuban premier was phoned with the news of Kennedy’s death. Castro’s somber comment to Daniel was: “Everything is changed. Everything is going to change.” 
JFK’s top-secret order to begin withdrawal from Vietnam
Kennedy decided on his policy of withdrawal from Vietnam, against the arguments of most of his advisers, at a contentious National Security Council meeting on October 2. When Defense Secretary Robert McNamara was leaving the meeting to announce the withdrawal to the White House reporters, “the President called to him, ‘And tell them that means all of the helicopter pilots, too.'” 
In fact, it would not mean that at all. After JFK’s assassination, his withdrawal policy was quietly voided. In light of the future consequences of Dallas, it was not only John Kennedy who was murdered on November 22, 1963, but 58,000 other Americans and over three million Vietnamese, Laotians, and Cambodians.
The Steel Crisis
In a head-on confrontation with the ruling elite of Big Steel, JFK ordered the Defense Department to switch huge military contracts away from the major steel companies to the smaller, more loyal contractors that had not defied him. After the big steel companies bitterly backed down from their price raises, JFK and his brother, Robert, were denounced as symbols of “ruthless power” by the Wall Street power brokers at the center of the military-industrial complex.
In an editorial titled, “Steel: The Ides of April” (the month in which Kennedy faced down the steel executives), Henry Luce’s Fortune magazine called to readers’ minds the soothsayer’s warning in Shakespeare of the assassination of Julius Caesar. Fortune was warning Kennedy that his actions had confirmed the worst fears of corporate America about his presidency, and would have dire consequences. As interpreted by the most powerful people in the nation, the steel crisis was a logical prelude to Dallas. It was another Bay of Pigs.
JFK reaches out to third world
Yet another Bay of Pigs was Kennedy’s diplomatic opening to the fiery Third-World leadership of President Sukarno of Indonesia. Sukarno was “the most outspoken proponent of Third World neutralism in the Cold War.” He had actually coined the term “Third World.” The CIA wanted Sukarno dead. It wanted what it saw as his pro-communist “global orientation” obliterated. During Eisenhower’s presidency, the CIA repeatedly tried to kill and overthrow Sukarno but failed.
Most significantly, three days before his assassination, President Kennedy said he was willing to accept Sukarno’s invitation to visit Indonesia the following spring. His visit to Indonesia would have dramatized in a very visible way Kennedy’s support of Third World nationalism, a sea change in U.S. government policy.
JFK’s Indonesian policy was also killed in Dallas, with horrendous consequences. After Lyndon Johnson became president, the CIA finally succeeded in overthrowing Sukarno in a massive purge of suspected Communists that ended up killing 500,000 to one million Indonesians.
Kennedy’s proposal for a joint U.S.-Soviet moon landing
In his September 20, 1963, speech to the United Nations, JFK once again stated his hope for a joint expedition to the moon. However, neither American nor Soviet military leaders, jealous of their rocket secrets, were ready to accept his initiative. Nikita Khrushchev, siding with his own rocket experts, felt he was still forced to decline Kennedy’s proposal.
That further visionary step to end the Cold War also died with Kennedy. The United States went to the moon alone. U.S. and Soviet rockets continued to be pointed at their opposite countries rather than being joined in a project for a more hopeful future. Sergei Khrushchev said, “I think if Kennedy had lived, we would be living in a completely different world.”
JFK meets the Quakers
In the final weeks of his presidency, President Kennedy took one more risky step toward peace. It can be seen in relation to a meeting he had the year before with six Quakers who visited him in his office. Among their challenges to him was a recommendation that the United States offer its surplus food to the People’s Republic of China. China was considered an enemy nation. Yet it was also one whose people were beset by a famine.
Kennedy said to the Quakers, “Do you mean you would feed your enemy when he has his hands on your throat?” 
The Quakers said they meant exactly that. They reminded him it was what Jesus had said should be done. Kennedy said he knew that, and knew that it was the right thing to do, but he couldn’t overcome the China lobby in Washington to accomplish it.
Nevertheless, a year and a half later in the fall of 1963, against overwhelming opposition, Kennedy decided to sell wheat to the Russians, who had a severe grain shortage. His outraged critics said in effect to him what he had said to the Quakers: Would you feed an enemy who has his hands on your throat?
Vice President Lyndon Johnson said he thought Kennedy’s decision to sell wheat to Russia would turn out to be the worst political mistake he ever made. Today JFK’s controversial decision “to feed the enemy” has been forgotten. In 1963, the wheat sale was seen as a threat to our security — feeding the enemy to kill us. [For solid evidence Johnson’s involvement in the JFK assassination, see the History Channel documentary available here.]
The violent reaction to his decision was represented on Friday morning, November 22, 1963, by a threatening, full-page advertisement addressed to him in the Dallas Morning News. The ad was bordered in black, like a funeral notice. Among the charges of disloyalty to the nation that the ad made against the president was the question: “Why have you approved the sale of wheat and corn to our enemies when you know the Communist soldiers ‘travel on their stomach’ just as ours do?”
JFK talks about assassination
JFK read the ad before the flight from Fort Worth to Dallas, pointed it out to Jacqueline Kennedy, and talked about the possibility of his being assassinated that day. “But, Jackie,” he said, “if somebody wants to shoot me from a window with a rifle, nobody can stop it, so why worry about it?” 
Peacemaking was now 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.
So how can the why of his murder give us hope? Where do we find hope when a peacemaking president is assassinated by his own national security state?
The why of Kennedy’s assassination encircles the earth. Because John Kennedy chose peace on earth at the height of the Cold War, he was executed. But because he turned toward peace, in spite of the consequences to himself, humanity is still alive and struggling. That is hopeful, especially if we understand what he went through and what he has given to us as his vision.
A profile in courage
The void of the unspeakable is the dark abyss, the midnight reality of plausible deniability, that we face when we peer into our national security state’s murder of President Kennedy. And that is precisely where hope begins.
At a certain point in his presidency, John Kennedy turned a corner and didn’t look back. I believe that decisive turn toward his final purpose in life, resulting in his death, happened in the darkness of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Although Kennedy 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 any 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. He made that commitment to life at the cost of his own.
What a transforming story that is.
And what a propaganda campaign has been waged to keep us Americans from understanding that story, from telling it, and from re-telling it to our children and grandchildren.
Because that’s a story whose telling can transform a nation. But when a nation is under the continuing domination of an idol, namely war, it is a story that will be covered up. When the story can liberate us from our idolatry of war, then the worshippers of the idol are going to do everything they can to keep the story from being told. From the standpoint of a belief that war is the ultimate power, that’s too dangerous a story. It’s a subversive story. It shows a different kind of security than always being ready to go to war.
It’s unbelievable — or we’re supposed to think it is — that a president was murdered by our own government agencies because he was seeking a more stable peace than relying on nuclear weapons. It’s unspeakable.
For the sake of a nation that must always be preparing for war, that story must not be told. If it were, we might learn that peace is possible without making war. We might even learn there is a force more powerful than war. How unthinkable! But how necessary if life on earth is to continue.
That is why it is so hopeful for us to confront the unspeakable and to tell the transforming story of a man of courage, President John F. Kennedy. It is a story ultimately not of death, but of life — all our lives. In the end, it is not so much a story of one man as it is a story of peacemaking when the chips are down. That story is our story, a story of hope.
Important Note: To purchase the author’s highly acclaimed book JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters, click here. For a stunning History Channel documentary presenting powerful evidence that President Lyndon Johnson had a direct hand in the Kennedy assassination, click here. For documents on Kennedy stopping his generals from staging a terror attack in the U.S. and falsely accusing Cuba, click here. And for lots more reliable facts, videos, and revealing information on the John F. Kennedy assassination, click here.
 Peter Grose, Gentleman Spy: The Life of Allen Dulles (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1994), p. 293.
 New York Times, March 18, 2005 in Keenan’s obituary available at this link.
 Cited by Raymond Marcus, “Truman’s Warning,” in E. Martin Schotz, History Will Not Absolve Us: Orwellian Control, Public Denial, and the Murder of President Kennedy (Brookline, Mass.: Kurtz, Ulmer & DeLucia, 1996), pp. 237-38.
 U.S. News and World Report, July 25, 2004, Mission Impossible. Article available here. Originally in letter from Harry S. Truman to William B. Arthur, June 10, 1964. Off the Record: The Private Papers of Harry S. Truman, edited by Robert H. Ferrell (New York: Harper & Row, 1980), p. 408.
 New York Times, April 25, 1966, “C.I.A.: Maker of Policy, or Tool?”, See a copy of this New York Times article at this link.
 Sergei N. Khrushchev, Nikita Khrushchev and the Creation of a Superpower (University Park, Pa.: Pennsylvania State University, 2000), pp. 618-19.
 Khrushchev Remembers, ed. Edward Crankshaw (Boston: Little, Brown, 1970), p. 498. For a summary of a crucial meeting on this, click here.
 Ibid., p. 630.
 Norman Cousins, The Improbable Triumvirate (New York: W. W. Norton, 1972), p. 9. See also the PBS text of this speech at this link, and hear the audio under “American University Commencement Address” at this link.
 New York Times, June 12, 1963, p. 1. “Harriman to Lead Test-Ban Mission to Soviet [Union] in July.” Article available at this link.
 Address by President John F. Kennedy to the UN General Assembly, September 20, 1963. Available for viewing at this link. Quote is in the second to last paragraph.
 Jean Daniel, “When Castro Heard the News,” New Republic (December 7, 1963), p. 7.
 Kenneth P. O’Donnell and David F. Powers, Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye (Boston: Little, Brown, 1970), p. 17.
 James W. Douglass, JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2008), p. 324. Available for viewing at this link.
 O’Donnell and Powers, p. 25. See also the July 24, 2010 Dallas Morning News article which includes this story as reported by JFK aide and close friend Kenneth O’Donnell at this link.