I have known of Jim Douglas’ work through the years and once when he was in Chicago completing some of the research we asked him to address a Christian Peacemaker Teams training group. When the second Iraq war was about to break out we worked together, he in Rome, and me in Chicago to try to persuade Pope John Paul II to make a trip to Iraq. I liked Jim. His quiet firm commitment to honest inquiry, activism and spiritual centeredness was, I knew, what we needed in the world wide movement to overcome war.
However, when Jim called me to say his 20 year work on the Kennedy assassination was completed and about to be published by Orbis Books I was less than enthusiastic. I asked myself again, “How could Jim deny us his wisdom and leadership that we desperately needed just to write a book?” I really felt that he had fallen off the track by taking out so many years to research an incident that by now was simply part of the fallenness of the American mythology. Perhaps Jim could hear the thinly disguised ambivalence in my voice as we talked. His last words were, “If you are not in agreement or have criticism I need to hear it.”
I was wrong and Jim was right. Jim’s research is thorough. He has lived his way into the character of John F. Kennedy and all the supporting characters, Castro, Khrushchev, Ngo Dinh Diem, Thomas Merton and Lee Harvey Oswald. With the help of the steady flow of newly unclassified documents he has pushed open the envelope of the operations of the CIA, the Joint Chiefs, the FBI, and the limits to the institution of the American Presidency. And by doing this he has shown that it is believable that the US government secretly plotted in the Kennedy assassination as a necessary step to the fuller development of the national security state in the early 1960s.
Woven through this 400 page masterpiece is the thread of wise spiritual compassion and the mystery of God at work, something rarely seen in modern political writing. By reaching deep into the developing faith of President Kennedy he shows how a Quaker delegation to the President and the concern of a dying Pope John (XXIII) contributed to seeds of peace already trying to find life in Kennedy and Khrushchev’s mind and spirit. These seeds germinated in a world dominated by the doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) and gave Kennedy courage to risk reaching towards Moscow during the Cuban missile crisis.
The search for another way was already visible in Kennedy’s notebook during his brief 1945 career as a journalist after he had been discharged from the Navy due to war wounds. He mused about the ultimate problem of war, national sovereignty, and the rule of law. In this same notebook Kennedy wrote, “War will exist until that distant day when the conscientious objector enjoys the same reputation and prestige as the warrior does today.”
In early July 1963 I arrived in Saigon only weeks after the first Buddhist monk Thick Quang Duc self-immolated in protest to the discrimination from the Diem government. By the time of Kennedy’s assassination four and half months later I was already at my assignment and the event set off a raft of security orders to US civilians from the nearby Military Assistance Command Viet Nam ( the US military advisors ).
In the intervening 45 years a debate has continued about whether Kennedy would have given his blessing to a build up in Viet Nam or if he might have supported the assassination of South Vietnamese President, Ngo Dinh Diem. This book convincingly provides compelling evidence that although Kennedy knew of the plans for a coup in Saigon, US operatives there circumvented White House orders. Indeed at that time Kennedy was turning away from expansion of US involvement there towards diplomatic means and lowering the American military profile. Thanks to Jim’s careful research we now know that Kennedy was acting against the advice of his Generals and the CIA. Had Kennedy lived, it is possible to believe, for the first time in my life, that there might not have been an American war in Viet Nam.
Every page of this magnificent work is bathed in confidence and prayer by an author who has done his job well. The book will give moral courage to generals and their soldiers as well as those of us who have chosen the way of nonviolence. The facts of the assassination story build through the entire book not just as drama for drama’s sake but as a warning and encouragement for all time.
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