In that sense, in 2008, this book was unique. At that time, there had been over one thousand books published on the JFK assassination. None of them was structured in the way that Douglass wrote his book. In other words, its was not the usual forensic detective story: how many shots were fired, what were the wounds in JFK, where was Oswald at the time of the shooting, etc. Some of the book is devoted to that, but the vast majority of the book attempts to describe who President Kennedy was, and why the national security state decided he had to be eliminated. That note is struck at the beginning, when Douglass points out how President Truman was jubilant when, on board the cruiser Augusta, returning from the Potsdam conference, he got the news of the destruction of Hiroshima. He contrasts this with the painstaking toil that Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev went through during the Cuban Missile Crisis to avoid at all costs the use of atomic weapons. He then adds that, a year later, Kennedy was murdered. And we should also note, a year after Kennedy’s assassination, Khrushchev—who never believed that Oswald killed Kennedy—was removed from power.
That aspect, the cooperation between Khrushchev and Kennedy, is a major part of JFK and the Unspeakable. One of the many hidden gems that Douglass uses is the almost forgotten correspondence between Kennedy, Khrushchev, and Pope John XXIII, arranged at Kennedy’s suggestion by Saturday Review editor Norman Cousins. That private correspondence, which was attempting an early form of détente between the superpowers, was a key impetus behind what Douglass sees as a milestone in the Cold War: Kennedy’s commencement address at American University on June 10, 1963. No American president, before or since, had ever made such a public clarion call for a relaxation of international tensions based upon the common interests of men and women everywhere. But as Douglass notes, that speech was better received in Russia than it was in the United States. Khrushchev was overjoyed at the sentiments voiced in the speech. Which was probably one reason why, as recently declassified documents prove, he did not believe the official verdict about Kennedy’s death.
But there is another reason for Khrushchev’s skepticism. And Jim Douglass relates it in the closing pages of this book. William Walton had been a friend of President Kennedy’s and had planned on going to Russia after Kennedy returned from Dallas in November of 1963. He still made the trip, but this time he conveyed a message from JFK’s brother, Robert Kennedy, and his widow, Jacqueline Kennedy. They both felt that the president had been killed by a rightwing conspiracy. Due to his ties to big business interests, President Johnson would not be able to complete the Kennedy/Khrushchev plans for détente. This meant that Robert Kennedy would resign his position as Attorney General, run for an elected office, and then campaign for the White House. At that point the Kennedy/Khrushchev plans could be completed.
But it’s not just John Kennedy’s designs with the Russian aspect of the Cold War that makes this book so valuable. Jim Douglass also analyzes what President Kennedy was doing in Vietnam, Cuba, Congo and Indonesia during his three-year administration. Douglass writes what is probably the best single volume analysis of John Kennedy’s Vietnam and Cuba policies one will find anywhere in the literature. Again, using declassified documents, he shows that Kennedy was planning on withdrawing from Vietnam at the time of his death. And he also shows how the president was attempting a rapprochement with Fidel Castro and Cuba in 1963. As opposed to the Central Intelligence Agency, Kennedy was willing to support neutralist leaders like Sukarno in Indonesia and Patrice Lumumba in Congo. Whereas, CIA Director Allen Dulles hatched plots against both men in order to overthrow their governments and/or have them assassinated.
The policies that Kennedy set in place in all these areas were all altered by the men who followed him in office—i.e., Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon—to the point that today, Kennedy’s foreign policy has all but disappeared from the American scene. If so, then that is not just a loss for America, but also the world. And that is the ultimate triumph of JFK and the Unspeakable. It shows us just how much Kennedy achieved in his abbreviated presidency. And by doing that, the book reminds us of just what is possible in the realm of politics when a statesman has a vision of what the world can be. Douglass shows us that there can be little doubt that things would be different today if President Kennedy had lived. And it encourages us to remember his accomplishments as the highest example of what can be achieved when leaders set their minds to it.
In that aspect, JFK and the Unspeakable is a testament of hope for us all.