By Nancy Churchill
A Progressive Visionary
Note: The following is part one of two parts, written originally on Nov. 26, 2010. Part two will explore what each of us can do to reconnect with Kennedy’s new human possibility, starting now.
James Douglass’ JFK and the Unspeakable details how John F. Kennedy was assassinated for contemplating how bad it could get when he stood up to “The Unspeakable” military-industrial complex over the Cuban Missile Crisis.
According to Douglass, the generals were furious that Kennedy had refused to order air strikes against a Soviet nuclear arms buildup in Cuba, which would surely have launched a global nuclear war that would have precluded us even having this conversation.
Thomas Merton coined “The Unspeakable” to describe what lurked behind Kennedy’s assassination, the Vietnam War, the nuclear arms race and subsequent assassinations of Malcolm X, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy.
According to Douglass, Merton was “pointing to a kind of systemic evil that defies speech,” manifest in our government as the “covert-action doctrine of ‘plausible deniability,’” which sanctioned assassinations and the overthrow of foreign governments.
“The Unspeakable,” says Douglass, “is not far away. It is not somewhere out there, identical with a government that became foreign to us. The emptiness of the void, the vacuum of responsibility and compassion, is in ourselves.”
Fifty years after Kennedy’s assassination, we are embroiled in a War on Terror, the Great Industrial Complex pours billions of dollars into elections to ensure legislative outcomes that block any attempts at curbing its insatiable appetite and Republicans first blocked Obama’s attempts to ratify the START treaty with Russia to monitor nuclear weapons. So, what is new? No one has been assassinated recently, but impeachment is always on the table.
Because Kennedy foresaw how bad it could get, he began secret talks with, and thereby humanized, his Cold War opponent, Nikita Kruschev. Five months before he was murdered, Kennedy envisioned a way out of hostilities in a commencement address at American University, June 10, 1963. “What kind of peace do we seek?” he asked. “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.”
Douglass provides our takeaway from that speech: “In his American University address, John Kennedy was proclaiming a way out of the Cold War and into a new human possibility.” We need to reconnect with Kennedy’s new human possibility by conscientiously objecting to the Unspeakable Great Industrial Complex that currently rules our lives. To me, this means becoming mindful of every little thing we do: what we buy and use, where we work, what we do when we get there — and just how each one of those things might be contributing to our distressed lives, not to mention the death of our species and the planet.
Nancy Churchill was raised in the D.R.C. (Congo), raced stock cars on short dirt tracks for 25 years, and is a proud, lifelong member of “We, the People.” She lives in Oregon, Ill.
From the Feb. 27-March 5, 2013, issue