James Martin, S.J.July 29, 2009

 It's always pleasant business to report good news from the Catholic publishing scene.  Actually, good news from a surprising source.
Last year Orbis Books (full disclosure: Robert Ellsberg, the publisher, is a friend, and Orbis published one of my books) published a book by Jim Douglass, a veteran Catholic peace activist and theologian, called JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters.  It was reviewed very favorably in America here by George Anderson, SJ.  Just when you might have thought everything that could be said about the death of JFK had been said, Douglass offered a new examination of the assassination. His own contribution was to attempt to establish the motive for Kennedy's killing, tracing the process of conversion that led him, over the course of three years, from his attitude as an ardent Cold Warrior to his commitment to lead the world away from the edge of apocalypse. A series of political steps caused him to be viewed as a virtual traitor by elements of the CIA and military establishment.
The book was published by Orbis, the publishing arm of Maryknoll. Explaining why a Catholic house would publish a book on this topic, Ellsberg wrote in an email to me today, "Douglass views this history from a contemplative perspective, particularly attuned to the grave moral and even spiritual matters at stake. In fact, he draws on the writings of Thomas Merton to define this perspective. President Kennedy, it turns out, saw his mission in similar terms. In some ways, the book is a meditation on the cost of peacemaking, and it is a challenge to readers to assume the vision that was cut short by Kennedy's assasins." 

The book received coverage in the religious press and won a book award from the Catholic Press Association.  Sales (for Orbis) were what Ellsberg called "modestly impressive."
But thus far the book had not received any attention by the secular media.
Oliver Stone, the director of the controversial movie "JFK," appeared on the Bill Maher show on HBO and brought along a copy of Douglass's book. At one point during his interview he waved the book around and said it was something everyone should read. The next day the book shot up to #31 on Amazon and remained on the Top-100 bestseller list for a week.  (Note to authors: Send Oliver Stone your book.)  Orbis immediately sold 4,000 copies of the $30 hardcover edition. Stone then posted a blog on the Huffington Post.  Within days his post was viewed by over 95,000 people.  (Note to our bloggers: Send your link to Oliver Stone.)  Suddenly Orbis was unable keep up with demand.  As of today they have asked for 15,000 more copies to be printed in anticipation of continued demand, Ellsberg said.
The death knell for small presses, especially small religious presses, especially small Catholic presses, seems to be reported every day.  Not so fast.  Places like Orbis--to say nothing of the marvelous houses of Loyola, Liguori, Ave Maria, Paulist, LTP,Liturgical Press, New City Press, St. Anthony Messenger, St. Mary's Press, Ignatius PressOSV Books, Pauline Books, Word Among Us and other places with dedicated staff--work very hard to provide not only fodder for prayer and meditation but books on topics that other presses may balk at.  Each has its niche; each is a great gift to the church and the world.

Let's pray that, even if Oliver Stone never mentions another Catholic book on television, that all those presses, and the rest of the Catholic presses, which surprise, delight and inspire us, are around for a long time. 

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11 years 11 months ago
I have read reviews of the book but find it hard to believe in a conspiracy like that. Of course there may be some people in the intellegence/military ops that would assassinate a president. On the other hand,  there are too many  American patriots in these same organizations who would be aware of such a conspiracy and would never allow a coverup of such magnitude. Can't have happened as book says.
11 years 11 months ago
To hold President Kennedy up as as a quasi catholic visionary is ridiculous.Whatever good the man did and whatever values he held were far from the influence of the Catholic Church. 
The Kennedy family  saw the Church as something useful and if found not to be so were thrown under the bus a la Rev Wright.
Kennedy had never shown any indication of wanting to pull back on Vietnam.His treatment of the cuban soldiers after the pay of bigs debacle "its better they die there ,than stay here"   was disgraceful.America and the Jesuits should move beyond Camelot,it almost seems monomaniacal .Kennedy was killed by a lone nut but that is such a let down to those who believe in the higher calling of the kennedy family.His vision was very worldly and good or him.I think he was a good president because he was a smart man like his father.More serpent than dove.          
11 years 11 months ago
I grew up a huge fan of JFK and RFK and was always very open for years to the possibility that their assassinations may have been the result of a conspiracy involving secret government powers, Castro, the Soviets, etc.   After years of looking at the evidence, however, it really does all point to the conclusion that JFK was murdered by Lee Harvey Oswald.  There is no credible evidence that Oswald was being handled by the CIA, let alone the Soviets or Castro, or the mafia. 
I haven't read the book Father Martin cites (other than reviews of it) and I'm sure the broader question it raises about JFK's movement toward detente with the Soviets, its wisdom, etc., is valid, but to the extent the book argues "the CIA did it," it's as bad as Oliver Stone's movie.  May I suggest to anyone who insists on thinking that JFK's assassination was some kind of massive government conspiracy - - successfully perpetuated down through the years by unknown forces - - read Vincent Bugliosi's Reclaiming History:  The Assassination of John F. Kennedy.  It painstakingly eviscerates every conspiracy theory pointing to someone other than Oswald as being solely responsible, including the CIA.  Indeed, as we all know now, JFK and RFK were working hand in glove with the CIA to murder Castro in Operation Mongoose.  
The United States government was unable to keep the Manhattan Project a secret from the Soviets for more than a few months, yet we're supposed to believe that secret government figures pulled the JFK assassination off and have covered it up for 50 years.  The sad fact is that the Warren Commission was correct:  one terribly confused and depressed young man killed JFK on November 22, 1963.
11 years 11 months ago
If Stone is hawking a book, you know its fishy.  Oswald acted alone.  He had more than enough time to get all his shots off if timed by the recording, which was mis-timed by the Warrnen Commission.  The magic bullet theory was not needed, since Governor Connelly was in a jump seat, so there were no funny angles required to explain any of the shots.
The only conspiracies were the FBI and Seceret Service covering themselves for not having Oswald on their radar screens (if there had really been a conspiracy, they likely could have stopped it) - that and the myth that JFK died at Parkland Hospital.  JFK died the second his brains were sprayed all over Dealy Plaza. 
11 years 10 months ago

Read Bugliosi’s
book? Are you kidding? Some of us have jobs and other responsibilities and
various leisure interests. I might read it when I retire, and then only because
even those who disagree with him say he has recreated Nov. 22, 1963 in
fascinating detail. But Josiah Thompson, who in 1967 as a young philosophy
professor penned “Six Seconds in Dallas,” said of “Reclaiming History” in a
Pittburgh Post-Gazette review: "Many historical
events draw wacky theories. The proper response is to ignore them; it is not to
write a 1,660-page book exposing their wackiness.” He then went on to take
issue with Bugliosi on ballistics. The same year, 2007, saw an equally
remarkable book: “Brothers: The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years” by David
Talbot, the founder of the online magazine Slate and a former San Francisco
Chronicle staffer. Talbot believes that JFK died as the result of a conspiracy
(though he doesn’t plump for any one in particular) and explains why none other
than RFK thought so too.
Yes, Oliver Stone touting the Douglass
book might raise eyebrows. Anthony Summers, the Irish-based author and former
BBC correspondent, long ago argued that the director of “JFK” had damaged the
cause of those who challenged the lone-nut theory. Summers is one of those who
has pointed the finger at “rogue elements” within government agencies, perhaps
in conjunction with Mafiosi and right-wing Cubans, not government itself.  
Remember, it only takes two to
make a conspiracy. Oswald may have been nutty, but he was one highly implausible
Marxist. And his connections to the far right were quite tangible. Talbot says
that at least two conspiracies were disrupted in the lead-up to Dallas, and, if
I recall correctly, both involved characters with Oswald-like resumes.
As for John F. Kennedy, we now know
he considered the advice offered by the “best and the brightest” as well as the
generals during the Cuban missile crisis and then ignored it and pursued a wise
and ultimately successful course. He wasn’t devout or even that religious at
all (though Bobby famously was), yet isn’t it fair to argue that he was
culturally a Catholic and the ideas of the faith he was raised in influenced
his approach?

11 years 10 months ago
Dear Fr. Martin,
I read JFK and the Unspeakable last year and have been preaching it to people ever since.  It is a hugely disturbing book that needs to break through to the general American reader and the MSM.  Among points made by Douglass:  the Dallas police car that less than an hour after the assassination appeared outside the house where Oswald rented a room and honked as if in signal was sold by the Dallas Police Dept. several months earlier.  Who was in that car on November 22, 1963 and how did they get it?  A plane landed in a remote area just outside Dallas two hours after the assassination and an Oswald look-alike got on board in a hurry and was flown to a U.S. Air Force base in New Mexico.  The Director of the Secret Service, on the night of JFK's death, told Jacqueline and Robert Kennedy that the President had been killed by a powerful political conspiracy.  One month later the Kennedys sent a personal friend to Moscow to tell Khrushchev that JFK had been killed by a powerful right-wing conspiracy.  And there is much more.  
Who will join in a great new effort to finally learn the full story of John Kennedy's death before the same dark forces feel they must repeat themselves?
11 years 10 months ago
I read Douglass' book last Fall.  A bit dense, but well worth the effort.  According to Douglass, both JFK and Kruschev were truly terrified by the events of the Fall 1962 Cuban missle crisis.  Both had known the horror of WWII and desperately wanted to avoid WWIII, unlike some of those in their respective military establishments.  Could the U.S. military cold war warriors have seen in the young, idealistic President a threat to national security, especially when they saw him reaching out to Kruschev and Castro?  Could Kennedy's Peace Speech at American University in June 1963 have made those in the military industrial complex (about which Eisenhower had warned) think that removing the wild and unpredicatable young chief executive was a service to the country?  Cold war ideological truths about the evils of Communisim were firmly in place, and JFK's overtures to the "other side" could have triggered the response of Nov. 1963.  Douglass' exhaustive account does reveal much of Oswald's background and his military and CIA connections.  Jack Ruby's involvement is much deeper than most suspect.  The witnesses who have come forward were kept quiet, or silenced.  All in all, Douglass' book reveals much that most of us do not know.  Is Douglass to be believed?  Given the way Merton's writings on peace alarmed his superiors, it is plausible to see JFK's older rivals for power (e.g. John Foster Dulles) thinking that the removal of the youthful chief executive would be a service to the country.  JFK's sexual escapades (known to many) could have made the murder of the President justifiable to puritanical, pre-sexual revolution, cold war warrior ideologues.  Douglass' book informed me of much I had not thought about before.  I recommend the book to anyone who wants to rethink the JFK assassination and the role the work and desire for peace may have played in the events of the early 1960s.

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