Resisting the Lies That Make War Possible


The Greek dramatist Aeschylus wisely opined, “In war, truth is the first casualty.” And as we have seen, over and over again, when truth becomes a casualty, secrecy becomes the modus operandi, openness and transparency the enemy, government accountability a myth, and acts of conscience proof of treason.

This has been especially clear in recent times, in relation to Julian Assange, Chelsea (Bradley) Manning, Edward Snowden, Laura Poitras, Glen Greenwald, and others who have risked their lives to seek and speak the truth about the conduct of US wars and military “operations,” and, more recently, about secret government surveillance programs that are often used as means to carry out these wars and covert operations.

One example of government crimes covered up by ongoing secrecy and lies that is now coming back into focus has to do with the assassination of President Kennedy. Nov. 22 of this year marks the 50th anniversary of Kennedy’s murder.

Although most Americans have long suspected government involvement, with the recent publication of James Douglass’ widely-acclaimed JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters (Simon & Schuster, 2010) — based on 10 years of meticulous research, including examination of government records not previously available to the public — their suspicions have been definitively confirmed.

However, it is perhaps the “why” of the book that is most surprising, and most important. While Kennedy was certainly no saint, as Douglass makes clear, and did begin his presidency as a “Cold Warrior,” he went through a dramatic and well-documented, yet unfortunately little known, shift in his thinking.

This shift resulted, in large part, from his loathing of the CIA for having tried, unsuccessfully, to trap him into supporting their disastrous “Bay of Pigs” invasion of Cuba in 1961 and his horror during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 when his generals and national security staff were prepared to launch an all-out nuclear attack on the Soviet Union.

These crises and several other related developments caused him to fire the head of the CIA, the powerful Allen Dulles; initiate back-channel communication with Fidel Castro aimed at defusing the US-Cuba hostility; initiate a secret and well-documented correspondence with his “arch enemy” Nikita Khruschev (in which both men acknowledged that their military leaders were driving them toward nuclear war and that each needed the other’s help to avert it); propose in his famous American University speech of June 1963 that the nuclear arms race be wound down and the Cold War ended; and order the withdrawal of 1,000 US military personnel from Vietnam by the end of 1963 and “the bulk of US personnel … by the end of 1965” (an order that was rescinded shortly after his assassination).

In short, Kennedy was at complete odds — one might say he was at war — with the Pentagon, the CIA, and virtually his whole national security staff. And he was refusing to back down. In retrospect, the “why” of his assassination is obvious.

Although there isn’t space here to go into it, further reading and study has persuaded me that the three other assassinations of influential leaders that followed in the wake of the JFK assassination — of Malcolm X (February 1965), Martin Luther King, Jr. (April 1968), and Robert Kennedy (June 1968) — also had the fingerprints of the US national security apparatus all over them.

But what to do about all this? Fortunately, Massachusetts actor, theater director, and playwright Court Dorsey has come up with one thing many of us can do. He has written a brilliant play called Project Unspeakable that deals with all four 1960s assassinations and their relevance for today. His hope is that the play will “go viral” — a-la-plays like The Laramie Project, My Name Is Rachel Corrie and The Vagina Monologues.

Thanks in part to Project Unspeakable’s growing list of endorsers (which includes Eve Ensler, Medea Benjamin, Daniel Ellsberg, Joanna Macy, and Martin Sheen), readings or performances of the play have already been lined up for Nov. 22 in dozens of cities and towns all over the country. Additional readings and performances are encouraged throughout 2014 and into early 2015, on the birth or assassination dates of one of the four slain leaders. [For further information and to request a copy of the script, go to]

It is further hoped that Project Unspeakable will stimulate awareness and vigorous discussion not only about what happened 50 years ago, but, more importantly, about what’s happening now in terms of the machinations, secrets and lies of the same, though ever more powerful, “national security state” and its corporate allies — thus helping all of us begin to break through the deadening silence of the “unspeakable” and resist the secrets and lies that make war and other crimes possible.

Randy Kehler was a co-founder and national coordinator of the 1980s Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign and subsequently played a leading role in launching the movement to establish full public financing of all state and federal elections. He lives with his wife in Colrain, Mass.

From The Progressive Populist, November 15, 2013

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