What accounts for Douglass’s choices? Did he find the stories too delicious to resist? (Oliver Stone apparently did, utilizing another of Cherabie’s multiple versions – that she was thrown from a car, not a bar – to open JFK.) Was Douglass unconsciously motivated by doubt or fear or guilt to sabotage his own credibility? Does he have such faith in the strength of his convictions to believe they can carry the weight of such dubious tales? I know some among the conspiratorially minded who believe that the reason there are so many different conspiracy theories afloat is that the CIA has been sponsoring them in order to discredit by association the one true theory, which is whichever it is in which the CIA-accuser believes. I would not be surprised to read someday that Douglass was a CIA agent employed to undermine the truth of the National-Security-State-as-assassins theory by associating it with the doubt-inducing accounts of Cherabie and Vinson.
But I don’t dismiss Douglass.
Unspeakable is sincere and well-intentioned. It is the best-written of the four books I set out for consideration and better written than any of the other similarly themed books or articles to which my perambulations took me. Douglass, a 78-year-old non-violence activist and theologian, is a devotee of Thomas Merton, whose thinking gives his book a compelling spiritual dimension. (Merton, incidentally, along with Allen Ginsberg and Bertrand Russell, was among the “prominent personalities” mentioned by Talbot, who responded to a 1966 survey as doubting the Warren Commission’s findings. Dwight MacDonald and Norman Thomas sided with those who supported them.)
Douglass’s book is also, at least partially, persuasive. Coming from a family of Stevensonian Democrats and, in the early 1960s, more focused on civil rights than foreign affairs, (in which, I confess, I considered the United States a force of “good”), I regarded JFK as a foot-dragger, uncommitted to the progressive cause. And Douglass goes a long way toward convincing me that Kennedy is to be respected and commended for his efforts to move the country and the world toward peace.
But that doesn’t absolve the rest of Douglass’s case from analysis.
Yesterday I mentioned that, given all the information that exists about the Kennedy assassination, writing a book about it is almost like writing a novel. With that in mind as a premise…
Would you have your three-person team of CIA-contracted assassins include a woman who was a heroin addict? Then while driving from Miami to Dallas, would you have one of the men with whom she was traveling throw her out of a bar, leaving her to wander until hit by a car, so that the police would take her to a hospital for the withdrawal symptoms she was experiencing and, en route, have her explain that the purpose of her trip had been to a) get some money; b) pick-up her baby; c) kill the president; d) proceed to Houston to purchase 10 kilos of heroin from a seaman arriving from Galveston; and e) go to Mexico? A few days later would you have her volunteer that she had worked for Jack Ruby as a stripper and knew he and Lee Harvey Oswald had been engaged in a long-standing homosexual relationship? Finally, having failed to eliminate her before she’d made any of these statements, would you, two years later, have her shot in the head but convince the coroner to attribute the cause of death to a motor vehicle accident?
I didn’t think so.
David Talbot omitted this woman, usually known as Rose Cheramie, from his book. James W. Douglass gave her two pages. He admitted there was a question as to “how reliable” Cheramie was but satisfied himself because the police had confirmed that the ship she’d mentioned had docked in Galveston; the seaman was aboard; and the man supposedly holding the money and her baby was a suspected drug trafficker. For Douglas this outweighed, that, according to Vincent Bugliosi, “Cheramie” was but one of the woman’s two dozen aliases; that she had been arrested more than four-dozen time; and that she had been hospitalized three times for mental problems. Douglass does not mention that there is no record of Ruby ever having owned the club at which she says worked, nor that, within the few days following her first being picked up by the police, she also said that she alone was going to kill the president; that it was the others, but not she, who would; and that it was not any of them but different people entirely, which struck my wife, a former psychotherapist – and someone who believes Oswald didn’t act alone – as the type the mentally ill often make to themselves – or others, as long as they are willing to put up with their ramblings.