Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Pius XI, the Vatican, and Lost Chances to Stop Fascism

Two books have emerged recently, both dealing with Pope Pius XI (Achille Ratti) and the failure of intention to call out fascism publicly in his last speech and encyclical. Italian scholar Emma Fattorini addresses this in Hitler, Mussolini and the Vatican: Pope Pius XI and the Speech That Was Never Made (Polity Press: 2011; originally published 2007). Not very well written (or perhaps it’s the translation), Fattorini’s book focuses chiefly on the speech Pius XI had prepared to deliver in February of 1939, but which was foreclosed by his death two days before a conclave of the Vatican Curia. The Pope, who early on had hailed Mussolini as “the one whom Providence has sent us,” lived to regret both these words and his 1929 Concordat with the Fascist government, especially when the Duce instituted Italy’s racial laws in August and September of 1938. The Pope was mainly incensed about the proviso of the laws that prevented Jewish children from attending public schools at all, and about another section that forbade marriages between Catholics and Jews—even those Jews who had converted to Catholicism. Fattorini describes a meeting on October 24, 1938 between Pius XI and his advisors trying to find a solution to the possible rupture with the government over these laws. When the Jesuit Tacchi-Venturi, the Vatican’s liaison with the Fascist government, explained the government’s rigid position on the “racial question,” and under-secretary of state Tardini underscored this by pointing out the absolute prohibition of any newspaper argument against the racial laws, the Pope erupted:
“But this is enormous! And I am ashamed…ashamed to be Italian. And tell that, Father, to Mussolini himself! I am ashamed not as pope but as an Italian! The Italian people have become a herd of stupid sheep. I will speak out, without fear. I am forced to by the Concordat, but even more so by my conscience. I have no fear! I would prefer to beg in the streets. I will not even ask Mussolini to defend the Vatican. And even if the piazza fills with people, I will not be afraid!” (Fattorini, 163).
Strong words, also cited by David Kertzer in his book, The Pope and Mussolini (Random House 2014.) Kertzer’s book, like Fattorini’s, was made possible by the 2006 opening of the secret Vatican archives referring to Pius XI’s papacy, and is, in my opinion, far superior for being far more detailed, especially for a general reader. It not only leaves us lamenting the fact that Pius XI’s death interrupted what might have been a serious blow against Mussolini’s government and some reduction of the horrors that followed in World War II; it also prepares us by demonstrating the degree to which the Vatican was willing, in the 1920s and early 1930s, to compromise with Mussolini and fascism in order to maintain cordial relations with the Italian government and its (the Vatican’s) prerogatives as a separate state. I will refer mostly to Kertzer in what follows.
            What one must know, to understand the fatal 1929 Concordat, is that the Church had, since the 1870 Italian revolution, lost its immense power in Italy. Once in control not only of the Vatican itself but of the Papal States in central Italy—making it a world power that could forge alliances such as the ones that brought the French and Spanish armies to Rome in 1849 to defeat the Italian patriots who had established a Roman Republic—the Holy See had been stripped of its possessions and rule outside the 108 acres of Vatican city. Even there, it was not really sovereign, because technically the Italian government exercised authority over all of Rome and its citizens, including those in the Vatican. All popes had chafed under this perceived reduction of papal sovereignty, and when Pius XI was offered the opportunity to recoup some of this power by allying the Church with Mussolini’s Fascist government in the 1929 Concordat, he did so. Thereby, Mussolini got the legitimization of his rule that he needed (fascism now, in effect, enjoyed the approval of the Catholic Church), and the Vatican recouped some of its power, at least over Vatican City and the major churches in Rome. Those who lived in Vatican City, mainly the Roman curia, became citizens of the Vatican, with the Pope as their ruler. The Catholic religion was made the official and only religion of Italy (even Mussolini, the one-time atheist and socialist became “Catholic”, baptizing and confirming his children, and celebrating his marriage in a Catholic ceremony), with crosses and religious instruction in all Italian classrooms. It was chiefly to maintain these recovered powers and privileges that Pius XI and his curia acceded to each new outrage perpetrated by the Fascist Government: the daylight murder of Unitary Socialist Party leader Giacomo Matteotti; the brutal aggression against Ethiopia in 1935; and the growing alliance with, and even subservience to Adolf Hitler.
            The murder of Matteotti is instructive, for it was here that Vatican support truly saved Mussolini from disaster. The murder was simple and brazen: on June 10, 1924, Matteotti was walking from his Roman home to give a speech in the Chamber of Deputies, when three men dragged him into a waiting car. The car then raced through Rome’s streets, blaring its horn to cover the struggle and screams of Matteotti, being savagely beaten in the back. His screams stopped when Matteotti died from the blows; he was then unceremoniously dumped in a shallow grave 15 miles outside of Rome. An uproar followed, impelling Mussolini to fire the head of police and his undersecretary for internal affairs, but it was not enough to quell the storm. Cesare Rossi, Mussolini’s press secretary, became a chief suspect, in addition to Amerigo Dumini, an American-born henchman working for Rossi. With Matteotti’s body still not found by July, the fascist government was mired in deep crisis, with its leader, Mussolini, in a deeper one. Depressed and immobilized, he fully believed, with his enemies in parliament emboldened and even the conservative press opposing him, that his government could not survive. It was at this point that the Vatican came to his aid. The pope instructed his liaison, Father Tacchi-Venturi, to assure Mussolini he still had the pope’s support. Then the pope instructed Father Enrico Rosa, editor of Civilta cattolica, a twice-monthly organ known to express the pope’s views, to write an article on the crisis. The pope even edited drafts that went back and forth before the article was published. What the article did was praise the Fascist leader for all he had done for the Church, imply that he had nothing whatever to do with the murder, and warn the public against any violent action against the government. Indeed, it said that
            Even the use of legitimate means to bring it down, as through new elections, should be avoided, for it would bring “serious misfortune.” Most important, the Popular Party [the Catholic party, ed.] could never be justified in entering into an alliance with the Socialists. (Kertzer, 75).
The Pope underlined this last point in a speech he gave to a group of university students in September, when he warned that Italian Catholics could never cooperate with Socialism (almost the entire Church hierarchy regularly inveighed against the Communist-Masonic-Jewish-Bolshevik conspiracy threatening civilization). He also ordered Don Luigi Sturzo, former head of the Popular Party, to stop his attacks on the fascist regime. The result was that Sturzo left the country, not to return for twenty years. 
            Still, Mussolini’s decline continued, save for one problem: no one could come up with an alternative to his rule. By January, he had regained his footing enough to speak in parliament, and faced his accusers with breathtaking boldness. He admitted that “I and I alone assume full political, moral, and historical responsibility for everything that has happened.” After cheers from his Fascist deputies, he went on: “If Fascism has been a criminal organization, I am the head of this criminal association!” As the applause and shouts grew ever more thunderous, he concluded by shouting his defiance:
            “Sirs! You have deluded yourselves! You believed that Fascism was finished…but you will see…Italy, sirs, wants peace, wants tranquility, wants calm. We will give it this tranquility, this calm through love if possible, and with force, if it becomes necessary.” (77)
The crisis was over, or, one might say, it was just beginning. For with this speech, Mussolini had effectively ended democracy in Italy; within hours, his thugs had rounded up opposition leaders and jailed them, beat Giovanni Amendola, Liberal leader in parliament, so severely that he eventually died of his wounds, and turned parliament into a Fascist-only house. He then began to take on the aura of a Roman, or even Christ-like deity who could do no wrong.
            It was with this conviction of his own infallibility (it should be noted that one of Pius XI’s main objections to both Mussolini and Hitler was their arrogation to themselves of pagan, god-like attributes; in the pope’s view, he alone, as vicar of Christ on earth, could rule infallibly, absolutely; totalitarianism was his prerogative and no one else’s) that Mussolini embarked on his Concordat with the Church mentioned above, and his invasion of a defenseless Ethiopia in order to give Italy an empire. It also allowed him to go to Munich, ostensibly to mediate between Hitler and the European countries looking on anxiously as Germany swallowed up territory, and to welcome Hitler to Italy in order to firm up the alliance he was striking with the Fuhrer in order to defeat the ‘communism threatening to destroy Europe.’ Of course, it was the Fascist-Nazi axis, signed secretly in October of 1936, that would nearly destroy Europe, but facts such as these are no obstacle to one who conceives of himself as infallible. And indeed, one of the major reasons the Vatican was willing to ally with fascism was the pope’s sense that opposing communism, socialism and liberalism were common goals of both the Church and Mussolini.  
            When it came to the anti-Semitic laws instituted first in Nazi Germany, and then in Italy in 1938, however, the pope began to comprehend the mistake he had made. He had already criticized what he saw as the “aggressive paganism” of the Nazi regime and its efforts to “blend Christianity with race worship.” When Mussolini announced in July 1938 his campaign against Italy’s Jews, claiming that Italy’s people were “of Aryan origin,” and that “All of the work that the regime has done thus far is, in essence, racism,” the pope, despite being seriously ill, felt compelled to resist. He expressed his determination to do so, even though most of his advisors feared angering Mussolini and many in the Church actually agreed that “defensive anti-Semitism” was legitimate to combat the “Jewish invasion in politics, the economy, journalism, morals, and all public life” (Kertzer, 291). So it was that when the racial laws were actually passed on September 1, the pope spoke from his heart in a September 6 audience with the staff of Belgian Catholic Radio. Emotional and near tears, he said:
“It is impossible for Christians to participate in anti-Semitism. We recognize that everyone has the right to self-defense and can undertake those necessary actions to safeguard legitimate interests. But anti-Semitism is inadmissible. Spiritually we are all Semites.” (Kertzer, 320).
This was exactly the type of comment the pope’s advisors, especially Tacchi-Venturi and the pope’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli (soon to become Pope Pius XII), feared. Sadly, they were able to limit what they considered irreparable damage by excising the Pope’s inflammatory remarks from the published version in the official Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore romano. How this was actually done is not clear for, as Kertzer remarks, “Most of the pages from Pacelli’s log of his meetings with the pope in these months are, curiously, missing from those open to researchers at the Vatican Secret Archives” (320).
            Increasingly frail, and increasingly disillusioned with what he considered a betrayal of his trust by the fascist government, the pope nevertheless vowed to do something ‘memorable’ before he died. When told of this, Mussolini at first made threats, and then realized an agreement was needed to prevent an open break before the 10th anniversary celebrations of the Concordat on February 11. But the pope did not wait that long. In remarks he gave to his cardinals, he referred darkly to “the recent apotheosis in Rome prepared for a cross that is the enemy of the Cross of Christ.” The “cross” referred to was the Nazi swastika, leaving no doubt that Nazis should be considered the enemies of Catholicism. And this time the ailing pope made certain that his sentiments were published in L’Osservatore romano. Mussolini exploded once again, refusing the invitation to meet with the pope on February 11, but he still held out hope for some reconciliation. Yet rumors of an impending papal denunciation of his regime, even a secret encyclical on its racism (which was true), continued to spread. Meantime, both the pope and the Duce were proving true to their intransigent natures: each was determined to celebrate the Vatican Accords in his own way, and on his own terms. Mussolini busied himself with preparations for war; the pope made sure his remarks scheduled to be given to the gathered bishops and cardinals went to the printer. An open break seemed inevitable. But by Thursday evening, February 9, 1939, Pius XI’s condition had weakened to the point that death seemed near and he was given the last rites. The next morning, at 5:31 A.M the pontiff breathed his last—only a few hours before he was scheduled to celebrate his Concordat, and issue his most urgent condemnation of racism in Italy yet. Also on his desk was the encyclical, Humani generis unitas, he had been preparing: it rejected “the idea that a good Christian could embrace racism, and demanded an end to the persecution of the Jews.”
            In the end, Benito Mussolini’s luck held out for a little longer. Instead of having to deal, in wartime, with the powerful and volatile Pope Pius XI, he was favored with a successor, the Secretary of State Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, who would become even more of an enabler. Pacelli, an instinctive diplomat and conciliator, did all that he was asked, and more. Within days of his predecessor’s death, Pacelli ordered Pius XI’s secretary to gather all copies of his prepared remarks, including all notes pertinent to it, and secrete them. All printed copies of the speech, as well as the planned encyclical, the new pope ordered destroyed. No one would be allowed to see them in full until the Secret Archives for Pius XI’s papacy were opened in 2006. Then, as the newly elected Pope Pius XII, Eugenio Pacelli opened his papacy by meeting almost immediately with the German ambassador, and assuring him of his Church’s plan to inaugurate a new era of understanding. Having been papal nuncio in Berlin, he understood, he told Ambassador Bergen, that each country chose its own form of government and “it was not the pope’s role to judge what system other countries chose.” On March 15, 1939, three days after Pacelli’s formal coronation, the German military seized the remainder of Czechoslovakia. And with their invasion of Poland on September 1, the Nazis made clear that nothing could stop their march to total war and genocide. As to Pius XII’s relations with Mussolini’s fascist government, the days of easy collaboration seemed to have returned with the new pope. As Kertzer puts it, with the death of the irascible Pius XI, “it was as if a dark cloud had lifted.” Of course, an even darker cloud was beginning to envelop Europe, but that, as they say, is another story.

Lawrence DiStasi

Tuesday, April 08, 2014


Kyle, you left so fast
Did you feel you had no future
Or that you had no past
Is it simply in our culture
Or some castle in the sand
Did you know we loved you
As you took things in your hands
We miss you so much now
And we shall never know
What troubled your sweet brow
Or why you had to go

As a personal disclosure, our family lost a nineteen-year-old last December.  He was a young Marine who had completed training and appeared to be ready to find new beginnings with a family that loved him and a girlfriend who seemed devoted to him.  This tragedy is unique, of course, and the pain is specific to the family and friends who knew Kyle.  Perhaps Kyle saw himself as an island, beyond the reach of any of us, but we will never know because he left too soon for us to find the root cause or even the final and proximate cause.  Could it have been accidental?  Perhaps, but then why would somebody trained in weapons have such an accident?  Death is so final that anybody trained in weapons might seem to avoid the circumstances that would even present the possibility of an accident.  I say that knowing that I have witnessed soldiers doing some things that challenge common sense.  I have personally scolded a sergeant for running with a stick of TNT (with a firing cap inserted) in a pocket directly over his heart.  I have cleared a C-130 of airborne soldiers that had a large tin can full of firing caps loosely packed in straw right next to a relief can where soldiers were likely to smoke while urinating into the relief can.  Dangerous as these acts were, they reflected perhaps a momentary lapse of common sense and failure to see danger.  Kyle’s circumstances seem different than sheer carelessness.  It does not fit.  Still, the number of suicides must make us look for changes in our approach.

I have been reading and studying and personally researching what I can about military suicides since we went to war in Iraq.  Having served in the active Army and reserves for more than 30 years in one capacity or another, I now watch the suicide trend go upward.  It was bad after the Vietnam as suicides thrived on alienation.  That was “my war.”  Now suicides are at an all-time high.  At first, I felt that it must be the unusual circumstances of that Iraq war.  Perhaps pre-emptive war itself, repeated deployments, unrealistic goals or the stress of combat was too much for a significant portion of our military.  I proposed a study supported by the Lieutenant Governor of California, except that there was simply no money to fund the study to find root causes.  Now, we are out of Iraq and the suicides increase, not decrease.  Now we learn that even Specialist Ivan Lopez who never actually saw combat in Iraq, despite spending a few months driving a truck there.  Worse, he took several lives at Fort Hood, TX before taking his own.  He was taking resilience training even as he claimed PTSD.

As I read the Sunday LA Times today, I came upon a new twist in military logic.  Soldiers are being trained to be “psychologically resilient.”  I cannot posit that as a cause of the high suicide rate, but it led me to question again our whole concept of transition training into and out of the military.  I have discussed a few of these issues in prior essays, but now find that perhaps the entire training regimen should be looked at.  We now have 22 military connected suicides PER DAY (over 8,000 per year).  That number is not sustainable even if we never see another shooting war.  That toll, especially in terms of the grief and torment to families and friends of the victims is a health hazard to all of us.  It may begin from untreated depression, but it is also the engine of depression that seems communicable to us all and beyond control of the resources we apply.  Just what is psychological resilience?  It seems harmless enough as a training course title, but what the hell does that mean to soldiers enduring the training?  If it means to “suck it up,” as it has in the past, then we have not helped solve the problem.

Allow me to offer some ideas in my basic analysis looking for what is the same and what is different in our recent wars.  In WW II and Korea, we had a draft and trained a wide swath of Americans in terms of social/economic status, education and careers/trades/work history.  This continued during Vietnam although most Americans were truly unable to sense a personal threat from the war as they did during WW II and they sometimes blamed the soldiers themselves for the war.  We had conscription, although the connected were easily able to get deferments as the quote attributed to Dick Cheney attests:  “I had better things to do.”  That explained his five deferments, to him, at least, and perhaps to some 18 million others who got deferments. Five deferments were rare, however, and Cheney took six years to get through college when was 26 and no longer of draft age when he finished.  Nixon, in 1973, ended the draft and we began an era of an all volunteer military.  This was heralded as a new way to avoid the national anguish as well as a new way to avoid the draft without seeming unpatriotic.  That one aspect of military life changed dramatically, but other things remained relatively constant.  As we called the enemy “Japs” and “Krauts” to reduce their humanity during WW II, we developed parallel language in Korea, Vietnam and later wars in Iraq and Afghanistan where “rag heads” seemed to be the insult of choice.  Yes, this makes it easier to kill people if we put demeaning labels on them.  The transition into the military was different with volunteers.  We had more homogenous social/economic and educational levels with volunteers and the force gathered up millions of minorities and disadvantaged men and women.  The military became an opportunity for those who were patriotic and focused on military life and missions as well as a regular paycheck.  The transition into the military varied according to the period needed to acquire the skills needed by our government although volunteers could often request training and assignments.  None were guaranteed.  The transition out was far different.  In WW II, Korea, and Vietnam until 1973, most of the conscripted were eager to get out and return to civilian life and responsibilities.  There were sometimes a few that found military life satisfying and they attempted to stay in service.  The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan saw the first repeated back-to-back tours.  We heard: “Suck it up.  You volunteered.”  That was important in the mental /emotional distress that followed.  We developed a new name for an old condition.  It is now PTSD and can be applied universally.  I contend, however, that this practice of repeated exposure (some call it abuse) although critical, may not be the deciding factor.  A volunteer force ended the dilemma of an unfairly applied draft, yet that old draft minimized the problems of transition from the military to civilian life.  People used to WANT to get out and back to civilian life.  Now when men and women have chosen to be in the military, they are pushed out due to results of strain, other injury or career disappointments. They lack easily translatable military to civilian skills and are often assigned in narrow military occupational skills that have no civilian equivalent, such as machine gunner or sniper.  They are fish out of water.  They do not have any significant transition training to become civilians and the training to have a steel trap thinking process with well defined authority providing structure is absent once outside military gates.  There does not appear to be a clear future for many of the military leaving the cocoon of volunteer service.  Don’t be too quick to blame Dick Nixon, my least favorite president. There is no way that he could have known that the law of unintended consequences would apply to the end of an unpopular draft.  He sometimes ignored civil laws and this “law” is more subtle than the law of gravity which reminds us immediately of its breach.

I suggest that when a man or woman leaves the service with its structure and focus and becomes one of many competing for good civilian jobs and education/training, that life itself become difficult. For any one person, this may become overwhelming as it does with 22 vets per day who commit suicide.  Recently the VA admitted to $200 million being paid out for wrongful deaths related to military suicides.  Add to that our “normal” training in the military to minimize the value of another’s life, especially a perceived foe and you have an explosive condition that results in a quick shift in focus from killing a foe to ending the uncertainty of his/her personal life.  We in the military are given the motivation and training to kill.  It is not a non-violent occupation.  Perhaps we need that to win wars.  Not everyone is suited to that occupation and its many roles, but given the training and the means, why are we surprised when former military kill themselves?  “Give me no way out?  I will find a way and I am trained to do it.”  If you get in my way, perhaps you are my foe and not my friend.  The reports of spousal abuse are legion.  The reports of self-destructive behavior short of suicide are legendary.  Another factor imbedded in our volunteer approach is that expectations for those joining the military simply may not be attainable.  The TV and movie imagery is not supported by reality.  I recall leading physical training for an airborne rifle company of 250 men.  As I took them out daily for training followed by a run, these young men probably cherished the thought of this five foot eight inch lieutenant challenging them every day.  That was until one day I went through the normal PT course, but instead of concluding the run by steering into the company area, I led them past the company area and kept running.  Even though I had specifically warned them that day that “anybody falling out during training would have extra PT with me at 1600 (4 PM),” virtually all of them were unable to complete the run, except for a few who tried to physically support those soldiers literally falling down.  Even I held up two soldiers by their belts.  Their expectation of completing the goal was smashed as we ran past the company area.  Even senior NCOs were crushed and my own platoon sergeant went to the company commander to complain.  Expectations, whether we like it or not, are psychologically powerful and can drain us physically if not met.  Have the individual expectations of the volunteer military been met or have they been thwarted?   If they have been thwarted, then they may have contributed to disappointment and worse.  We all have expectations and when they are not met, our reactions can be devastating.  This is especially true for specific military jobs.  We need only so many of each and there is a tangible failure if person A gets job B.  Remember that in a volunteer force, people joined to stay and did not join to leave as in the days of the draft.

Tell me that training our military in substantial skills for transition to civilian life and responsibilities is expensive and I will respond like the teacher who says:  “If you think that education is expensive, try ignorance.”  We have tried ignorance.  We have sometimes even blamed the soldier for malingering when he/she tries to get help as recently happened at Fort Lewis, Washington because some military administrator felt that it was too expensive to treat the large number of military claiming disability.  We purposely looked the other way from injury.  Yes, disabilities are expensive, but they are a direct result of training for and fighting wars.  We must learn to budget for them much as we budget for damaged trucks and tanks and aircraft or tents.  They are the cost of doing the dirty business of war.  Suck it up all you politicians who are so eager to go to war and so penurious as to not budget for all the costs of war.  If we adopt a system of realistic and meaningful training that helps re-set the expectations of volunteers to some civilian activities and goals, then we will have taken a step to reduce the dissonance and depression of being unable to meet the original military expectations of volunteers.  A large part of the cognitive dissonance is caused by the real purpose of “No Child Left Behind.”  While many of you believe that the law was intended solely as a way to distribute educational monies on a national level, its primary purpose is less obvious.  That purpose, hidden in the shade of promotional obfuscation, is to guarantee that military recruiters are given ample access to schools.  They have full access to all student records and, of course, the students themselves, at their most impressionable and vulnerable time.  NCLB was revised effective 1 July 2002 to ensure that the federal government had access to everything on every student including phone numbers.  Parents must specifically request exemption and most parents have no clue that the law actually means that no child will be left behind military recruiters.  Without that knowledge, your child will see great uniforms, great movies and promotional literature just as Kyle did.  Once that happens, the influence of parents is eroded to the point of confrontation with a teenager who will act his/her age to the consternation and eventual frustration and likely surrender of the parents.  Parents: Talk to your sons and daughters before the recruiters do so they understand how to interpret the gee-whiz promotion of the all-volunteer force and help them understand the risks and benefits.

Let us help the 22 Kyles per day by creating a meaningful transition for them and, by the way, not going to war unless we truly need to.  This requires the means and the will.  Given the will, we will create the priorities and the means.  Make your voice heard for the next Kyle before he/she becomes a statistic to the VA and an immeasurable loss to a family.

George Giacoppe

10 April 2014

The Deep State and JFK

Since former Congressional staffer Mike Lofgren wrote his essay on the ‘deep state’ and talked about it on PBS’ Moyers and Co., I have been thinking about the notion more and more. Then I read Mary’s Mosaic, Peter Janney’s riveting book about the death of JFK’s lover, the brilliant socialite Mary Pinchot Meyer. The sickening truth began to sink in once again, 50 years after the Dallas assassination that everyone in my generation remembers, and remembers thinking was an inside job when, right on our television screens, the alleged assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, was shot to death smack in the middle of the Dallas police station by the allegedly grief-stricken Jack Ruby. Everyone, that is, immediately thought conspiracy: an assassin doesn’t just get gunned down in police custody by some fat, floozy of a strip-joint owner who, because he does favors for a lot of cops and can walk into the most heavily-guarded police station in the world, can kill the prime suspect of the crime of the century with less trouble than a teenager killing rats at the dump. No. If there ever was an inside job meant to silence a suspect, this had to be it. Until, that is, the Warren Commission deliberated and handed down its verdict: Oswald was a lone, very lucky gunman with some sort of grudge against the President, and Ruby also acted on his own to exact vengeance on the man who killed the President he loved. All other conclusion and speculations were the ravings of lunatic conspiracy theorists. End of story.
            Over the years, however, intrepid researchers and reporters such as Peter Dale Scott and Oliver Stone and Robert Parry have contested the received standard version of this and other stories. And in doing so, they have broached the subject of a secret government operating outside (or perhaps one should say ‘inside’) the boundaries of legitimate political contestation or government oversight. The idea that would not die was that the operation to kill the president was the work of so-called “rogue” elements in the CIA and other government agencies like the ones that nearly brought the world to nuclear Armageddon in the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. They were the same or similar elements that have brought down countless foreign governments—as in Iran when they overthrew the democratically-elected Mohammad Mossadegh and brought back the Shah—and have really dictated the policies of one president after another to such an extent that even the tepid Dwight Eisenhower raised the alarm about the dangers of the “military-industrial complex.” And they were not “rogue” at all, but fully ensconced in all agencies of government as well as the major corporate and Wall Street power centers which ultimately call the shots. This is exactly what Mike Lofgren now has formally termed “the Deep State.” Here is how he defines it:
The Deep State does not consist of the entire government. It is a hybrid of national security and law enforcement agencies: the Department of Defense, the Department of State, the Department of Homeland Security, the Central Intelligence Agency and the Justice Department. I also include the Department of the Treasury because of its jurisdiction over financial flows, its enforcement of international sanctions and its organic symbiosis with Wall Street….
Lofgren then expands on that government-corporate connection by pointing out how mutually reinforcing are the connections between corporate America and the federal agencies in question, and the huge percentage of the national security apparatus that is contracted out to private companies such as Booz Allen Hamilton (Edward Snowden’s employer):
There are now 854,000 contract personnel with top-secret clearances — a number greater than that of top-secret-cleared civilian employees of the government. While they work throughout the country and the world, their heavy concentration in and around the Washington suburbs is unmistakable: Since 9/11, 33 facilities for top-secret intelligence have been built or are under construction. Combined, they occupy the floor space of almost three Pentagons — about 17 million square feet. Seventy percent of the intelligence community’s budget goes to paying contracts.
Is it any wonder that the federal government has been at such pains to track Snowden down, to silence Julian Assange and Bradley Manning and William Binney, to mount the most savage attack on government whistleblowers and leakers in U.S. history? There’s a lot of money at stake here, not to mention some very unsavory skeletons in America’s closet.
            But to return to JFK and Mary Meyer. Peter Janney, the writer, is a psychologist by profession and a CIA brat by birth: his father was Wistar Janney, a career CIA official. This gives Peter Janney some added credibility when he writes about CIA powers like James Jesus Angleton, head of CIA counterintelligence, and Cord Meyer (Mary Meyer’s husband before their divorce), head of the Directorate of Plans. The story Janney tells is both poignant and harrowing. Having known each other when they were young collegians (JFK at Harvard and Mary at Vassar), Meyer and JFK had flirted but never really consummated anything until the early 60s when she was divorced and he, as usual, was hopping from one bed to another. Contrary to his usual pattern of “love ‘em and leave ‘em,” however, JFK is said by Janney and others to have fallen heavily for Mary Meyer. More than that, he is said to have come under her influence, first by taking LSD with her at least once, and second by agreeing that the world, on the brink of annihilation from nuclear weapons, needed peacemakers more than anything else. Mary Meyer had long been an advocate for world peace: she and her husband, Cord Meyer, had been leaders of the United World Federalists (UWF) before Cord, needing money for his new family, succumbed to an offer from the CIA (talk about flipflops!). Now, with JFK and perhaps some emotional insights from LSD, she was allegedly steering him more and more towards détente with the Soviet Union. As evidence, Janney cites JFK’s stunning American University Commencement Speech of June 10, 1963, well worth reading in full (http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/jfkamericanuniversityaddress.html). In that speech, JFK talked about peace as more than necessary, especially given the weapons of mass destruction now in the hands of the two superpowers, the U.S. and the Soviet Union. But he spoke not the threatening language favored by the deep staters, nor a language of blame for a “godless” adversary, but the language of rational and sane men who know that only by examining one’s own attitudes could real peace ever have a chance:
Some say that it is useless to speak of peace or world law or world disarmament, and that it will be useless until the leaders of the Soviet Union adopt a more enlightened attitude. I hope they do. I believe we can help them do it. But I also believe that we must reexamine our own attitudes, as individuals and as a Nation, for our attitude is as essential as theirs. And every graduate of this school, every thoughtful citizen who despairs of war and wishes to bring peace, should begin by looking inward, by examining his own attitude towards the possibilities of peace, towards the Soviet Union, towards the course of the cold war and towards freedom and peace here at home.
Then the President went even farther. He announced that far from just indulging in rhetoric, he intended to back up his words with action, action to pursue the talks already started in Geneva in pursuit of a real nuclear test-ban treaty:
I'm taking this opportunity, therefore, to announce two important decisions in this regard. First, Chairman Khrushchev, Prime Minister Macmillan, and I have agreed that high-level discussions will shortly begin in Moscow looking towards early agreement on a comprehensive test ban treaty. Our hopes must be tempered with the caution of history; but with our hopes go the hopes of all mankind. Second, to make clear our good faith and solemn convictions on this matter, I now declare that the United States does not propose to conduct nuclear tests in the atmosphere so long as other states do not do so. We will not -- We will not be the first to resume. Such a declaration is no substitute for a formal binding treaty, but I hope it will help us achieve one. Nor would such a treaty be a substitute for disarmament, but I hope it will help us achieve it.
In short, President Kennedy announced that day that he was serious about proposing an end to the arms race, an end to the “strategy of annihilation,” and a beginning towards an era of full disarmament and peace. And that announcement may have been the final signal to those in the “deep state” that the President of the United States, already considered unreliable because of his refusal to “nuke” Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis and risk nuclear Armageddon, because of his indications of rapprochement with not just Russia but with China and Cuba too, with his reckless (in their eyes) moves toward a test-ban treaty (his successor, Lyndon Baines Johnson, refused to sign the treaty Kennedy had negotiated), could no longer be trusted or tolerated.
            Janney cites an entry Mary Meyer made in her diary just before she died to confirm this notion: “They couldn’t control him any more. He was changing too fast.” Whether or not this was true, it is quite clear that some ‘deep staters’—very powerful people within government who were able to bring about the assassination of a sitting president and then create a commission, the Warren Commission, to confirm the preposterous lone gunman theory that has stood till this very day—wanted the President out of the way. Janney cites the cases building against Lyndon Johnson (the scandals of Bobby Baker and Billie Sol Estes, about to appear on the cover of Life Magazine until they were replaced by the assassination photos from the Zapruder film, never to be heard from again) and the clear evidence that he would be dropped as Vice President in the 1964 election, as indications that LBJ at the least knew about the plot.
            One way or the other, though, Janney’s main story concerns Mary Meyer. She apparently had told friends and acquaintances, especially after the Warren Commission Report was made public, that it was all fiction, a cover story to hide the truth. Given her well-known intimacy with the assassinated President, and her equally well-known penchant for confronting people about uncomfortable truths, Mary Meyer was not about to be intimidated. Janney quotes liberally from lawyer Jimmy Smith’s notes with his client, writer Leo Damore, who claimed, before he committed suicide in 1995, that he (Damore) had put together the details of both Mary’s death and JFK’s assassination. And his research showed that
…it wasn’t Mary’s affair with Jack that had put her in jeopardy; it was what she had been able to put together…about the “murder of JFK.” Her indignation at the cover-up in the Warren Report pushed her to confront her ex-husband, Cord, and possibly Jim Angleton as well. Smith’s notes, however, indicated that it had to have been Cord who conveyed to Jim Angleton how infuriated Mary had become. Whether Mary subsequently had a separate confrontation with Jim Angleton alone, or with Cord present, wasn’t clear. But it was almost certain both men realized—knowing Mary as well as they did—that she wasn’t the kind of person who was going to keep quiet. (329)
In short, Mary Meyer had to be silenced. Given her habit of walking each day around noon on a towpath along an abandoned Chesapeake and Ohio canal, she was accosted there on October 12, 1964, and shot twice—once in the temple, and once from behind in the right chest above the wing bone. Both were up-close professional shots, the second one fatal. A witness called to tow a Nash automobile nearby heard shots, then moved to a wall from which he could see a Black man bending over a body, wearing a tan jacket and a plaid hat. The witness, Henry Wiggins Jr., identified the suspect as 5’8” tall, weighing somewhere around 180 lbs. Shortly thereafter, police arrested Ray Crump, Jr. (according to Damore, another fall guy like Lee Harvey Oswald), a Black man about 5’3” and weighing no more than 130 lbs. Having just had extra-marital sex with a girlfriend, he refused to explain why he was at the scene, and was charged with the murder. Fortunately for him, Crump was brilliantly defended by renowned attorney Dovey Johnson, who got him acquitted of all charges. The murder remains unsolved to this day.
            According to Janney, however, Leo Damore found that one of the witnesses that day, William L. Mitchell, who claimed he was running along the path, was the real assassin. A known CIA asset, and once part of an Army Special forces kill team, Mitchell, according to another researcher, Hank Albarelli, killed Mary Meyer “at the request of the Agency’s Domestic K [contracts] Office in D.C.” But not so strangely, all records about Mitchell seem to have disappeared. He originally gave his address to police as 1500 Arlington Boulevard in Arlington VA, said to be a known “CIA safe house.” He also claimed to be a math instructor at Georgetown University, but no such person was listed on the math faculty. Damore also asserted that Mitchell had actually admitted that he was the killer of Mary Meyer, but of course, Damore himself ‘committed suicide,’ so that evidence no longer exists.
            All that exists is Janney’s book putting together the assassinations of two lovers, one of whom was the president of the United States, the other a beautiful and powerful woman who had once been married to a high CIA official. And one more piece of evidence that a constantly changing core of powerful insiders in and out of government (today, many are known as neocons) manipulates government policy and our elected leaders to an extent that is frightening to contemplate. The latest instance of this known to me is Robert Parry’s exposure of the inside game with regard to Ukraine. Parry asserts that what’s really at play in Ukraine is the neocon attempt to control Barack Obama, to poison what had been a growing diplomatic partnership between the American President and Prime Minister Putin of Russia—first in solving the crisis over Syria’s alleged use of chemical weapons, and then in helping to arrange a tentative deal with Iran over its alleged nuclear weapons program. By using the National Endowment for Democracy, among other agitprop organizations of the Right, to foment and bring to a violent boil the demonstrations in Kiev, the “deep state” has once again driven a stake into the heart of peace politics when a President appeared to be moving too close to accommodation rather than belligerence. What is involved for the deep state, of course, are billions in weapons contracts for arms manufacturers, endless jobs for high-tech warriors and propagandists and hit-men, and a zealous commitment to keeping the world terrified in order to shape policy towards the manufacture of fear and the weapons associated with it.
            Whether or not the fresh air of publicity can put a stop to such insider tactics remains an open question. But in a certain sense, it is all the rest of us have. The power seems to gravitate, as always, towards fear, and the insiders who stoke that fear. Until, of course, some brave naïf reveals that the emperor, the whole exceptionalist empire, is a mirage.
Lawrence DiStasi

Lawrence DiStasi