The Day the World Turned Upside Down
by Stephen Morris
The seed for this issue’s theme was planted on the day I distributed the summer issue of Green Living Journal. “Distribution Day” is always a reminder of what a beautiful region we live in. It also involves several days of long hours in the car. The pleasant scenery is further enhanced by listening to a good audio book.
This day I was engrossed in 11/23/63 by Stephen King, the tale of a time-traveler who goes back to see how the world might have been different had the Kennedy assassination not happened. Here’s the book as described on Amazon.com:
Life can turn on a dime—or stumble into the extraordinary, as it does for Jake Epping, a high school English teacher in a Maine town. While grading essays by his GED students, Jake reads a gruesome, enthralling piece penned by janitor Harry Dunning: fifty years ago, Harry somehow survived his father’s sledgehammer slaughter of his entire family. Jake is blown away . . . but an even more bizarre secret comes to light when Jake’s friend Al, owner of the local diner, enlists Jake to take over the mission that has become his obsession—to prevent the Kennedy assassination. How? By stepping through a portal in the diner’s storeroom, and into the era of Ike and Elvis, of big American cars, sock hops, and cigarette smoke. . . . Finding himself in warmhearted Jodie, Texas, Jake begins a new life. But all turns in the road lead to a troubled loner named Lee Harvey Oswald. The course of history is about to be rewritten . . . and become heart-stoppingly suspenseful.
I was already in a Kennedy-frame-of-mind when I arrived to drop off Green Livings at the home of longtime distributor Jonathan Mark. Jonathan is well-known throughout the Pioneer Valley of central Massachusetts as a free-thinking social activist. His world view and values were formed in the 1960s, and he has remained true to them ever since. For years he has been the face behind FlybyNews.com, and he also hosts a talk show on his local cable access station.
Turns out, he too had JFK on the brain. He is organizing a series of screenings, presentations, and public forums in Greenfield, MA to commemorate the anniversary of the President’s assassination on November 22, 2013. A recent guest on his talk show was Peter Janney, author of the best-selling book Mary’s Mosaic: The C.I.A. Conspiracy to Murder John F. Kennedy, Mary Pinchot Meyer, and Their Vision for World Peace.
Again from Amazon:
Who really murdered Mary Pinchot Meyer in the fall of 1964? Why was there a mad rush by CIA counterintelligence chief James Angleton to locate and confiscate her diary? What in that diary was so explosive? Had Mary Meyer finally put together the intricate pieces of a plan to assassinate her lover, President Kennedy, with the trail ultimately leading to the CIA? And was it mere coincidence that Mary was killed less than three weeks after the release of the Warren Commission report?James Douglass, author of JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters, in explaining the rationale for Janney’s theory writes “the height of the Cold War, JFK risked committing the greatest crime in human history: starting a nuclear war. Horrified by the specter of nuclear annihilation, Kennedy gradually turned away from his long-held Cold Warrior beliefs and toward a policy of lasting peace. But to the military and intelligence agencies in the United States, who were committed to winning the Cold War at any cost, Kennedy’s change of heart was a direct threat to their power and influence. Once these dark ‘Unspeakable’ forces recognized that Kennedy’s interests were in direct opposition to their own, they tagged him as a dangerous traitor, plotted his assassination, and orchestrated the subsequent cover-up.”
There are, of course, many conspiracy books. What makes this one so interesting is that espouses the theory that JFK had, after the Bay of Pigs fiasco and the Russian Missile Crisis, become disenchanted and was increasingly mistrustful of his top military advisers who still very much governed by a Cold War mentality. Mary Pinchot Meyer, on the other hand, was preaching a gospel of world peace and Kennedy, claims the author, was increasingly under her spell.
What if …? Stephen King and Peter Janney look at the same story from entirely different perspectives and genres. Not surprisingly, they come to thought-provokingly different conclusions. Instead of “what if?” try looking at “what did” actually happen. The assassination did take place. Faith in institutions, big business, and the military was rocked. People like Jonathan Mark questioned authority, and the world has forever lost the luster of the early days of Camelot.
It was the birth of modern environmentalism, too. In 1962 Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring was published. Here’s the book’s story as reported in The New Village Green (New Society Publishers). The four-year task of writing Silent Spring began with a letter from a close friend of Carson’s who owned a bird sanctuary that had been sprayed unmercifully by the government. Could Carson use her influence to begin an investigation into pesticide use? Expecting governmental opposition, Carson considered raising the issue in a popular magazine instead, but publishers were (surprisingly) uninterested. Eventually the project became the book we know as Silent Spring.
Silent Spring focused generally on the environment, with pesticides receiving Carson’s particular attention. The book became known as “Carson’s Crusade,” and she worked on it until her death from lung cancer in April, 1964. Silent Spring is often credited with having launched the global environmental movement, and had an immense effect in the United States, where it spurred a reversal in national pesticide policy. Appearing on a CBS documentary about Silent Spring shortly before her death, Carson remarked, “Man’s attitude toward nature is today critically important simply because we have now acquired a fateful power to alter and destroy nature. But man is a part of nature, and his war against nature is inevitably a war against himself…[We are] challenged as mankind has never been challenged before to prove our maturity and our mastery, not of nature, but of ourselves.”
Initially ignored or damned by the military-industrial establishment, the book hit its stride in the tsunami of skepticism that followed the Kennedy assassination and subsequent events and unsatisfying investigations. As they questioned authority people began to say “Maybe this woman is not a hysterical nut, but a courageous speaker of the truth.” And “Maybe our hallowed institutions on the military industrial complex have been lying to us after all.”
This healthy and eye-opening skepticism may be the most lasting legacy of Oswald’s (or whoever’s) shots heard round the world. The loss of innocence and blind faith may yet prove our salvation.
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Stephen Morris is the national editor of Green Living Journal.