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Weblog From Nowhere-Land

November 22: Jack & Mary

History isn't dead. It bubbles and oozes beneath the cracked earth like magma, its vapors informing what we call the present. It is co-eternal with that present, like the old Arab streets that run beneath the plazas of Spanish cities--streets whose ghosts you can still hear if you're crazy enough to put your ear to the ground. Yes, the world has moved on, but time's arrow can only travel within the limited range of directions given to it by the past.

"There is another history of the world," writes gnomic author and Yale lit professor John Crowley in his signature book, "Aegypt." Given the nature of the book, an alchemical novel written almost entirely in a kind of poetic cypher, I think what "another history" refers to is like what another writer, Peter Dale Scott, called "deep politics" in his own book, "Deep Politics and the Death of JFK." Both authors contend, with Marvin Gaye, that we ought to "believe half of what we see, and none of what we hear." There is the official story, and then there are the multifarious threads that formed it, any one of which could represent a more authentic truth. There is the history written by the victors, and the one lived by the fallen. And so it is with the assassination of John Kennedy and the relationship with Mary Pinchot Meyer that may, in some quantum entangled way, have led to it .

If you want to understand a man, find the woman to whom he gives his secrets. She will be the nearest thing to his own reflection. It may not be the women he makes his life with. She may not even be a lover, but usually is or has been. In a certain way, Mary Pinchot and John Kennedy were high school sweethearts. It began, quaintly enough, with him cutting in for a dance at a Choate mixer in 1938. The guy he cut in on was her then current boyfriend, William Attwood, who would later figure in to the secret negotiations with the Castro regime which directly preceded Kennedy's murder. JFK was a college man, three years her senior. There's no indication that things went beyond a dance that night, but I'm willing to bet that there was--for both of them--an instantaneous feeling of complicity. Complicity is what sparks romance, and complicity is the only thing that could have allowed a President John Kennedy to drop acid with Mary Pinchot in the White House.

Complicit they remained throughout the Fifties, when they had both physical and social geography in common. He was a hot young politician with the ability to touch both head and heart; she was Georgetown aristocracy, the lovely daughter of left-leaning public intellectuals in the days when there were many such in the corridors of power and even in the spy trade. It's hard to imagine now that many of the early young knights of the CIA counted themselves as progressives, even "one worlders." Cord Meyer, the young poet-warrior who gave Mary his name, was one of these idealistic spooks, utilizing espionage to make the world safe for the "new world order" that would eventually trump both Bolshevism and predatory capitalism. In light of the shrill anti-Communist stance he adopted later on, one has to wonder how earnest Meyer's embrace of this utopian ideology was (in 1947, he had founded an organization called the United World Federalists, which sounds suspiciously like a CIA front). But in the beginning, Cord and Mary were idealogical soulmates. She was a one-worlder, too, and her sincerity was never in doubt. She was a peace activist before the term was used, a Vassar girl, a wealthy proto-hippie with a genuine sense of noblesse oblige. She was also as fine in every way as a high-bred, high-boned American woman can be. One friend described her movement as "like a cat on a moonlit roof." Like all the women in her circle, she knew how to flirt with powerful men.

Once her husband had left the progressive fold and "gone over" to the dark side, falling under the sway of überspook, James Jesus Angleton, and managing the CIA disinformation campaign known as "Operation Mockingbird," the marriage went cold. And when their nine year-old son son was run down and killed by an automobile, the union could not survive the strain. Mary went her own way, became an artist and took an older, more accomplished artist as lover and mentor. Her life took a decidedly bohemian turn, and though her social set remained stocked with spies and Cold Warriors, she was fiercely idealistic in the high period of American idealism, devoted to peace at a time when the world held its breath in anticipation of nuclear war. Nothing remotely like the Sixties has occurred since.

When John Kennedy ascended to the Presidency, it must have seemed to Mary as if the agent of all her dreams had been handed the scepter and empowered to transform the world. From most accounts, Jack "courted" Mary for a while before she finally assented to having the White House limo pick her up for a tryst. (Anyone familiar with the story of how ardently Henry VIII had to woo Jane Seymour, despite being king and all, will understand) The fact is that she did assent, and this led to a two-year romance that looks an awful lot like love. In fact, James Angleton, that same master of black ops who had seduced away her husband, insists that among JFK's many flings, this was the one that mattered. He ought to have known: he was in love with her, too. Mary Pinchot was the sort of woman who gave you no choice. After her own murder in October 1964, just short of one year later than the President's, it was Angleton who wound up with her secret diary in his gnarled, nicotine-stained hands.

It's hard not to see the Mary Pinchot murder--like JFK's, another autumnal sacrifice--as a kind of timewave aftershock of November 22, connected to it in the sense of "deep history," even if not part of a methodical coverup. She was killed on the towpath that runs beside the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal--one shot point-blank to the head, one to the heart--and was found on the ground in the fetal position. The D.C. cop who gently turned her body over said he'd never seen a more beautiful corpse. The attendees at her memorial service were a Who's Who of spooks and characters who have since been cast in all manner of conspiracy theories. But the most intriguing and provocative question is not who executed her murder (it remains unsolved), but what passed between her and Jack Kennedy in the private hours of sex and revery they spent in the White House, many of those hours--by her account--under the influence of psychoactive drugs. Likewise, I'm less interested in who may have plotted JFK's November 22nd ambush than I am in what the two of them may have plotted together in their blissfully altered state, and how it may have altered the shape of history.

Timothy Leary, the primary source for the Kennedy LSD story, is a somewhat unreliable narrator, but the details of his story are so good and so right that it would be a crime not to enshrine them in the grand hall of the American mythos, thus lending a nice purple haze to Camelot. She came to him, he says, in his office at Harvard, where he was a respected academic doing serious research on the brain chemistry of psychedelics, and not yet notorious. She asked him to train her in how to "guide" an acid trip, said that she had entrée to a world of powerful men--men with their finger on the nuclear trigger--who, if properly influenced, might come to see a better way to chart the future course of the ship of state. She asked him for his best stuff (although he could probably brew his own batch right there in the Harvard lab, I like to think of it as Grade-A Owsley acid, the same stuff that Grace Slick and Aldous Huxley were doing). She returned to Washington, like winged Mercury, and delivered the dose to the President, after which, in her telling, they made love. He wondered aloud, "Ha! What if the Russians did something right now?" She rolled him fat joints and they talked about how to seek a newer world, one in which the heroes were peacemakers and manliness was a quality associated as much with restraint as military prowess. (In the Sixties, hip women were beginning to know that the bigger the gun, the humbler the personal equipment) And slowly but surely, as the story goes, she got to him. Not that the inclination wasn't already there. He was a deeply intelligent man, straight, but hip enough to be aware of Kerouac and Mingus, and cosmopolitan enough to see beyond narrow nationalism. But she brought these qualities out. The acid brought them out. And the historical record unfolds as if in synchronization with their love affair: the peace overtures to Castro and Kruschev, the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, the American University speech, the perhaps fateful decision to withdraw sixteen-thousand troops from Vietnam. I'm not suggesting, as some authors have, that Mary and her magic seeds were the sole, or even the principal influence on Jack's evolution. But take her out of the picture, and the history would have been other than it was. That's not conjecture. That's physics.

She was with him on the night of the day the Diem brothers were killed and dismembered in Saigon by a CIA operation he'd given tacit approval to and later regretted, the night it may have come to him that he did not have control of the chaotic forces within his own government, and that he and his own brother Bobby might--like the Diems--end up in a trunk. He called for her. What was her advice? I imagine Mary cradling his head in her hands and whispering something like that quote, often attributed to Gandhi, about "being the change we wish to see in the world." Then kissing his mouth to quiet his fretting, and slowly taking him down to that place where peace is made between man and woman. In the life of John F. Kennedy, it may have been the only real peace he ever felt. She changed his heart, and he offered that heart to the forces arrayed against him. What happened then is really no great surprise. In all such cases, the king must die.

Cord Meyer never got over his ex-wife. The tough CIA operative, with his glass eye and war-scarred face, wept publicly throughout her memorial service. Hardened as he was by then, indentured to the Company as surely as a Mafia lieutenant is to his capo, she must have represented for him the man he might have been. Many years later, caught in a fleeting moment of transparency and maybe remorse, he was asked who he thought had murdered Mary Meyer. "The same sons of bitches who killed Kennedy," he said, and he was in a position to know. As far as the record goes, he never spoke on the subject again.

As to what Jack Kennedy and Mary Meyer might be able to tell us about who those sons of bitches were, I can offer only this observation, gleaned from Shakespeare, Machiavelli, Sun Tzu, and my own personal experience. A corollary of the "keep your enemies closer" adage is that when it comes to political or professional hits, we are far more likely to be struck from within our family of familiars than from without it. The gravest danger comes from those we've first embraced and then rejected. From those with whom we were once, even fleetingly, "complicit." John Kennedy played both sides throughout his brief reign: he had to. The times were that dangerous and the stakes that high. It's part of the art of ruling, and he was born for it. But the strategy comes with a high risk, for sooner or later we must make a choice, and someone's going to feel burned. History shows that, by and large, Kennedy made--or was on his way to making--the right choices, and that it cost him dearly. And my gut tells me that Mary Meyer, with her vision of a turned-on world, was the physical embodiment of those choices.

Lee Harvey Oswald was in the sixth floor window, and whether or not the shots from his twelve-dollar mail order rifle were the only ones fired, it's inconceivable to me that others did not know he was up there. He was on too many radar screens, and had too many handlers enmeshing him in too many nets. He was allowed to slip through those nets by people who were most likely known to his victim. This is how most conspiracy works: it "lets things happen." It permits history to move along one vector rather than another, leaving us no choice afterwards but to feel the game is rigged. One needn't be an active agent in the plot, only to let it unfold. In this sense, the tears shed at Mary's memorial service by her ex-husband and his keepers may have been tears of remorse as well as of genuine grief.
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