I was all set to blog on a completely different topic when I realized today was November 22nd. That Friday in 1963 was like December 7th for an older generation, or September 11th for a younger generation: a generally bad day we wished for years afterward could have ended differently, kind of like Romeo and Juliet.
Not all Boomers, interestingly, have the same memory of JFK’s assassination in Dallas. My wife was only three, and she has little recollection of it. Mine are a third-graders’ barely aware memories – learning the news on an asphalt playground, watching my teacher dab her eyes, staying home from school the following Monday while my parents watched the funeral in grieving silence. I knew something bad had happened, but nonetheless played with my toy cars that morning.
It wasn’t until later, as an aficionado of history, that I realized the impact that day had on us. It’s not so much the day as its reverberations that haunt us. The tragedy got worse as time went on. It wasn’t just that a young vibrant president had been shot. It was that we never got any clear answers on who did it – a lone gunman, the Mafia, the Cubans, the right-wingers. (Inappropriate aside: I always wondered if Jackie had him whacked for cheating on her.) It was that his more-conservative vice president mired us in a horrible foreign war that engendered as many lies as deaths.
After that day, a world filled with people like Alan Shepherd and John Glenn morphed into a world of Charles Mansons and Richard Specks. The world that had once spawned the Peace Corps now spawned the Weathermen and the Black Panthers.
White House musical performances devolved from the subdued tones of cellist Pablo Casals to slicing criticisms of singer Eartha Kitt. The urban poor, convinced they no longer had an advocate in the White House, turned away from Martin Luther King'[s path of civil disobedience. It was a time when the world seemed to be going slowly mad.
All of this comes with hindsight. The story that there was an executive order for the withdrawal of troops from Vietnam waiting on Kennedy’s desk for his return could be apocryphal. Given his initial slowness addressing the civil rights movement, he may not have averted the inner-city riots. His philandering or ailments could have come to light sooner and tarnished his reputation beyond repair.
In fact, the world doesn’t seem any less mad today. Instead of the Russians, we have Islamic terrorists. Instead of Vietnam, we have Afghanistan. Instead of government overspending causing rampant inflation and economic turmoil, we have corporations and Wall Street causing recessions brought on by greed and over-exuberance. Instead of urban riots, we have inner-city gangs.
I’m pretty sure we can’t hold Lee Harvey Oswald (or whomever) responsible for all that.