Friday, November 22, 2013

JFK Stuff

I was only five years old (home from kindergarten, I barely recall), but somehow I knew something was very wrong.

A tipoff was the hushed conversations from my parents and family (Presumably so I wouldn’t overhear? Never found out – oh well) and the sudden interest in what was taking place on TV (What, no cartoons?).

I can barely remember, but I guess, to a child’s thinking, you make the word and picture associations differently than you would if you were an adult. The president is mentioned? Well, maybe he made a speech somewhere or talked to reporters. And you see his face all over the place – well, he is the president, after all. And a younger and more photogenic one than those before him (the press did indeed cover the Kennedys in the White House as if they were royalty, which now might force people with “conventional views” to “repress a gag reflex,” as the utterly odious Richard Cohen could have put it).

In short order, though, I noticed the anxious, concerned look on my mom’s face and also noticed the tone of voice of the TV announcer (probably Walter Cronkite – God, what didn’t he cover?). Then the words – “shots fired,” “president taken to Parkland Memorial Hospital,” “conflicting reports.” And now you know it’s for real.

Then you start asking the questions, and the only answer you get is “I don’t know, let’s hope and pray that it isn’t true.”

And after what seems like hours pass, though they are only seconds, you find out that it is true. And there are no words to truly capture the shock and sense of horror and despair.

Oh, and though I’m sure this doesn’t need to be pointed out, I will anyway; at five years old, I had no political inclination about anything. I would have felt the same way if President Kennedy had been a Republican somehow.

To add the exclamation point to everything, by the way, Cronkite fights back tears and his voice breaking as he reads the news, a perfectly human reaction. And after a little while, when he’s done with reading the reports from the news staff of the assassination, he tells us that, now, we’re going to go to our reporter on the scene (or somewhere else, in the studio maybe), a younger man looking more serious than Cronkite with jet-black hair (or so it appears on the black and white and gray scale of our TVs) who we would later learn is a still-young correspondent named Dan Rather.

And as if you still wondered as to whether or not this was indeed an emergency, you could tell because some of the adults started coming home early from work. And you were sure the first thing they did when they arrived was to turn on their TVs (I think my mom wondered if this story made it to the afternoon edition of the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin).

After that, I can recall only what seemed like a maelstrom of news reports, profiles of the just-slain president, reactions from other politicians and world leaders, and of course reactions from family members and friends (we would later hear that, at the E.J. Korvette’s department store, a woman had actually yelled out that she was glad that Kennedy got what he deserved; I suppose that act alone means we above that Mason Dixon line have automatically forfeited any notion of moral superiority towards any other region in this country).

Since all of this happened on a Friday (how apropos), there wasn’t much to do the next day but turn on the TV to find out if anything else had happened (you knew that Lyndon Johnson, a guy who was only known as an intimidating force in the Senate by my parents, was now president). And then, at last, you saw the guy who murdered our now-deceased president being escorted to jail.

And in almost that same instance, you saw Oswald murdered also by Jack Ruby. On live TV, with all of the attendant chaos, yelling and confusion taking place in real time.

To a child’s way of thinking (speaking only for myself I guess), it was hard not to think of it as another episode of a TV show, even a low farce that wasn’t even remotely funny (I think, at that point, I was whisked away from the TV set by at least one set of adult hands, not in a punishing way, I want to emphasize).

There would be many other images, of course, brought to us from TV coverage that would become indelible (the picture of LBJ being sworn in on the plane next to the First Lady, wearing her still-blood-stained outfit, the funeral cortege, “John John” and his salute, etc.). And of course, politicians such as Gerald Ford and Arlen Specter would rise to prominence on the Warren Commission that, of course, concluded that Oswald acted alone.

And over time, the conspiracy theories would take their place alongside the conventional wisdom, with each holding sway, though I tend to side more with the conspiracy theories (not in their entirety, but in aggregate, because, in my opinion, they’re closer to the truth – put me down in the “I think the ‘lone gunman’ theory is bogus” column).

Because, as Donald Sutherland’s made-up character (based on L. Fletcher Prouty and Richard C. Nagell?) in Oliver Stone’s movie put it in the clip below, in so many words, the who and when of it is a parlor game. What matters the most, of course, is why.

And trying to answer that question…well, it has taken years (assuming it ever could be answered), and it will undoubtedly take many more, even after records into the investigation are unsealed in 2017.

There is so much history from that time, to say nothing of innuendo and speculation, that has been processed over and over into all manner of pop culture flotsam (as well as actual scholarship), to the point where, hell, if you were born or grew up around that time, you MUST have an opinion on the subject.

You think Oswald acted alone? Are you a Republican (maybe not)? Do you think JFK was about to “expose the illuminati” or something? Are you a Democrat (maybe not)?

How about Bobby Kennedy’s persecution of Jimmy Hoffa – do you think organized crime collaborated with rogue, anti-Castro elements mad at JFK for the Bay of Pigs? And gosh, wasn’t it a coincidence that Allen Dulles, fired by JFK, ended up serving on the Warren Commission and authorizing its report? Do you think the generals, including Curtis LeMay, signed off on it because they were mad at Kennedy for acting like he wanted to bail on Vietnam and pursuing a nuclear test ban treaty with Khrushchev of the Soviet Union? Maybe Sam Giancana took the lead because he was mad at JFK for the stuff with Judith Exner? Or maybe there were people PO’ed at father Joe Kennedy for his “bootlegging” during Prohibition, so they decided to exact reprisals on one son now (Jack) and another later (Bobby)?

And there are so many other angles on this that I can’t even get to - and isn’t it a coincidence that these assassinations (JFK, Bobby, Martin Luther King) stopped when J. Edgar Hoover died?

I have no new facts, nothing to tilt the argument one way or the other; just “sounding off” of course, which means my opinion is no better or worse than anyone else.

With the passage of time, though, I think what I still have a hard time trying to reconcile is the fact not just that the assassination of a U.S. president took place the way that it did, on what appeared to be a grand stage in a motorcade, but the fact that such an act was even possible.

This is not meant to attack the fine men and women of the Secret Service, by the way. However, it does lead one to believe that something indeed on a grand scale was afoot. The fact that the conditions could be orchestrated in such a way to allow that to happen is at least as chilling to me as the fact that it happened at all. The fact that so many forces, I believe, could coalesce the way they did and manufacture this event, the killing of an incumbent United States president, is truly the stuff of nightmares.

And I don’t have an answer to any of this; all I have are my observations (and to point out, as Oliver Stone did in his “Untold History of the United States,” that the Kennedy assassination would open the door for ever-greater horrors to come – there was a lot of great stuff that happened in the 1960s, but there were also many moments when you felt like the whole world was coming apart).

So I think we should mourn President Kennedy on this day, the 50th anniversary of his death. However, I think we should also mourn for ourselves a bit, as we consider what might have been yet realized in the remainder of his first term of office, and quite possibly a second starting in 1964 (the Dallas trip, it was later noted, was the unofficial start of his re-election campaign).

However, I think we can also use this opportunity to reflect on his accomplishments; former New York Times columnist Bob Herbert wrote about JFK here. Also, here are Kennedy’s remarks attacking the steel companies (and if you want to get an idea as to why JFK got the wingnuts all upset, David Brooks – sticking with The Old Gray Lady – gives us an insight on that here…BoBo is pretty much comic relief on this subject, it should be noted – last bullet).

So with that out of the way, I give you the beginning of the reporting with Cronkite's voice-over only - just the "CBS Bulletin" background...

...and Cronkite gave us the official word at about 6:22 here...

...and I think this articulates pretty well, rightly or wrongly, the shadow that has surrounded this fateful event...

…and though there are a few tunes that are appropriate for this day, I thought this was the best selection.

Update: I thought this commentary from R.J. Eskow was well done.

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