Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Happy JFK assassiversary

I visited Dealey Plaza and the Schoolbook Depository museum in Dallas in the summer of 1994, when I had a splitting headache and possibly food poisoning. An unforgettable experience nonetheless. As I write this, I have a splitting headache and possibly food poisoning. Coincidence...or conspiracy?

In any case, the big question that always comes up on this day is,

"Where were you when you found out John F. Kennedy was shot?"

Personally, I think it's time we retired this question. After all, as of today the JFK assassination happened 42 years ago. And this question's current relevance far surpasses what one would expect of a question that no one under 42 years old can really answer.

On the other hand, I suppose I should share my tale of where I was when I found out. I was young then, but I believe it was my parents' den. My dad had bought a book called Kennedy by Reg Gadney, a photo-and-text chronicle of the thousand-day Camelot presidency. The book's back pages, showing stills from the infamous Zapruder film and packed with exceedingly graphic description ("Blood spray filled the rear of the car...Two lumps from the president's head had split away..."), particularly caught my attention and stayed with me. Ah, 1988, the year I first lost my national innocence.

Okay, so the story sucks; but hey, I was negative-17 years old in 1963, so give me a break. I do recommend that everyone take some time to remember the life and times of the best president we had before his time. John Fitzgerald Kennedy's ideals and vision ring as true today as they did in the early 1960s. Let his lessons never be forgotten. That silly question, on the other hand...let that be forgotten.


Michael said...

I wasn't quite born when JFK was shot, but as a kid was well aware of his "legacy," which to be honest, really wasn't all that much--at best, tepid support for civil rights, and standard cold-war liberal stance on foreign affairs. The Vietnam question--would he have escalated--will forever be the great unknown (my own guess is yes, he would have)...
I only became aware of the various illnesses and his supposedly compulsive womanizing in the mid to late 70's...and now that his full medical records have been released, I wonder if some of the literal screwing around was exaggerated: a person that sick can still chase skirts, sure, but even with all the adrenaline injections it's difficult to imagine someone who was almost an invalid getting that much...

Michael said...

Well, let me propose a deal, then. We'll agree to forget about the "Where were you when Kennedy was shot?" question if you'll agree to forget about the "Where were you when Challenger blew up?" or "Where were you when the towers fell on 9/11?" questions.

We're talking about events that defined generations, Ian. Those kinds of things don't just fade away.

Ian McGibboney said...

Michael, I'm not saying those events fade away. But what's the point of remembering where I was when something bad happened? What does that add to the significance of the event if I wasn't directly involved? I think a lot of people use the question not to feel connected to an event, but to draw attention to themselves. So yeah, I'd be just fine with ditching questions like that about all events. I'm not trying to pit generations against each other.

On another note, why is it always tragedy that has to define us? Not to detract from the gravity of these monumental events, but I honestly wonder about that sometimes. Why do only terrible events bind Americans? Just a thought.

Michael said...

That last question is relatively easy to answer. It's the tragedies that pull us together because let's face it, we haven't had an awful lot of national occasions for rejoicing in the last four decades. I'm sure that my parents' generation remembers V-E and V-J day. But after that there simply isn't much in the way of triumph to celebrate. Maybe Apollo XI's successful landing on the moon in 1969, but I can't honestly say I remember anyone ever referencing that as a benchmark moment in history.

The Kennedy assassination, on the other hand, was a profound shock to the national consciousness. (See, for example, Bryan's take.) That assassination was also the start of a wave of political murders that spanned the next five years (Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Robert F. Kennedy), and that led in to the escalating disaster in Vietnam, Kent State, and Watergate. Obviously I don't remember life before Kennedy's murder in Dallas, since I wasn't quite a month old when he died, but what I've read and heard about from people who do remember those times suggests to me that there really was a different outlook in those days. They didn't call Kennedy's administration "Camelot" for no reason--but when he was killed it was truly a case of après moi, le déluge: things went to hell in a handbasket very quickly.

I mean, can you imagine George W. Bush going on national television anytime soon and doing what Kennedy did after the disaster at the Bay of Pigs? Big Dick would have the preznit's Secret Service detail wrestling him to the floor and frog-marching him off to the undisclosed secret bunker if he so much as intimated he was thinking about it.

Ian McGibboney said...

I can only take a quarter-century or so of being told by Baby Boomers how America's best days were 42 years ago and why there's no hope for the future. See now why I'm a cynic?