Saturday, November 22, 2008

Thoughts on the JFK Assassination @ 45

It was 45 years ago today President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. Whatever the circumstances of his assassination America lost an extraordinary leader.

Naturally when someone with extraordinary charisma like Obama comes along (whatever the merits of his policies) people will liken him to JFK, FDR and Lincoln.

The assassination took place nearly nine years before I was born. However, my parents like millions of people the world over remember where they were when it happened. They were both students at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. My Dad was in a stats class when someone came into the room and blurted out that Kennedy had been shot. Most people, my father included, thought it was a sick joke. It, of course, turned out to be no joke.

That night my paternal grandmother lit a candle for Kennedy. This is a Jewish tradition to honor the dead. The fact that my grandmother lit the candle in honor of a Catholic was a testimony to his idealism and his personal impact on Americans from every social strata.

I began to be fascinated by Kennedy in 1983 as the 20th anniversary of the assassination approached and tried to read Profiles in Courage though an 11-year-old boy could only get so much out of it. What was more easily understood was a visit to the JFK Memorial Park in Israel in the summer of 1988. The JFK Memorial is shaped like a tree stump. The stump consists of 50 parts representing the 50 states. Our guide asked us the symbolism of the stump. After a momentary pause I said, "It means he was cut down in the prime of his life." Then others understood as well.

There are memorials honoring him the world over. When I lived at the International Students House in London in 1995 there was a bust of President Kennedy outside the building on Marylebone Road. I have lived in Boston since 2000 and have visited the JFK Presidential Library and Museum on several occasions. I have also visited the home where he was born on 85 Beals Street in Brookline.

It is tempting to wonder what would our country been like had he served his full term and been re-elected in 1964. Most people would like to think things would have been far better and perhaps they would have been. How would things have been different if at all? Would JFK had been consumed by Vietnam the way it consumed LBJ? Would students have turned against him? Would RFK have turned against him politically? Would Nixon have been elected in 1968 just the same? Needless to say that will never be known. Although it says a great deal that Americans still have great reverence for a man who served in our highest elected office for less than three years nearly half a century later.

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