The Shot That Still Echoes

Lyndon B. Johnson taking the oath of office on...

Lyndon B. Johnson taking the oath of office on Air Force One following the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Dallas, Texas, November 22, 1963 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Some of us were not even born yet. Many of us in matter of fact. I would not come around for another eight years, and the newest generation of adults are my generations children. We never have an answer to the question “where were you when you heard?” Though we have our own variations of it, different events. We cannot tell you because we were not there. Our lessons were not interrupted. Meetings were not cancelled. We did not hear those words the first time they were spoken with our own ears. Still, we hear the echoes of that shot, fifty years later, whether we were born for it or not.

The life and death of John Fitzgerald Kennedy is such an important part of our nation’s mythology now. It is mythology, why else would they call his administrations “Camelot?” It was the shining beacon on the hill. A light of hope for all Americans. We are fed the idea that he was the most beloved of Presidents, though he faced so much of the same, vicious rhetoric at home that the current President does.  We are told that it was the death of American innocence, though I have a hard time tracing its birth.

He was an icon however, even when he was alive. Young, handsome, intelligent, a hero in perhaps the only war you could argue we were in the right. He was compassionate but tough. He took on what, especially at the height of the Cold War, was the hardest job in the world. His youth made him a symbol for an entire generation concerned they would have to wait until they were old and withered for a place at the table.

His murder, when it happened, the world it happened in, occurred at the perfect moment to insure a world of new skepticism. Conspiracy theories abound, some thought-provoking, some banal, over the circumstances. Some believe we know the truth, some are sure we never will. That day in Dallas was the birth place of a far more cynical nation. Whether or not we had a right to our naiveté is deservedly in doubt, but that day, we lost it, or at least, a good chunk of it.

The loss of JFK may have extended the conflict in Vietnam. Then again, his death may have been necessary for the passing of the various civil rights legislation that his Vice President was able to win for minorities. It is hard to say. It is hard to say whether the Southern Strategy would have been as successful with such a charismatic leader to aim at it. It is hard to say whether we would have seen the slow erosion of worker’s rights in this country that we have had he lived. It is hard to say if he would have lived up to his promise, or if he would have let us down.

JFK was taken from us, many of us before we were born, but in his stead we were left a symbol. Perhaps it is a tarnished symbol. Perhaps it is one not worthy of us. Perhaps it is a symbol we are unworthy of. He is a symbol now, just the same, and while we wrestle still, fifty years later, with what it means, that shot still rings through the air.

 

 

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