Friday, November 22, 2019

"For civilization to survive, it must remain civilized."

President John F. Kennedy was assassinated 56 years ago today. Having recently visited The Sixth Floor Museum, this year's anniversary feels like it has more than the usual impact.

Plaque looking out at the site of Kennedy's assassination on Elm Street in Dallas.

Thanks to Shadow & Substance on Facebook for linking to this post: "More Than a Man Has Died": Serling on Kennedy's Death. According to The Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling's daughter Anne, it was written by her father on his letterhead and she found it in his papers. This is the first paragraph; the whole thing is definitely worth a visit and a read:

More than a man has died. More than a gallant young President has been put to death. More than a high office of a land has been assaulted. What is to be mourned now is an ideal. What has been assassinated is a faith in ourselves. What has been murdered now is a belief in our own decency, our capacity to love, our sense of order and logic and civilized decorum.

One of the lines in the letter is particularly striking to me, especially as I check out the news these days (online, it's unwatchable on TV) or watch video clips of people behaving like thugs to others who don't march in lockstep with their beliefs: "For civilization to survive, it must remain civilized." It's not remaining civilized.

When you visit The Sixth Floor Museum it's hard not to wonder how different America would be if those bullets hadn't been fired that day, if Kennedy had completed his trip to Dallas and eventually been re-elected. If Robert Kennedy had followed his brother as a two-term President. That would take us through 1976. That means no President Lyndon Johnson, no President Richard Nixon, no President Gerald Ford. From what I know about the Kennedys, Ted was never Presidential material, but you could go further and imagine him as a two-term President if he'd managed to stay out of trouble, which was never going to happen. But I do think both Jack and Bobby were high-caliber and high-character men, at least in their service to their country. Maybe it's a writer thing, but it's hard not to at least wonder how different things might be today if an assassin's bullet hadn't robbed us of this one man (and later of his brother).

One of the things I heard recently (I can't remember now if it was on the museum's audio tour or elsewhere) was a comment on the enduring Kennedy assassination conspiracy theories. The speaker indicated that he felt one reason the theories continue to this day is that people have a hard time wrapping their heads around the idea that someone as inconsequential as Lee Harvey Oswald could be responsible for killing someone as consequential as President Kennedy. I would add ditto RFK and his assassin. I thought it was an interesting point. One guy changed history in just a few seconds. One guy did all that. It is tough to take. More than a man died that day, indeed.

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