Friday, November 22, 2013

Memories of 11-22-1963

I was eleven years old when JFK was shot in Dallas. I wasn't into politics then, I was more into kickball. Still, I remember that day and that weekend.

I was at school when it happened. We had just come in from morning recess and our teacher had pained, pale expression. She told us in an emotional voice, the only time I remember her being emotional, that the president had been shot. I remember we children discussed the assassination at lunch much like we had discussed the Cuban Missile Crisis a year earlier, with a calm rationality that is totally absent in today's modern Congress. I remember concluding that killing a president was treason.

When I got home, the black-and-white television was on and Walter Cronkite was talking. Kennedy has already been pronounced dead and Oswald had been arrested. I was watching when Air Force One landed with now President Johnson. I watched as Jackie disembarked, bloodstains visible on her dress.

The following days were non-school so I had the opportunity to follow everything on television. I was watching television on Sunday when Oswald was being transferred and was shot by Jack Ruby. I don't know if it was live or on film but my memory is that I saw the shooting live. I watched the funeral on Monday morning. I don't know if school was canceled or my mother let me stay home from school (or, and this is also possible, I watched a replay that evening).

Andrea Mitchell recently call the assassination the "most tragic day in American history at that point."  Probably not true, the Lincoln assassination was a worse single event and the Civil War seriously more tragic. But it was the first fully televised national tragedy. It was the beginning of a nation losing its innocence.

Five years after JFK was assassinated his brother Bobby and Martin Luther King were both murdered; in all three killings the conspiracy theories make more sense than the official verdicts. The six remaining years of the 1960's saw over a score of major race riots including the heavily televised Watts Riots. And there was the 1968 Chicago Police Riot at the Democratic National Convention. The Vietnam War raged throughout the following decade. The American people elected and reelected a criminal sociopath as its president (Richard Nixon).

To put it bluntly, Americans were deservingly smug and happy prior to 11-22-63. We've had our ups and downs after that date but we as a nation has been generally directionless and mostly miserable since then. The last great accomplishment America has achieved was fulfilling JFK's promise to land a man on the moon. History may very well record the date of November 21, 1963 as America's high water mark.

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