BY TAYLOR MARSH
“We may laugh again, but we’ll never be young again.” –
Daniel P. Moynihan, Assistant Secretary of Labor, 1963
|May 29, 1917 Ã¢â‚¬“ November 22, 1963|
Back in J.F.K.’s day, nuclear was the nightmare. It was the urgent danger,
the imminent threat little kids grew up dreading. Maybe that’s why the current
Administration used the words, the phrases, the images they did. They knew.
And that’s been the people’s problem ever since those dreadful days in Dallas.
But back then, it was long before color coded dangers of unreality substituted
for government communication.
We had yellow and black fallout signs signifying where the nearest shelter
was located, the nearest fall out shelter, as in nuclear disaster.
That was our reality, the one J.F.K. was intent on keeping us from living.
There never seemed to be enough of them, fall out shelters, that is. I hunted
for them whenever we were away from the house, working out my escape in my head.
That was when I actually believed the government was there to protect, could
protect us from anything.
At school, we did drills where we hid under our desks, or walked quickly and
orderly in mock emergency sessions, staying close to the school building walls
until we reached the auditorium, as if nuclear wouldn’t reach that far in. Once
assembled, there we would sit, the entire school, until the all clear siren
was sounded. The drills were deadly serious in a deathly dangerous time.
Maybe that’s why some of us take the fabricated Iraqi threat so personally.
We remember back when the American tide turned forever, making everything between
citizen and government ultimately intimate.
It’s also when television became the universe and elected one man the president.
In strode John Fitzgerald Kennedy, a man who made Democrats out of Republicans,
at least in our house – for one election – and turned television into a movement
right in the middle of our living room.
But it wasn’t the assassination we saw on TV. What most people saw instead was the murder of his murderer. Amidst more cops
than many of us had ever seen in one place at one time, outside of a parade,
the man that supposedly murdered President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was killed
before our eyes, the action caught live, on television, on a bright November
Leave it to Beaver was obliterated.
It was the event that would change the American world and launch television
on its journey to where it is today, 24/7, network, cable and beyond.
Birthing perennial questions for posterity: how could this have happened; followed
by, what exactly did happen?
The memorial came on Monday. The riderless horse was evocative of America’s emotions, as I was left to wonder
what makes a man’s impact so immense that strangers cry at his passing?
In that moment, politics became personal. What kind of president makes people
feel like that? That moment in my history spawned my one woman show, “Weeping
for J.F.K.,” and changed my life forever. As an aside, the picture chosen for this post, showing J.F.K. in his favorite rocking chair, an exact replica of that chair sits in my living room, which I used for my show. When I sit in it I still dream.
The unfolding 60′s making matters even worse. Bobby. Martin. Insanity.
Arlen Specter and the Warren Commission became the traitors of a generation.
The dueling “magic bullet” and quick assessments of our government
seemingly meant as pabulum to soothe the public’s aching heart, sparing
us the pain it takes to find the truth.
Today, forensics, photo enhancements and new technology can unwind the serendipitous
Zapruder film, which shows the assassination of the American president, that
when seen in slow motion, as it is always shown, displays graphic detail that
inspires grown adults to scream for justice.
Jack Ruby robbed us of that.
And Lee Harvey Oswald robbed of us of everything else.
Leaving only questions and mistrust of all we held certain in the days before
Dallas that was foreshadowing of a decade long nightmare.
Everything was different after President Kennedy died.
The American world that won WWII came apart.
The unraveling led to 50,000 dead in Vietnam, a war begun before J.F.K. that he escalated, but would likely have finished if he’d lived. The illegal bombings of Cambodia
and Nixon’s perversion of secret leadership that would be the catapult for Rumsfeld and Cheney’s design on the presidency we see today. The coming out of American
culture, to Reaganism, Allende, Iran-contra and the secret coups, and the casualties
of the culture war: two generations of gay men dead; leading to the Republican
fixation with Middle East deliverance, the stalking of a Democrat president,
to the attack on 9.11 that led to the rebirth of the notion that we can trust
our government, because in the end we must… which led us back to foreign dangers
of “urgent” threat and “mushroom clouds,” harking back
to THAT TIME, only this time we were led by lies, warnings and threat levels
that led us into a preemptive war in which we have lost our national soul.
The national soul embodied in the memory of the image of a youthful, vigorous and valiant
J.F.K. Who, even though we now know was merely a mortal man, deathly ill, with addictions
and predilections, we still mourn. Because he was the leader with passion, persistence
and purpose, who when he spoke inspired us to close our eyes and imagine the impossible. A man who guided this nation at a time in history when war was the easy
way out, but who instead found a way to preserve the peace.
Nothing was ever the same after J.F.K. died.
I am a J.F.K. Democrat who voted for WJC twice, Hillary in the primaries, and proudly Obama, looking
for the 21st century Democrats to take us out of the wilderness and beyond the madness
of man made miseries that a country led by smarter leaders intuitively know will be our
To find again that place a wounded wife and her PR people once called Camelot, but which,
amidst the tales and the truth and the pain and the unanswered questions, is
simply known as our country, that will forever be John F. Kennedy’s America,
a place where we manifest our dreams.
Sources: The New York Times, Tom Wicker’s “Introduction to ‘Four Days in
November’”; Washington Post; PBS’s Frontline; ABC News Special on the J.F.K.
Assassination, with Peter Jennings; The Warren Commission Report; History Channel
documentaries on “The Men Who Killed Kennedy”; “An Unfinished
Life,” by Robert Dallek; among others, including Oliver Stone’s “J.F.K.”
and Mark Lane’s work on the assassination of J.F.K., from so long ago, and Salon.com’s
David Talbot; and “Weeping for J.F.K.,” by Taylor Marsh (based on decades of study, research and a life lived in the aftermath of J.F.K.’s murder.).
Adaptation and expansion of a previously printed article.