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November 22, 2013

A Long Fifty Years

Filed under: American culture — by maggiec @ 10:35 am
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Fifty years ago today, John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Texas, changing the trajectory of America’s development.

I was just a toddler, and I don’t remember it at all. My mother does, of course, and I’ve heard the story of where she was many, many times. My mother is Irish Catholic, and the election of the first Irish Catholic president in America’s history was a milestone marking the culture’s “acceptance” into the mainstream. Mom’s older cousins remembered the “no Irish need apply” signs in New York City businesses, so this was a leap.

All too soon it was over.  And the hagiographies began.

I can understand–the handsome young war hero president who left a young widow, just 34 years old when her husband died practically in her lap, the two little children–both under six.  The hope he had held out to the new post-war world.  Gone.

Camelot was over.

If it ever existed.

I am not here to rip apart myths or build them up. I do believe that in modern times we are too soon to dig for the feet of clay in our heroes and too quick to lift up the unworthy as icons. John Kennedy had little time either to prove his worth or achieve much while in office, and thanks to a bullet, we’re left with many “what ifs”.

I just asked my students if they cared about this anniversary, and they were adamant that they do. The recent spate of documentaries and their lifetime of hearing conspiracy theories have convinced them that the government had Kennedy killed because he wanted to change too much, too fast.

So the conspiracy theorists have won the day and history has its story as documented on YouTube.

Still, today we remember a man and an ideal and mourn the loss of both.


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