A Bad Dream
Fifty years ago, I woke up and made my way downstairs where my mother was fixing me breakfast. "They're going to kill President Kennedy today in Dallas," I said. My mom turned around and said, "No honey, why would you say that?"
"I dreamed it this morning."
"Well that was just a bad dream," she said.
I went upstairs and got dressed and got ready for school. It was a bright sunny day. As I piled into Mrs. Goodlett's car, I made my proclamation again.
"They are going to kill the president in Dallas today." Mrs Goodlett turned around and looked at me in the back seat.
"Why would you say that?" she said.
"Because they are," I replied.
All of my other schoolmates just looked at me. They didn't know the President was going to be in Dallas. They barely knew who the President was, other than some damn Catholic from the Northeast.
I didn't tell any one else.
But that afternoon when the news came, I was not surprised. I was vindicated. It was much later before I would become full of sadness. There was also a haunting growing degree of guilt. I could have done more. I was fourteen, and as a boy living in the hyper conservative Texas Panhandle, I suppose it would be wrong to say that folks were sad. They weren't. After all, now we would have a Texas President.
Still, my family watched the events of the next few days on my grandfather's new color TV set as if we had just witnessed one of the most important events of our lifetimes. While we were driving from Pampa to Canadian to join my grandparents, Frank Ruby shot and killed Oswald. When we arrived, they were showing the reruns over and over and over. For a while some of us were confusing the microphone to be Ruby's gun.
"How can they let that happen?" we said to each other.
After that, I could not take my eyes off of the events that were unfolding. For I watched every moment of the funeral with cute John John, and the austere parade with that strong horse who seemed to want to run off with that Marine and those boots placed in the saddle going the wrong way.
It was then that I finally cried.
For I knew that something really terrible had just happened not to just the Kennedys, or to the country, but to us all. And everyone else on the planet seemed to know it too.
Perhaps the best carrier of the torch of this extinguished hope is Robert F Kennedy Jr. Here is the opening of his latest piece in Rolling Stone. It's worth a full read.
Despite the Cold War rhetoric of his campaign, JFK's greatest ambition as president was to break the militaristic ideology that has dominated our country since World War II. He told his close friend Ben Bradlee that he wanted the epitaph "He kept the peace," and said to another friend, William Walton, "I am almost a 'peace at any price' president." Hugh Sidey, a journalist and friend, wrote that the governing aspect of JFK's leadership was "a total revulsion" of war. Nevertheless, as James W. Douglass argues in his book JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters, JFK's presidency would be a continuous struggle with his own military and intelligence agencies, which engaged in incessant schemes to trap him into escalating the Cold War into a hot one.
His first major confrontation with the Pentagon, the Bay of Pigs catastrophe, came only three months into his presidency and would set the course for the next 1,000 days. clip
Toward the end of the piece, RFK writes:
On October 10th, after signing the atmospheric-test-ban treaty, Khrushchev sent JFK the last of his personal letters. In that missive, Khrushchev proposed the next steps for ending the Cold War. He recommended the conclusion of a nonaggression pact between the NATO and the Warsaw Pact nations, and a number of steps to stop the spread of nuclear weapons and prevent their use in surprise attacks. JFK would never see the letter. State Department officials hostile toward Khrushchev intercepted it. more
As a young boy, my politics had not really formed yet. My mother's family were rancher /banker/ Republicans and my father's family were cattle feeding/farmer/Democrats. At one time, the aunt on my father's side was the district committee woman for the Democrats and my aunt on my mother's side was district committeewoman for the Rs. Both of them went to their respective national conventions in 1964. One supporting Goldwater, the other Johnson
I loved staying up with my Aunt til four in the morning smoking her Parliaments with the funny filters talking about politics and the future of this country and the world. But that was before 24 hour news killed the news, before cable, before wedge issues, sound bites, and talking heads.