Friday, November 22, 2013

Kennedy - 50th anniversary of death

I was in a lunch line in Chicago when I heard John Kennedy had been shot. I had not liked him much, better than Nixon was the best I'd been able to say about him when he ran for office, so I was surprised by how upset I was to hear this.  Evidently he had been growing on me.

I detested Kennedy's rich playboy style and perfect socialite wife. I was well aware of "his" FBI failing to protect civil rights workers, and his rank hypocrisy in defending the Bay of Pigs invasion.  I blamed him for the Cuban Missile Crisis, when we all stared our personal death in the face, for provoking it with his promise to the returning of the Bay of Pigs veterans to invade Cuba - little suspecting how critical his leadership had been in preventing World War III.

But over the year following the Missile Crisis I saw that something was changing.  Kennedy's stand on civil rights stiffened.  He negotiated the Test Ban Treaty.  And then there was his amazing, totally unexpected commencement address at American University on June 10 1963, proposing an end to the Cold War and the nuclear arms race.  

Take a listen:  jfklibrary.org/Asset-Viewer/BWC7I4C9QUmLG9J6I8oy8w.aspx   

I heard this speech for the first time today, but read it in the newspaper then and was deeply impressed. It gave me hope. Despite the standard Cold War rhetoric it still rings true.  Even his repeating of the "lies of the Soviet leaders" was audacious - no doubt many in his audience were actually hearing for the first, last and only time of the Soviet charges that the US generals had plans to launch a nuclear war of aggression on the Soviet Union, charges we now know - and now know that Kennedy well knew - were true.

Some say that this was the speech that sealed his doom. Others that it was his 1963 executive order (now confirmed) pulling the US troops out of VietNam, or that he had already crossed the line by twice failing to order an invasion of Cuba.  Whatever its place in motivating his brutal removal, this hugely important speech lives on, a testament not only to his wisdom but to his courage.  It's message is one we still need to hear and heed. 

Yes the Kennedys were and are a wealthy, powerful and well-connected family, but no one can listen to this speech and deny that such a person can sometimes rise above his background and "pass through the eye of the needle." 
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