Part 4 is percolating. But this isn’t it; not yet. I’m finding it slow going, perhaps because it deals with the Vietnam War. Astounding how that event casts such a long shadow even now–or perhaps especially now.
I think Part 4 will be out soon, soon. But, in the meantime…
I was thinking about whether there were any formative defining political events that occurred in the years between the 50s and the commitment of regular US troops (as opposed to Green Beret advisors) to Vietnam. Naturally, the first thing that came to mind was Kennedy’s assassination. But I’m not going to deal with it in any depth because, although it was certainly a dramatic and heart-wrenching event, I don’t think it was an event that caused any sort of political change. The ramifications of Kennedy’s assassination had nothing to do with policy or changing parties or political beliefs. Most of us reacted on an intensely personal emotional level.
I think it must be difficult for anyone born afterward to understand the profound shock inherent in Kennedy’s assassination. Those of us who’d grown up in the 50s were well aware–perhaps hyper-aware–of the threat of atomic war (as I’ve discussed in Part 3), but I think I can speak for most of us when I say that something on the order of Kennedy’s death was almost literally unthinkable, right up till the day it happened.
I was fifteen years old at the time, and, like most others, I can vividly remember the exact moment I heard the news. The details are not interesting–I was a sophomore in high school, in school when I heard he was shot, then sent home early to have my mother tell me the news that he was dead–but the sense of fear and unreality and downright sorrow were profound. In fact, I cried almost unceasingly for four days, right up to and through the funeral, and I was hardly alone.
What was I weeping for? Many things, including Kennedy’s wife and children. But I think it was really lost innocence–my own–that I was weeping for. Despite the atomic fears of the 50s, and then the Cuban missile crisis, our sense was that all threats would come from outside. We had a sense of security within this country, a sense of internal personal safety from our own countrymen, that was as powerful as it turned out to be false. Kennedy’s death tore the veil away and exposed the ugly reality–violent death, hideous and bloody, could come unawares, even on a sunny untroubled day, even to the great, powerful, young, and beautiful, even without a missile to be seen in the sky.
Life magazine published stills of the Zapruder photos, but in those far more protective days they left out the most horrific ones, the frames in which Kennedy’s head seemed to explode. But we had seen Oswald murdered, live, on TV, and that was a further assault on our sense of security. It seemed that the world had opened itself up to chaos.
We had heard of assassinations before; after all, there was Lincoln. But that was fusty old history, not reality. But now the two intersected, and now–even though we would never have described it that way–now we, too, had entered history.
Where we remain, today.
[ADDENDUM: For Part IVA, go here.]