Tuesday, November 22, 2005

TDIH: Assassination in Dallas

In a space no larger than the ISU Quad, on a pedestal large enough only for one person to stand, in a time that has long been forgotten, Abraham Zapruder stood with an 8mm camera awaiting the arrival of the presidential motorcade. What he didn't know was he would soon witness one of the most publicized murders of the 20th century.

This day in history, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas.

For me it is always slightly awkward to preach the outcomes of the Kennedy assassination. Mostly because I wasn't there. An event that happened twenty-two years before I was born consumes my every thought on a fairly regular basis. I often wonder had he survived the Dallas trip what would have become of his presidency and of this nation. I often wonder about Vietnam, Cuba, and the USSR. I often wonder how he may have reacted to the coming events such as the Gulf of Tonkin, Tet, and the '68 Democratic Convention. I often wonder if those events ever would have occurred had he lived.

I once sat for over three hours in the place where Zapruder filmed the assassination. It was the first time in my life that I understood the phrase "view to a kill" and the first time in my life I understood the intimacy of Dealey Plaza. I've studied the assassination for so long now that Dealey had become engraved in my mind, but it wasn't until I was there that it became a part of me. Now when I think of that fateful day in Dallas, I see the flag lowered as it was while I was there (following the death of President Reagan) and I can hear trains and smell the fear in the air. The sound of car backfiring makes your heart stop. The thought of a woman climbing on the back of a car to reach for a piece of her husband's brain makes your stomach churn. It is an unreal feeling there in Dealey Plaza and one that makes me appreciate this day in history more than any other.

I've studied that day for years. I've studied his presidency for years. I don't know if Vietnam would have ended sooner. I don't know if the Cold War would have continued into the first Bush administration. I don't know if his younger brother would have ever run for president. But I do know we still would have landed on the moon. We still would have seen the passage of Civil Rights legislation. We still would have the Peace Corps. And we would still be hear having not seen a nuclear war in October of 1962. We may not know what would have happened had he lived, but we know what did happen. 1,000 days in office seems so few, yet so much we have today depended on 1,000 days.

Several weeks ago I posted the lyrics to a song that means something to me for many reasons, but one very important reason: "There was never any mystery of who shot John F. Kennedy. It was just a man with something to prove slightly bored and severely confused; he steadied his rifle with his target in the center and became famous on that day in November." This day in history is a part of every day of my life. If there weren't a mystery I'd certainly not be a History major at Idaho State University today.

There is no other day of the year that I love more than this one. Not because a great man was killed, but because a a great nation recognized an enormous loss. Had I been alive in 1963 I would have realized the passing of greatness and the passing of the torch. When I stood at Arlington and saw the eternal flame for the first time, I was overcome. As I stood there and as I stood in the historic place of Abraham Zapruder I was reminded of my responsibility to a man who passed the torch to a new generation of Americans, who protected this nation in the dark hours of the Cuban Missile Crisis, and who, in his death, united us.

We in this country, in this generation, are-- by destiny rather than choice-- the watchmen on the walls of world freedom. We ask, therefore, that we may be worthy of our power and responsibility-- that we may exercise our strength with wisdom and restraint-- and that we may achieve in our time and for all time the ancient vision of "peace on earth, good will toward men." That must always be our goal-- and the righteousness of our cause must always underlie our strength. For as was written long ago: "Except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain. "

(Undelivered Speech, November 22, 1963)


Nick Speth said...

I'd comment, but I don't know what I can add to this topic. A few days ago we discussed the different political landscape had RFK not been killed, maybe we should do the same thing with JFK.

Tara A. Rowe said...

With John Kennedy I've finally come to a place in my life (I say finally because I've been studying his life and death since I was six) that I recognize that we may not know what may have been had he lived, but we do know what was because he lived. I credit Kennedy with so much including civil rights legislation, the space race, and so on. It would consume me otherwise if I didn't agree to just recognize what was instead of what could have been.