Tag Archives: John F. Kennedy

The Day Camelot Died

John F. Kennedy motorcade, Dallas, Texas, Nov....

John F. Kennedy motorcade, Dallas, Texas, Nov. 22, 1963 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“What happened fifty years ago on November 22?”

I put the question to one of my history survey classes.  Forty-two students, mostly sophomores, sat in front of me, staring into empty space.  Perhaps I asked the wrong question?  Maybe I should ask who won the Super Bowl fifty years ago.  No doubt then their zombie-like faces would suddenly come to life.  A lively discussion would ensue, as different answers came from all across the lecture hall.

After a moment of silence, not at all surprising, someone said, “World War I ended.”  Another brave soul on the other side of the hall countered with, “Pearl Harbor!”  Before another example of historical revisionism could be heard, a student who was pecking away at the screen on his cellphone looked up and shouted, “President Kennedy died!”

I was not surprised by the response to my question.  The appalling lack of knowledge about our nation’s history, any sense of historical time, not to mention a profound ignorance of geography, is not surprising to those of us who choose to teach college and university students.  I am no longer surprised to discover that many of my students can only read at an elementary level.  Nor am I surprised to learn that some are unable to read or write, at all.

I do not remember where I was, or what I was doing, when I first heard that President Kennedy had been assassinated in Dallas, Texas.  I was a freshman in college.  Classes were canceled.  Many of us gathered in the library to hear a young history professor give an impromptu eulogy.  By the time he finished, he was almost in tears.  We were all silent, aware that we would never forget what happened on that day in Dallas.

John F. Kennedy’s assassination marked the end of idealism and hope of a better future for many of us who wanted to believe that human beings were by nature good and reasonable.  That day darkness descended on Camelot.  Before the decade ended, both Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. would also be assassinated.

John F. Kennedy was not the only public figure to die on November 22, 1963.  Both C. S. Lewis, the lord of Narnia, and Aldous Huxley, author of Brave New World, died that day, their deaths overshadowed by President Kennedy’s.

The number one hit song on November 22, 1963, was “I’m Leaving It All Up to You,” written by Robert Dale Houston and recorded by Dale and Grace.  Houston was standing along the parade route and waved to the President just moments before the fatal shots were fired.

At least ten songs were subsequently written and recorded memorializing JFK’s death, among them Bob Dylan’s “Desolation Row” and Phil Ochs’ “Crucifixion.”

J.F.K.: The Man and the Myth by Victor Lasky was at the top The New York Times Best Seller List for non-fiction.  It was a scathing critic of J.F.K. and the whole Camelot myth.  The book was quickly pulled, only to reappear three years later more damning than at first.

I don’t remember where I was, or what I was doing, when I first heard that President Kennedy was dead.  I do remember, however, that I was on Interstate 79 passing through Wheeling, West Virginia, when I heard over the car radio that Elvis Presley had just been rushed to a hospital in Memphis, Tennessee.  Funny what one remembers, isn’t it?

Until next time, be good to all God’s creation and always live under the mercy.

For Bob Dylan’s “Desolation Row”:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i-EC_egRR1M

For Phil Ochs’s “Crucifixion”:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8UtNDTEqp_k

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Historian’s Almanac for October 28,2013

It was 51 years ago today, 28 October 1962, that the world did not come to an end, and we were granted a reprieve.  Thanks to President John F. Kennedy’s refusal to yield to those around him who were advising him to launch a preemptive strike on the Soviet Union, the world’s two super powers pulled back from the brink of a nuclear holocaust.  At no time in history, either before or since, has the world come so close to unleashing a fiery tempest on earth that would rival the cauldron of hell.

On October 14 pictures taken by U-2 spy planes verified the existence of Soviet medium range missiles on the island of Cuba, just 90 miles from the southern coast of the United States.  President Kennedy informed the American people of the danger in a nationwide television address on the evening of the 21st.  Two days later, on the 23rd, the president ordered a quarantine of Cuba.  Naval vessels were given orders to intercept Soviet ships en route to Cuba.  The following day the Strategic Air Command was put on the highest alert ever.  Nuclear war, and perhaps the end of civilization itself, appeared eminent.

There are various scenarios in literature of the world ending in some great fiery cataclysm.   In Norse mythology it is Ragnarök , the last battle marking the doom of the gods and the end of the world:  “Surtr will fling fire in all directions. Ásgarð and Miðgarð and Jötenheim and Niflheim will become furnaces. The worlds will burn and the gods will die. Men, women, and children will die, giants will die, monsters will die. Birds and animals will die. The earth will sink into the sea.”  Many Christians believe that there will be a great climatic battle between the armies of the Antichrist and the armies of the Lord.

The nuclear holocaust that appeared likely 51 years ago would have rendered the whole world like Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  But it didn’t happen.  The dogs of war were not let loose.  Instead, Aleksandr Feklisov (alias Fomin), a AKGB operative based in the Soviet Embassy, met at the Occidental Restaurant with John Scali, an ABC News correspondent.  Together they worked out an agreement by which the crisis could be ended without either party loosing too much face.

On October 27, President Kennedy assured Khrushchev that the United States would not invade Cuba.  The following day, October 28, Nikita Khrushchev announced that he had reached an agreement allowing for the removal of the missiles.

On this day in 1886, President Grover Cleveland dedicated the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor.  The Hon. William M. Evarts gave the presentation address.  His longwinded and very boring speech was cut mercifully short when the sculptor, Frdéric Bartholdi, who was to pull the lever releasing the veil covering the statue, did so before Evarts finished.  The cheers from the crowed convinced Evarts the sit down.

In 1919 Congress enacted the Volstead Act providing for enforcement of the Eighteenth Amendment which stated that “the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited.”  Not until the present Congress have our elected representatives displayed such folly.

In 2009, Angela Merkel was sworn in for her second term as Chancellor of Germany.  Little did she know at the time that the American National Security Agency was listening in on her personal cellphone conversations.  Should she need to settle an argument with her husband over what he or she did or said on any given day or night, she need only check with the clerk on duty at the NSA, likely to be an inexperienced individual without a security clearance working for a private contractor.

It is the birthday of the English novelist Evelyn Waugh, who said, “There is a species of person called a ‘Modern Churchman’ who draws the full salary of a beneficed clergyman and need not commit himself to any religious belief.”

Until next time be good to all of God’s creation and always walk under the mercy.