|Image: Bettmann / Corbis / PBS|
Note: This is not a political piece and will not concentrate on the details of his presidency – there is time for that later on, this is the story of the haunting tragedy of the loss of a leader.
On November 11, Robert J. Samuelson of The Washington Post claimed that “The fascination with the Kennedys endures, though it’s probably on its last lap. After all, about three-quarters of Americans either weren’t born when Kennedy was shot or were too young (under 5) to grasp what happened. It’s a distant and disconnected event to them.” All historical events are somewhat distant to the current and future generations, how can we be wired to connect to something we didn’t physically experience? In the case of JFK, it is the abhorrent destruction of the idealised and sugar coated American dream that makes the historic event relevant in today’s generation, and it is kept alive by conspiracy theories and the insatiable need for answers and classified information that cannot be given.
Should I care about JFK if I am not an American? Should I care if I was not alive to see Jackie Kennedy climb over the trunk of the motorcade? Should I care about this man and the meaning of his death? If we are still talking about it then it is not that we should care, it is that we simply do. It is not like many argue – that we are seduced by the drama of it all, it is that it is a mystery that we have yet to solve and that the promise of a man was taken from the world.
On Wednesday, President Barack Obama paid tribute to the fallen president, and said that “In his idealism, in his sober, square-jawed idealism, we are reminded that the power to change this country is ours”. The tragedy of his assassination has become larger than the man himself, yet it is reflected upon with hope and respect for what he was able to achieve, and the legend of John Fitzgerald Kennedy does not sit in the shadow of cold blood. This would do The Kennedy’s little justice, and gives in to the hatred that we know still exists. The assassination of Kennedy matters because we still have world leaders, we still have tragedy, we still have enemies, but above all, we have the longing that one day it will change for everybody even though our scepticism tells us it won’t. We can’t rid the world of enemies, but we can remember those who have been victims of hatred.
Without history there is no understanding of the world, it’s politics and it’s puppeteers and their operations, or where we have been or where we could go from here. Whether his presidency was considered great or merely mediocre, he grew steadily into his leadership role and revitalized the image of a nation capable of growth and able of change, thanks in large part to his involvement in The Civil Rights Movement. The catastrophic Bay of Pigs ordeal did little damage to his reputation, and surprisingly his approval ratings were at their highest at 83% following the invasion.
The Kennedys were not immune to tragedy, and although he was able to withstand a life of tormenting back pain and Addison’s disease, John Kennedy would not cheat death again. So the belief in the bright and invigorated administration of Camelot became a illusion stained with overwhelming disappointment and disbelief. The idea of Camelot, coined by Jackie Kennedy after her husband’s death, does not do the ill fated Kennedy dynasty any justice – as above all it has become more romanticised myth than anything else. For those who read of Kennedy, who write of him, and who remember him, it does well to collect facts and collect images in order to create some sort of understanding.
On November 22, this will not be a conspiracy theory, and this is not a romantic pedestal on which the Kennedy’s sit upon. This is remembrance; the preservation of a memory in the generation that witnessed the assassination of a leader and the creation of memory in the generation that followed. This is the day that marks a fallen president, and above all, a fallen man.
It may be speculated that the saga of the Kennedys is on it’s last lap, but we as human beings have more determination than that to keep memories alive- any memories. We could speculate that the legend of The Kennedys has a 50/50 chance of surviving. As John Kennedy was once told by Evelyn Lincoln, “That’s all a Kennedy needs.”