Posts Tagged ‘John F. Kennedy’


Today marks the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy by Lee Harvey Oswald. Last week, a four-hour Kennedy biography appeared on PBS’ American Experience. I relate it to a photo in the sports section of the November 12 New York Post. (My brother-in-law Herb has sent me clippings since Kennedy was president.) Politics and professional sports share much in common.

JFK, written by Mark Zwonitzer, spares us the details of the assassination—ground well covered. It focuses on the man and his brief presidency, appraising Kennedy’s strengths and candidly addressing his weaknesses.

My opinion of Kennedy on that terrible day in 1963—I was a college sophomore—remains basically unchanged. If anything, the documentary reinforced that stasis. I thought Kennedy was bright. I liked his appeal to youth. (What college student doesn’t think that the older generation has made a mess of things and should step aside?) I also appreciated his sense of humor. He was fast with a brilliant quip that could get him out of a tight spot.

But much of Kennedy’s popularity, as JFK points out, reflected well-crafted public relations. Camelot—the attractive couple, wealthy and cultured—struck me as completely overdone. Kennedy appeared at his inauguration without an overcoat, the image of his highly touted vigor. What the public couldn’t see was his silk underwear. The crowd cheered his poetic address. Congress turned its back on his programs.

An ardent Cold Warrior, Kennedy half-heartedly green-lighted the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba inherited from Dwight Eisenhower. Disaster followed. In 1962, he pressured Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev to withdraw nuclear missiles from Cuba. Score one for our side. In return, he withdrew American nuclear missiles from Turkey. Score one for theirs. Oh, and the White House hushed up the withdrawal from Turkey. Moreover, Khrushchev may have placed missiles in Cuba in the first place because he found Kennedy, whom he met in Vienna, to be young and inexperienced.

Then there was JFK’s now-legendary womanizing. That was covered up, too. The White House also concealed Kennedy’s serious health problems. Give credit. All those pain-masking drugs would have done in lesser men. But while people speculate on JFK’s potential legacy—including Vietnam—I speculate that stress and drugs might have killed him before he completed eight years in the Oval Office.

Now to the New York Post photo: Several members of the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets serve Veteran’s Day meals to troops at Brooklyn’s Fort Hamilton. This is no matter of wealthy athletes paying back privately. It’s a photo op. The players wear hats and aprons in the Nets’ black-and-white color scheme complete with team logo. We get a feel-good PR moment for a league in which, to my knowledge, no current American player has served in our military.

Image plays a major role in American life. But image without substance risks little lies morphing into Big Lies. This imperils our democracy.

Still, there’s one image we might wish to cling to: Diogenes, the Greek Cynic philosopher, searching continually for an honest man.

No post on November 29. The next will appear on December 6. And to all who will be lighting candles starting Wednesday night, Happy Chanukah!

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Kohelet (Ecclesiastes), written according to tradition by Solomon, exclaims, “There is nothing new beneath the sun” (1:9). True that. Ultimately, what goes around comes around—as it did this past week.

Yes, technology races forward. Solomon could not have dreamed of the printing press and steam engine let alone the high-energy particle telescope, smart phone, Internet and Higgs boson—or “God”—particle that may finally have been detected. Politics and economics also evolve. But human nature remains unchanged. We exhibit concerns and passions no different from our ancestors’ thousands of years ago.

Thus the more things change the more they remain the same. Start with the new pope, Francis I. Once, all popes were Italian. Francis, 76, formerly Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina, is the third consecutive non-Italian pope (although the son of Italian immigrants). He’s also the first from Latin America. But what’s really changed for the Church?

Sexual predators and dubious financial dealings have cast a pall over the Vatican. Nothing new there. Francis declared his intention to transform the Church while maintaining its traditions. He faces a major challenge. Many in the Church hierarchy prefer the status quo. They have their own interests. There’s nothing new about that, either.

Of course, an Argentine pope doesn’t represent the first big change witnessed by many millions of people living today. In August 1945, nuclear energy leaped from the blackboard to Air Force bombers and brought Japan to its knees. In 1960, a Catholic, John F. Kennedy, was elected president of the United States. In July 1969, we literally saw the first moonwalk—on TV.

As the years rolled on, computers came home. The stock market soared and crashed and soared and crashed. Yesterday’s close set a record for the Dow—14,539. A woman, Madeleine Albright, became secretary of state in 1997. And in 2008, a black man—with an Arabic name yet—was elected president.

Progress? Yes and no. Our A-bombs hastened the end of the war but killed over 100,000 Japanese. They also created a frightening arms race, because weapons change but not the traits of fear and aggression. The race continues. Witness North Korea and Iran.

And while nuclear energy created cheaper electricity, it also engendered disasters at Chernobyl, Three-Mile Island and Fukushima. History repeated itself when America’s Catholic president was assassinated. Lincoln, Garfield and McKinley had preceded him. Manned flights to the moon were abandoned. But other nations and groups developed rocketry to assault neighbors or deliver nuclear weapons across the globe.

We know as well that the Internet brings porn into millions of homes and offices along with cyber bullying and ignorant rants inciting hatred. The human mind, capable of nobility and compassion, still works in perverse ways.

So it comes as no surprise that we’re on the cusp of time travel. Banana Republic has introduced its Mad Men collection so we can retreat to the good old days of 1963. Which the show clearly demonstrates were not terribly good at all.

And which offers the validity of another pearl of wisdom: everything old is new again.

Please note that my next post will appear on Monday, March 25.

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