Letterwerks Sign City
"Where Fillmore County News Comes First"
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The torch still burns

Fri, Nov 15th, 2013
Posted in All Commentary

Once upon a time, I wanted to be a history teacher. I had fuzzy memories of getting a mortgage on an old farm house somewhere in the country and driving 10 to 15 minutes into a little rural town to teach kids about Neanderthals and Napoleon and Nixon, not necessarily in that order. While that dream may have faded away, I still can’t hide that history teacher that lives inside me, and when something approaches like November 22, 2013, I am almost honor-bound to mention it.

Now, November 22 can mean a lot of things to a lot of people. For my recently-married brother, he will just have celebrated his birthday, while my younger sister will be looking forward to hers in only a few more days. In 1837, the first President of the Republic of Canada called for an uprising against the British government on November 22. In 1975, Juan Carlos was crowned the King of Spain following the death of fascist dictator Francisco Franco. For our friends in England, November 23 1963 was the first broadcast of a television program that would become a national treasure, Doctor Who. Unfortunately, one day before something had happened across the Atlantic in America that overshadowed that first historic broadcast, and it is that 50th anniversary of November 22, 1963 that brings me to my column today.

Fifty years ago, an American President was murdered in front of a crowd of thousands in Dallas, Texas. You probably know the story by now. For most of you reading this, you no doubt remember where you were, what you were doing, and how it felt exactly when the news broke. For the first time since the establishment of mass media and television, Americans were brought the last moments of our country’s leader in gory, living color. Yes, other presidents had been assassinated, and their sufferings should not be forgotten or trivialized, but there is always something in the shock and easily available reality that makes the death of John Kennedy infinitely more indelible than that of William McKinley or James A. Garfield.

I had the opportunity to put together a media presentation recently about the assassination, and I found with some dismay that it was almost too easy to look up full color, frame-by-frame video of the exact instant Kennedy died. After working on the project, I felt hollow, lonely, like something had been taken away from me. Perhaps it was my humanity, because I had to study and focus so deeply on such an inhumane act. Whatever it was, my wife came home that night to a man that was different than the one she had left that morning. Such is the power of the incident 50 years ago.

I asked my mother last weekend, who has seen three broadcasted attempts on the lives of presidents, how it felt during the Ford and Reagan incidents. She included Martin Luther King, Jr and Robert Kennedy without being asked. She said that, regardless of party affiliation or personal taste, it was a terrible thing to see or experience because these were still human beings after it all was over, just like the rest of us, and acts like this say disturbing things about our race as a whole and should never be tolerated. Even in the bunkers of Berlin in 1945, or at the gallows following Nuremberg, we must remember overall that these were human beings like us, and but for sheer grace it could have easily have been someone we knew or loved or cherished riding in that car 50 years ago, or gravely wounded outside the Washington Hilton.

In this time of such bitter divide and violent obstruction to our normal way of life, be it in Washington or Newtown or the airport in Los Angeles, it is helpful, if not pleasant, to recall what happened 50 years ago in Dallas. It is also helpful, and perhaps necessary, to go back and look through the years of violence in order to understand it, and perhaps with understanding we can fight back against it. I am lucky: I wasn’t even born when Reagan was shot, and I hope that some day I can tell my children that there has not been an assassination attempt in my lifetime…but I would be even happier to tell them good reasons why.

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