22 November, a day haunted by memories

Anyone of a certain age remembers 22 November 1963.

esnl was a college freshman, doing a bit of pre-class studying in his college dorm room in Southern Colorado when a fellow resident yelled out “Kennedy’s been shot.”

Radios went on in every room, and a barrage of conflicting reports followed. One report had gunman firing a .30-.30 from an overpass. I remember because I owned a rifle of the same caliber, a Winchester Model 94.

There was a lunch in the nearby cafeteria, unusually subdued for sunny warm Friday afternoon, then a stroll to the science building, where geology prof “Pop” Burroughs announced that he’d decided to cancel class.

In the years since, we’ve read a lot of books on the assassination, and we’re convinced the full story will likely never be told. Lots of very powerful people hated Kennedy, the most eloquent and charismatic President of our lifetime.

JFK will always remain the big question mark of the 20th Century.

What if he’d lived?

The Mideast might be a much different place, since he had come out unequivocally against the Israeli nuclear weapons program just a couple of months before his death.

Fidel Castro might well have been killed, since brother and Attorney General Robert was deeply engaged in plots against the Cuban government.

The Mafia’s power might have been broken, since both brothers hated the mob —  possibly because their father, Joe Kennedy, had been so deeply tied to the syndicate when he was bootlegging scotch during Prohibition at the same time he was trying his hand in the mobbed-up movie business.

Jack Kennedy had flirted with danger all his life, and with today’s scandal-mongering press his sexual profligacy would’ve been exposed early on, most likely before he ever had a chance to reach the White House.

Though few people remember it, he became a war hero only because the Navy had to ship him out of Washington after he became involved with a suspected spy, Inga Arvad, who’d accompanied a guy named Hitler to the 1936 winter Olympics.

But every year, come 22 November, we entertain such thoughts. . .


2 responses to “22 November, a day haunted by memories

  1. JFK felt he needed the Southern segregationist Democrats in his remnants of the New Deal coalition. That is why RFK and the Justice Department never came down too hard on the Southern governors who were practicing massive resistance. Real change would only come after JFK’s assassination, after LBJ won a massive victory, bringing into office the huge liberal Democratic majorities of the 88th Congress. So we have this historical irony: JFK is regarded as an activist on civil rights, opposing George Wallace at the school house door. Yet, he was a compromiser. It was not until a Southerner, LBJ, became president that we had the Civil Rights Act of 1965, Head Start, OEO, Medicare, the Open Housing Act of 1968, and the rest of the Great Society / War on Poverty programs. None of those would have been politically possible had Kennedy lived.

  2. On the other hand, we might have avoided 550,000 troops in Vietnam. JFK had raised US troops there (called “advisors” then) from 8,000 to 16,000 and was about to scale back the effort, given the lack of a credible anti-Communist government. Diem was assassinated about two weeks before Kennedy. And Marie Antoinette-like Madam Nhu (Diem’s sister-in-law) was political poison, as much in Vietnam as in the US. There is some evidence that JFK wanted to withdraw. But whether that would have been possible — with the Democrats having to show “toughness” and “vigor” and not being “soft on Communists” — is open to debate. David Halberstam wrote that withdrawl was a move that would have been impossible for a Democrat, castrated as the party was after Cold War McCarthyism.

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