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Monday, November 11, 2013

The Death of Trust -- Dallas and November 22, 1963

Watching the History Channel and the historic film from Dallas taken the weekend of November 22, 1963, I was struck by so many dramatic, telling images. It was difficult to come to grips with harsh reality on that beautiful autumn day. Yet, one theme kept running through my mind as I relived the events of the Kennedy assassination. The idea that dominated my perspective of the tragic times of 50 ago seemed clear. The social climate of the nation before and during the events of 1963 was both trusting and lax -- a state that came crashing down with the events of the public murder of a president.

From the printed announcement of the parade route in the Dallas Morning News, to the loose security at Love Field where the President casually mixed with an adoring crowd, to to the open-top convertibles used in the presidential motorcade, to the milling crowd at Parkland Hospital, to the clumsy handling of security in the basement of the Dallas police department where Jack Ruby gunned down Lee Harvey Oswald --  the details of the Kennedy assassination portray an America unprepared for the worst. Until November 22, 1963 was still riding tail winds of the prosperous "happy days" of the '50s.

Before the Kennedy assassination, the citizens of the U.S. lived with a naive assurance that horrors such as those that occurred in Dallas were above commission. Despite the close election over Nixon, the vocal Communist element, the Cuban controversy, the mob unrest, and the Catholic faith of the president, America was enthralled with dreamy visions of JFK and Jackie residing in a knightly Camelot while leading the nation to a hopeful, new frontier.

Oswald's fingers propelled well-aimed projectiles that ended that beautiful fantasy and opened a raging heart of darkness. Senseless murders began to stain the history of the 1960s, a time many referred to as "the love decade."

After the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the murders of Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and Robert F. Kennedy rocked the nation. Other deaths such as the defenseless victims of the My Lai massacre ordered by William Calley Jr., the Texas Tower massacre fatalities perpetrated by ex-Marine Charles Joseph Whitman, the open execution of a POW by Nguyen Ngoc Loan on a street in Saigon, the victims of the Manson family cult including Sharon Tate and the LaBiancas, and the killing of Meredith Hunter at the Altamont Free Concert gave rise to a bloody decade unparalleled in American history. And, the blood that ran freely in the 1960s continued into the early part of the next decade with events like the Kent State shootings on May 4, 1970.

Were the demise of mutual trust and the end of the innocence inevitable outcomes of the modern age? Was some insatiable lust for violence and notoriety unleashed by a single tragic event? Whatever the reason for the other dark deeds that followed the Kennedy assassination, one thing is certain: the nation could never go back to what it was before 12:30 P.M. on November 22, 1963. The need for greater security evolved with the distrust of fellow citizens when Oswald chose to fire his $19.95 Model 91/38 Carcano rifle that day.

November 22, 1963 will ever be noted as the day when American smiles and dreams turned to tears and nightmares. Now, looking back, I believe the day marked the close of carefree "happy days" and the beginning of a long era of tragedy from within a restless nation. That day we discovered (or, at least, should have discovered) that the monster was no longer a Communist or the Soviet Union or the threat of nuclear war, but instead the villainous demon was ourselves and our own savage blood lust.

Much has changed in 50 years. Presidents can no longer take chances in a crowd. Kids can no longer make innocent trips by themselves to the grocery store. Pretty women walking down a dark sidewalk cannot trust that strangers will not take advantage. The doors of cars and homes remain locked because of what may happen if owners are not on guard. The minds of citizens are set on "wary," viewing strangers as dark and suspect, no longer as people who could be in need and deserving of the help of a good Samaritan. Births of babies are no longer reported in daily papers for fear of a deranged kidnapping. On and on ... in many ways, we have become more like animals on guard in a culture that operates by survival of the fittest.

As you view the television specials and read the accounts of what happened 50 years ago, ask yourself if the photos, film, and words portray a nation of people caught in the sights of one man's gun. In just a few seconds, Lee Harvey Oswald took the actions that slew a president, but he also opened conspiracy theories and spread doubts and misgivings that started a series of shocking events that changed our quality of life.

The reach and power of one person can never be determined -- in 50 years, in 100 years, or in a millennium. In this web of life we live, one person's movements -- past, present, or future -- can affect us all. I am a child of the '50s, a teen of the '60s, and a senior of the 21st century. A pretty insignificant human I am, but my life change forever due to the events in Dallas on November 22, 1963.

Some say "the torch was passed" that day. I would add that "a burning flame" was also extinguished that afternoon. President John F. Kennedy was more than head of state. He was more than an American president or a simple political figure. He was the symbol of certainty that the times were truly changing and changing for the better, maybe even changing for the best. His death made us all realize that many more sacrifices would be made before we could reignite the light of great hope of love for all humanity.

As for me, 50 years after the death of JFK, I still hold faith for a return to innocence. I have yet to see a sweet return to its reconstruction. It is only faith that I am pretty certain I will take with me to my grave. 

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