50 years ago, it took six seconds in Dallas, Texas, a place known because of its rightwing fanatics as the “City of Hate”, to changed the course of America. A youthful president who offered us a Peace Corp and dreams of the moon was gunned down in the street. The president who started us on the path to ending segregation, a nuclear test ban treaty and a “New Frontier” was no more. 

The right thought he was a communist appeaser. Dallas extremist had “Wanted for Treason” posters printed and distributed accusing the president of “betraying the Constitution” and giving “support and encouragement to the Communist inspired racial riots.” Businessmen had taken out a full page ad in the Dallas Morning News with many of the same charges.

The hatred of the right was not his only problem. This president had also learned, the hard way through the Bay of Pigs fiasco, that he could not always trust many of his intelligence and military advisers. During the Cuban missile crisis he used a more cautious approach and a nuclear war was averted.

As for Vietnam, in October of 1963 President Kennedy asked Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara to announce to the press the immediate withdrawal of one thousand soldiers and he indicated to aides that he would probably withdraw all American forces from Vietnam by the end of 1965. After his reelection. He felt he couldn’t do it before. But a month later when Kennedy was assassinated, that changed and the numbers of troops grew to more than 500,000, and the war raged for another decade.

Kennedy had other enemies on the homefront. Attorney General Robert Kennedy was worried that he may have caused his brothers assassination through his battles with the CIA or his prosecution of organized crime.  Anti-Castro Cubans hated the president because they felt he wasn’t doing enough to rid Cuba of Castro. Organized crime wanted him dead. It was no coincidence that many ties existed between the CIA, organized crime and the anti-Castro Cubans as they all worked together in the plotted CIA assassination attempts on Castro. The FBI also knew that Mafia boss Carlos Marcello, in a moment of anger about Robert Kennedy told FBI informant Edward Becker,  “don’t worry about that Bobby son of a bitch. He’s going to be taken care of.” When Becker told him if he went after Bobby they’d be trouble he replied “if you want to kill a dog, you don’t cut off the tail. if you do, the head will turn around and bite you. If you want to kill the tail, you cut off the head and the tail dies.”

Was it the act of a lone gunman or a conspiracy by his many enemies? Either way it was influenced by hatred and anger as well as misrepresentation and/or misunderstanding and obstruction of his positions.

Chief Justice Earl Warren said in his eulogy for John Kennedy,

“John Fitzgerald Kennedy, a great and good President, the friend of all people of good will, a believer in the dignity and equality of all human beings, a fighter for justice, an apostle of peace, has been snatched from our midst by the bullet of an assassin.

What moved some misguided wretch to do this horrible deed may be never be known to us, but we do know that such acts are commonly stimulated by forces of hatred and malevolence, such as today are eating their way into the bloodstream of American life.

What a price we pay for this fanaticism.

It has been said that the only thing we learn from history is that we do not learn. But surely we can learn if we have the will to do so. Surely there is a lesson to be learned from this tragic event.

If we really love this country, if we truly love justice and mercy, if we fervently want to make this Nation better for those who are to follow us, we can at least abjure the hatred that consumes people, the false accusations that divide us, and the bitterness that begets violence.”

What have we learned from 1963? Or are the same storm warnings blowing even stronger today?

Originally posted to Hoopgreen on Thu Nov 21, 2013 at 08:01 PM PST.

Also republished by Massachusetts Kosmopolitans.

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