“For in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s futures. And we are all mortal.”
Today marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President Kennedy. The single most significant event to have occurred since 1945. Yeah, check me out with the hyperbole. Such was the magnitude of the event that all who were alive at the time claim to know exactly where they were when they heard the terrible news. Three shots – two direct hits – by a wife-beating, ex-marine, part-time Soviet defector, drastically altered the course of world history, while whole careers have been built around the conspiracies, what if’s and consequences of what occurred that sunny Dallas day by the grassy knoll.
Kennedy was the last of America’s great statesmen; a movie star president; the last of the famous international playboys. His short, glamorous life and untimely death is of course immensely intriguing. Listen to the speeches, read the books; here was a genuine man of the people, several light years ahead of his time. His story, and that of the Kennedy family, is one that never grows old.
Which is why when waiting in LA for a flight to Mexico it dawned on me that I could make an unplanned stopover in Dallas to visit the location of one of the 20th century’s most important moments. I also got to sell it to my wife because she realised she could visit Southfork Ranch. Discussion over.
As something of a museum fiend I don’t say this lightly when I nominate The Sixth Floor Museum as the best museum I’ve ever visited. For a start it’s housed in the old Texas School Book Depository which is the building in which Lee Harvey Oswald fired his bolt-action rifle. You actually get to stand within touching distance of the exact spot from which the world briefly stood still. And you don’t get to say that about the Tate Modern.
The events leading up to that fateful day are also explained, outlining the toxic atmosphere JFK was stepping in to. Texas was not a friend to Kennedy and Dallas, known back then as “the city of hate”, was waiting for the President with Confederate flags and banners accusing him of being a traitor, socialist and enemy of democracy. The immediate aftermath and impact on America and the world at large is also generously detailed, while just as interesting are the exhibits about the conspiracy theories that continue to circulate today. Just who was behind it? The CIA? The Mob? Castro? Aliens? In all probability it was just the work of a sad misfit who wanted the world to know his name.
Leaving the museum and walking around Dealey Plaza on a day that looked exactly as it did on 22nd November, 1963 I felt immense sadness. Rightly or wrongly I’ve always believed Kennedy could have made a difference. That the world would have been a better place had he lived and carried on his presidency, passing the baton on to his brother, Bobby, to keep fighting the good fight.
Instead the Right won out and the military-industrial complex – which Eisenhower had forewarned in his Farewell Address to the Nation – was allowed to flourish.
Perhaps in reality America would have probably still found itself embroiled in an unwinnable war in southeast Asia attempting to stop dominoes while JFK would have fathered a lovechild with Marilyn and spent his downtime deflowering White House interns – actually it turns out he did the last one anyway – but just as we refuse to believe John Lennon would have gone on to record anything as excruciating as the Frog Chorus, sadly we will never know.
If just for today, spare a thought for JFK; the last great champion of the free world.