By Paul Comrie | November 20, 2018
You just never know what you’re going to think or feel. That’s what I’ve learned from this trip. I go in to some place with preconceived notions of what I think and know about America or an iconic American event. The place in person changes that.
I can say that for a long, long time – longer than I care to admit – I was dismissive of JFK. To me he was a rich kid, serial philanderer who bungled Bay of Pigs and got us tied up in Vietnam. A figurehead who looked good in a suit and sounded even better in front of a microphone, but was largely incompetent at best, a cruel and cynical liar at worst.
I’ve come away from seeing the museum in Dallas, the Texas School Book Depository, a changed person. Firstly, it is from this building that Oswald shot Kennedy, which is worth seeing if only for that fact. You can look down from it onto the ‘Grassy Knoll’ where the real action took place. What have I taken away from this experience? I now think that John F. Kennedy was arguably one of the most important presidents of American history and he’s important to globalisation in a way that is unique in that pantheon.
Firstly, I was amazed at the quality of Kennedy’s ideas: he couldn’t pass legislation on Civil Rights, but he got them there – these were later credited as Johnson’s achievements, but they were JFK’s ideas first. His understanding of why Vietnam was important was correct in my view. Anyone who compares South Korea with North Korea should understand that – and he got us involved in that theatre as a means of securing French help against Communist aggression in Europe, also an essential move. Presidents don’t get to make nice moves, they make the moves they must. There is a major problem with the reasons for which America entered the Vietnam war and it destroyed many generations of people in many cultures and countries, but I still cannot fault Kennedy for his Cold War thinking, even if it was flawed. I think his essential analysis and intent was correct.
He was, I think, on the whole, a brilliant man who understood, in a way none of his contemporaries could, that a new vision for America was needed. Maybe he was the first American president since the watershed year of 1945, when America assumed global leadership from the British, that a new kind of Anglo-American presence was needed. That is just with regards to the international sphere too. As for Reconstruction and the American Civil War, I’ve come away thinking that Kennedy was the first American president to really, seriously, consider challenging the 1865 consensus, which was I think a kind of criminal pact between Grant and Lee, sanctioned by Lincoln. The North should never have been so gratuitously generous with the remnants of the Confederacy. And someone from the white ‘Anglosphere’ needed to be able to challenge this to rectify the criminal intent behind Antebellum slavery and its corrupt economics. Kennedy did – and was killed for it, as was his singular peer, Martin Luther King Jr. It can be no accident that Jackie O. so prominently featured herself at King’s funeral – lending visual and symbolic heft to the terrible pain that MLK’s wife, Coretta Scott King, must have been enduring. That is what I take away from that museum. As Johnson later said, Oswald surely had his finger on the trigger, but other things were at work just the same. JFK and MLK are the first Americans to grapple with the failed peace of 1865 when the Civil War ended. It took the world nearly 100 years to create both Kennedy and MLK – and to get their message across they both had to be killed.
I’ll also say that watching the black and white footage of his funeral left me speechless and overwhelmed by the sadness and even terror of the event. I also got a sense of the couple who, despite their many personal problems, loved each other deeply and were committed to their work. Together they oversaw a spectacular period of innocence and beauty – and it would be destroyed only to usher in a terrifying new phase of American life – the age of conspiracy. It’s almost impossible to enter conspiracy thinking in American life without JFK – perhaps his untimely assassination gave birth to it.
JFK’s murder was so upsetting I was a changed man coming out of that museum. I was also filled with a sadness that our culture could go from JFK to DJT. Or as my father said in the car afterwards, when I raised this point, ‘From Obama to Trump. Appalling.’
What’s great about this clip is how much it accomplishes in a relatively worthless Fox conversation: the conspiracy theorists are owed an apology from the Warren Commission: the ‘taxi drivers’ were asking the right questions all along, and the conspiracy continues though that doesn’t help us understand what happened any more than it would have had we known this 55 years ago when it happened.