Fifty-four years ago today people all over the world were shocked into pausing their normal polarizing behavior by an act of violence directed against a complicated, ethically challenged but charismatic young American president. His death accomplished some worthy things in which he had failed during his life, the Civil Rights Act, the War on Poverty, but those things have yet to attain their promised goals. They were more than mere positive bumps along our troubled road but political opportunism and greed and the quest for hegemonic power have proven obstacles too great to overcome. Camelot then was even more mythic than the Camelot of literature and fantasy.
I still have the saber I used as the officer in charge of the honor guard at a requiem mass for the assassinated president at St. John the Divine Cathedral in Manhattan, recovered after a long sojourn, through the decency of a stranger. It sits on my mantle reminding me of how I felt during that very strange week in late November, 2017. I had never really liked President Kennedy until he died, I don’t especially respect him today, but for a brief period, a very brief period, the world seemed united, as it did for a brief period in mid-September of 2001, but those interludes of apparent lucidity tend to be short lived, and in both cases, were followed by catastrophic, ill-conceived and poorly executed military adventures, and those were not of short duration.
For me, November 23 has, since that fateful day in 1963, always been a day for reflection and introspection, especially with respect to positive opportunities lost, both personally and as a member of the human species. A day to try to recharge my motivation for positive action in the face of desperate odds, notwithstanding how quixotic, a day to redream impossible dreams that keep fading.
It’s also a day for comparisons and questioning of values. Why is the violently tragic death of one man so much more important than the quotidian tragic violent deaths of so many others? What does that say about our values and our priorities and our sense of decency? Little John-John’s graveside salute was touching because our mainstream media made it so, the same mainstream media that ignores or deprecates, choosing and picking among us, the senseless deaths and the terrible grieving and mourning of untold millions under circumstances much more desperate than those faced by the powerful and wealthy Kennedy clan.
How many requiem masses are said for them?
I was so hopeful in 1963, my life just beginning as President Kennedy’s ended, so motivated, so sure of the future, so willing to believe in innate human goodness, evil just a consequence of misunderstandings. Today I’ve come to believe that the misunderstandings are planted and circulated and nourished among us by truly evil people in whom too many of us naively place our trust. People adept at polarization, at turning decent causes into econo-political opportunities, at setting us at each other’s throats for fun and profit.
So, as another November 23 passes, each a bit less hopeful than the last, I reflect on where we find ourselves, sexual abuse distorted for political purposes, undeclared war omnipresent, George Orwell’s prophecies seeming more and more like recent history, but everywhere, decent men and women doing their very best to provide for their families, raise their children and help their neighbors to the best of their humble ability, and I wonder why common values become so distorted as they evolve into political policies, suspecting all too well as to the reasons.
Then I wonder if we’ll ever generate the will as a People to overcome our real enemies, those who now lead us and those who preceded them and those who preceded them.
Can you remember when last we had leaders worthy of those they led?
© Guillermo Calvo Mahé; Manizales, 2017; all rights reserved. Please feel free to share with appropriate attribution.
Guillermo Calvo Mahé (a sometime poet) is a writer, political commentator and academic currently residing in the Republic of Colombia although he has primarily lived in the United States of America (of which he is a citizen). Until recently he chaired the political science, government and international relations programs at the Universidad Autónoma de Manizales. He has academic degrees in political science (the Citadel), law (St. John’s University), international legal studies (New York University) and translation studies (the University of Florida’s Center for Latin American Studies). He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com and much of his writing is available through his blog at http://www.guillermocalvo.com.