Saturday, November 23, 2013

In loving (and selective) memory

Dealey Plaza, looking at the grassy knoll (left) and the former
Texas School Book Depository Building (background).
How long can a city wear sackcloth and ashes for a crime it didn’t commit?

The memorial at Dealey Plaza was rather low-key, which could have been expected even without the bone-squeezing wet cold of the day. Some conspiracy theorists and some citizens protesting police brutality tried to horn in on the solemnities. It could have been worse, however: it could have turned into an anti-conservative bashapalooza.

 The fact is, a significant number of people younger than me — depending on where you place the cutoff, I’m either at the trailing edge of the boomers or in the vanguard of Generation X — tend to view the youth of the 1960s as supremely narcissistic, and the annual spasm of grief over the assassination of John F. Kennedy as just one more symptom of their emotional retardation. And, in all candor, the constantly reiterated “death of innocence” line is not only tiresome and melodramatic but inapposite, as cynics aren’t necessarily any more objective than are idealists; cynicism is merely idealism distorted by despair.

Nevertheless, this cross-generational impatience is too brutally dismissive. Even with a proper appreciation of Kennedy’s all-too-human failings as a Catholic, a husband and a politician, there is still no known sin in his life up to that point that made his death a poetic justice. Even Abraham Lincoln’s most vociferous opponents were astonished and mortified by his death, and Lincoln was a far more controversial man who held power during a more violent, agonized period of our history. By contrast, even given some of the tensions created by the civil rights movement during the time, nobody could look objectively at the events of 1963 and say that Kennedy’s assassination was inevitable. By any reasonable evaluation, it was a tragedy and ought to be acknowledged as such.

However, in the midst of the ritualized outpouring of nostalgia and mourning for a popular president gunned down in the prime of his manhood, there has been some effort to rewrite the history surrounding Dealey Plaza so progressives can draw parallels between 1963 and 2013 — parallels that are far-fetched and, quite frankly, inane.