Friday, November 22, 2013


A few days ago, in reference to JFK's assassination, Peggy Noonan basically printed the legend:
... We talk about JFK’s death because for the 18 years leading up to that point -- between the end of the war, as we used to say, and 1963 -- America knew placidity. Many problems were growing and quietly brewing, but on the surface America was placid, growing more affluent, and politically calm. And then this rupture, this shock, this violence, this new sense that anything can happen, history can be ripped from its rails, that security once won cannot necessarily be maintained. That our luck won’t necessarily hold.

... And what followed -- growing political unrest, cultural spasms, riots at political conventions, more assassinations and assassination attempts -- was so different from the years preceding that we couldn’t help look back at JFK's murder as the breakpoint, the rupture. After that, things turned difficult.
I'd argue with some of what Sam Tanenhaus writes in The New York Times today, and the prose style does get a tad overheated, but I give him credit for pointing out that what people seem to remember just wasn't so:
... In fact, America had already become a divided, dangerous place, with intimations of anarchic disorder. Beneath its gleaming surfaces, a spore had been growing, a mass of violent energies, coiled and waiting to spring....

And while many today mourn the loss of the consensus politics of the Cold War era, the center was already collapsing in 1963. Left-wing groups like the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and Students for a Democratic Society, both impatient with the slow pace of social change, were formed at the time of Kennedy’s presidency.

On the right, the John Birch Society was flourishing, and in 1962, 18,000 young conservatives attended a rally at Madison Square Garden at which Kennedy was jeered, and a new tribune, Barry M. Goldwater, took the stage. Soon he would vow to clean out "the swampland of collectivism."

... The best-selling nonfiction book when he was killed was Victor Lasky’s “J.F.K: The Man and the Myth,” a dubiously researched jumble of smears and innuendo, including the stale rumor that Kennedy, an observant Catholic, had suppressed a previous marriage to a Palm Beach socialite....

Kennedy hatred was deepest, perhaps, in the South, where civil rights battles had grown increasingly tense. "White violence was sort of considered the status quo," Diane McWhorter, who grew up in Birmingham, Ala., and is the author of "Carry Me Home," a Pulitzer Prize-winning account of the racial unrest of 1963, said recently.

"There had been so many bombings that people had accepted it," Ms. McWhorter said. But in May, the city’s blacks struck back, attacking the police and firefighters and setting several businesses on fire. In September, only two months before Dallas, white supremacists in Birmingham planted a bomb in a black church, killing four young girls....
I was four years old when JFK was shot, so this isn't my nostalgia; I have trouble looking back and understanding how people saw the era as placid.

The fissures that became obvious in the post-assassination era were evident in the very first presidential election after World War II, when Henry Wallace ran to the left and Strom Thurmond ran to the racist right. Beyond that, I could run through the whole "We Didn't Start the Fire" litany: McCarthyism, China going communist, Cuba going communist, integration of the military and baseball and Little Rock and Ole Miss (and the backlashes), the Montgomery bus boycott, the Freedom Rides, the fear of "juvenile delinquents" and comic books and rock and roll, the Pill, Bircherism.... I wasn't there, but did Joe and Jane America really feel that the era was placid?

Maybe compared with the Depression and the war it was. Maybe a fairly broad-based prosperity made it all go down easy -- maybe that's all it takes.


Unknown said...

White, middle-class Americans had it pretty good, what with the GI bill and a nicely-humming economy. Certainly they had it better than their parents, who never got over the suffering of the depression. As for social issues, well, I doubt that the average newspaper covered them much, not that many people even owned a tv, and it was easy to live happily information-free.

Steve M. said...

As for social issues, well, I doubt that the average newspaper covered them much, not that many people even owned a tv, and it was easy to live happily information-free.

Maybe TV news (from Dallas, from riot sites, from Vietnam) was the sole reason America "lost its innocence."

Anonymous said...

I'd say the major change in our society is the sheer volume of information and connectedness we now have. It makes it much harder to live in your own little bubble surrounded by your own kind. It's a constant bombardment of images and noise.

It's really kinda odd in a way. I see political brawls and arguments from people of all creeds, nations, and races on gaming forums now. These are places that started in the era of usenet groups. Just people organizing Street Fighter tournaments and sharing inside knowledge of match-ups and skills. Real top tier nerd stuff. Sure there was always non game related stuff... talk of porn, getting blasted, movies, food, clothes, girls, normally young male topics, but things changed. Now it's full of all sorts of odd ball political debates and culture wars, on gaming forums of all damn places.

Dark Avenger said...

My mothers' take on the assassination was that Kennedy gave the nation a sense of hope, and that his youthfulness was part of that appeal as well.

Unknown said...

I agree, Steve, that tv was the game-changer, for white people (black people were living it). Somebody told me once that the modern environmental movement grew from people seeing pictures of the earth sent back by astronauts. New perspective.

aimai said...

I'm not sure why people seem so shocked that the assasination had a huge impact on people--and I've seen this comment over and over again from younger people. I mean, I get that this is not their tragedy--they have their own tragedies and shocks: 9/11 or whatever. But it should be obvious that the shooting of a president, the shooting of MLK, and the shooting of the President's brother while on the campaign trail all fatally altered our naive sense that there could be democratic/progressive leaders who would survive at all-let alone win their elections.

I'm not saying that America was any kind of placid utopia before Kennedy's shooting. But still, the public murder of a President-the first to successfully leverage youth, hope, sex, beauty, and young children into a glamorization of the presidency itself--has to leave an impact. With the murder of his brother and the death of other iconic figures you so from the sunlit uplands of "maybe the future will be brighter than the past" to a repeated punch in the face with reality.

Ten Bears said...

That picture hangs in my office.

I was nine. I won't add my two cents, there's too much of that already - mostly by folks who weren't there.

No fear.

Victor said...

I was almost 6, and I'll spare everyone what I remember from that day.
But, I do remember, and will never forget.
Oh, I remember.

The assassinations that made me realize the dark, and always lurking potentially evil, heart of this country, were Malcolm X's - who live not too far away from my family in Queens - and MLK, and RFK.

Those assassinations are what made me both an activist, a Liberal, and a cynic.

JFK's, was on the cusp of my consciousness.
The other three, happened when I was 9 and 10, and evolving into the political junkie, and cynical SOB, that I am - as the result of the assassinations of my youthful hero's.

The New York Crank said...

Jack Kennedy was the first president I ever voted for. I was in a college student union building during his inauguration, in the only (veery crowded) room in the college that had a television set.

The sense of positive anticipation in the room was electric. One thing that nobody seems to mention today, but that I recall vividly is that, despite the frigid temperature in Washington, the new President wasn't wearing a hat. This was when every man – I mean every – would not step out of doors winter or summer, without a felt fedora in fall, winter and spring, and a straw hat in summer. Men's hats were just as ubiquitous as the necktie in those days.

After the inauguration, hats almost instantly went out of style. Hat manufacturers begged the new president to wear one, but he mostly ignored them. It seems so insignificant today, but at the time, to us 20-somethings, a hatless president was a symbol of the change we had been hoping for.

Hoping, because we were just as scared, and just as divided, as Americans are today. The south was terrified that its racially-based "way of life" was endangered. Blacks were quite literally terrified by lynchings and bombings. The north still lived in fear of McCarthyism, and bland political statements of almost any position on almopst anything would often begin with the disclaimer, "I have no use for reds, but...."

And there was more. We had grown up enduring classroom drills in which the teacher would suddenly call out, "Take cover!" and we would dive under our desks, arms over our heads, to "shield" ourselves from radioactivity in case we were nuked. Some young people feared every day that they would die in a nuclear holocaust.

The death of JFK was the death of our hope that a new, more optimistic era had been born. I was not initially a Kennedy supporter. Adalai Stevenson was my candidate during the Democratic primaries. But once Kennedy won the nomination, I quickly warmed to him, and his message, and his enthusiasm. My generation were suddenly inspired by the notion of sacrifice, by the opportunity to go into the Peace Corps instead of the army (there was still a compulsory peacetime draft) and the excitement of a program begun by JFK that would take us literally to the moon.

An assassin's bullet put an instant stop to all of that.

Peggy Noonan, I suspect, is older than I am. Where the hell was she, fifty-plus years ago? Or has dementia gobbled up huge chunks of her long-term memory?

Very crankily yours,
The New York Crannk

Examinator said...

sigh, I was in between Ten Bears and NYC at the time. I was shocked as I was by MLK jrs death.
Since then I've researched Both and IMHO JFKs 'greatness' was more circumstantial and a product of his time.
He was killed B4 the other policies he put into play could come back and Bite him on the Ass. Vietnam, Bay of pigs(Mafia connection), union thuggery support,his feral womanising etc. He made Clinton look like a boy scout.

MLK jr while also flawed did more for America in real terms than the former.

Then again I don't believe in heroes just admirable deeds.

One should be aware that "people [generally] hear/remember what they want and ignore the rest.... " and
examinator's 3rd law of the truth... "history is a kill joy"

Dark Avenger said...

Or has dementia gobbled up huge chunks of her long-term memory?

Technically speaking, she probably has Korsakoff's Syndrome.

There are six major symptoms of Korsakoff's syndrome:

anterograde amnesia
retrograde amnesia, severe memory loss
confabulation, that is, invented memories which are then taken as true due to gaps in memory sometimes associated with blackouts
minimal content in conversation
lack of insight
apathy - the patients lose interest in things quickly and generally appear indifferent to change.

These symptoms are caused by a deficiency of thiamine (vitamin B1).[1] Thiamine is essential for the carboxylation of pyruvate and deficiency during this metabolic process is thought to cause damage to the medial thalamus and mammillary bodies of the posterior hypothalamus as well as generalized cerebral atrophy.[2] These brain regions are all parts of the limbic system, which is heavily involved in emotion and memory.

When Wernicke's encephalopathy accompanies Korsakoff's syndrome, the combination is called the Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. Korsakoff's is a continuum of Wernicke's encephalopathy, though a recognized episode of Wernicke's is not always obvious.

Korsakoff's involves neuronal loss, that is, damage to neurons; gliosis which is a result of damage to supporting cells of the central nervous system, and hemorrhage or bleeding in mammillary bodies. Damage to the dorsomedial nucleus or anterior group of the thalamus (limbic-specific nuclei) is also associated with this disorder. Cortical dysfunction may have arisen from thiamine deficiency, alcohol neurotoxicity, and/ or structural damage in the diencephalon.[3]

A song verse for the Crankster:

And here's to the girls who just watch--
Aren't they the best?
When they get depressed,
It's a bottle of Scotch,
Plus a little jest.
Another chance to disapprove,
Another brilliant zinger,
Another reason not to move,
Another vodka stinger.
I'll drink to that.

Examinator said...

Dark avenger,
Thanks for nothing ;-(
And I thought it was because I was just getting old !
Mind you last week the TV convinced me I had cancer of the ovaries and me a male too.

Rand Careaga said...

Of course the era wasn't placid, but there was a strong consensus for believing it so. I can't speak for the grownups of the era--I was eleven at the time--but something Thomas Pynchon once wrote comes to mind (I probably will lightly paraphrase here): "The pernicious thing about the Fifties was that they convinced everyone who lived through them that they'd go on forever."

What I'd absorbed from my elders by 1963 included the certainties that (A) the national purpose at home and (especially) abroad was benign: the Red armies bayoneted babies; our soldiers distributed candy bars, and (B) things were getting better every year: we'd trade up to bigger houses, flashier cars on an ever-rising standard of living. A degree of social mobility was also assumed, with the children of blue-collar workers having a shot at white-collar slots, and white-collar children aspiring to the professions.

The assassination told us that the (idealized) Fifties weren't going to go on forever. The belief in a benign national purpose, which under JFK took the form in youth of an idealistic "bear any burden" anti-communism, did not survive the footage that shortly began to come out of Southeast Asia, and it was this disillusionment, this diverted idealism, that fueled much of the political counterculture. And the first oil shock ten years after Kennedy's death was a wake-up call that the good times, and particularly the dreams of social- and upward-mobility were gone, or at least that the music was winding down and the availability of chairs sharply reduced.

The New York Crank said...

Ladies and gentlemen, please! The revisionists among you are going at it full tilt.

Admittedly, Kennedy didn't deliver fully on his promises, but let's remember he had less than a term as President. It was progress interrupted that broughht on the national shock.

As for the Bay of Pigs, remember, that war was planned by the CIA under the Eisenhower administration. When Kennedy got into office, it was a gnat's hair away from a fait accompli. True, he let it happen. But after the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion, he pulled the plug – something for which the Cuban exile community never forgave him. And if you want to believe some of the conspiracy theorists, they executed him for it.

Viet Nam? Southeast Asia? He was diddling around the edges there, never going beyond a few special forces forays and the assassination of a leader he didn't like. Given his propensity to strongly distrust generals (he said "war is too important to be left to the generals") and his withdrawal from further invasions of Cuba rather than getting in deeper, my guess is, we would never have gotten to a Gulf of Tonkin resolution had JFK remained president.

The one debatable issue was the Cuban missile crisis. But remember the widespread American paranoia, seeping into even kindergarten classes, that the Russkies were coming to nuke us. JFK really had two choices once the misslies were discovered. He could hang tough, as he did, or he could back down, and leave a battery of nukes pointed at the US from 90 miles away. Guaranteed, that would have caused his impeachment and removal. He chose to hang tough, and no matter what you think of that daring strategy, it worked. The Russians backed down and pulled their missiles out of Cuba.

Plus, JFk instituted the space program and, for whatever it's worth, the Peace Corps, all in a hostile environment. I can't prove what else he would or would not have done, but on the basis of the evidence I witnessed firsthand, I give him an A. And I don't care who he was screwing – Marilyn Monroe, Judith Campbell Exner, or Mitzi the S&M Mistress. It has no bearing on the effectiveness of his presidency.

BTW,e social mobility in this country continued until well into the 80s. It wasn't a politician that applied the brakes, it was the computer and the Internet, plus the deregulation of regulated-and-working institutions such as the banks. Blame the seeds of that one on the Sainted Ronald Reagan.

As for Peggy Noonan and Korsakoff's Syndrome (are you sure it isn't Rimsky-Korsakoff's Symphony?) it could be that accounting for her bizarre pronouncements. Or maybe one night she just put down her glass of scotch, exclaimed, "I shoulda had a V-8," and slapped herself too hard on the forehead, leaving her brains forever addled.

Very crankily yours,
The New York Crank

Examinator said...

I take your point about the bay of pigs etc however, the links with the mafia (when all is said and done the mob controlled the gambling there etc. Is well documented.
Joe senior once said that "he could have gotten his chauffeur elected given the amount of money he spent on getting JFK up to the congress". The union thuggery (aka vote early vote often etc) is also
well documented.

His PT109 story is also questioned in that he was implicated in its sinking (incompetence/ poor judgement ...what ever)

There were far more 'heroic' people at the time including a few Americans, but JFK's and Joe senior's connections made him a hero(?) and got him back from harms way.

Joe Jr for example had completed 100 missions over Europe and was overdue to be rotated back to the states but refused when he was killed.
IMO 100 missions in a bomber takes more constant courage and guts than what ...?
Crank, you need to consider the context...maybe if Bobby had lived he would have comprehensively surpassed JFK's real legacy.

Yes JFK did START the space race but honestly what real good did that do? After a score of missions even the public had moved on.

I'm not rewriting history simply making the sober judgement that when it comes to solid (tangible) legacy for the MOST Americans MLK jr. wins hands down. ( how many Americans (black and otherwise) have benefited from that!

If you ask the average American what , other than his assignation, what stick in your mind about JFK and it's mostly fantasy.
JFK was a PR prince. remember the "Camelot fantasy"... the royal family you're having when not having royals.
The nature of his death is part of the mystique. If he hadn't died that way he'd be all but forgotten
he was fine as POTUS' go but only in America is the Prez lionised so extremely.
In reality "I have a dream..." was more powerful as a speech of leadership of PEOPLE than
"Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country" (nationalistic rhetoric not about PEOPLE just the Institution)

One needs to read my post in entirety to understand my point rather than sections there of.

PS I could never forgive JFK for his affair with Audrey Hepburn MY teenage fantasy woman. ;-)

Ten Bears said...

What good was the space race? Are you sitting in front of a personal computer?

Marilyn Monroe, Ex, it was Marilyn Monroe.

No fear.

The New York Crank said...

A few more comments and then I think I've worn the subject.

1. Writing late last night, I stupidly forgot a third option JFK had during the missile crises, which was listening to our generals who were seeking a military response to the Cuban missiles. Since the missiles were actually Russian, we could have well ended up in a nuclear exchange with the Soviet Union. For having ignored the advice of his generals and hands-down avoiding a nuclear conflict alone, he was a great president.

2. Would Joe or Bobby have made an even better president? Quite possibly. But that doesn't diminish JFK's short-lived administration.

3. Good point about the computer,Ten Bears. Let's add to the miniaturization and the development of the microchip that made the personal computer possible, a few smaller items that come to mind: Teflon. Super Glue (and other epoxies). Telemetry.

4. Keep your dang hands off Audrey Hepburn, Examinator. She's MY girlfriend, not yours. ;)

Very crankily yours,
The New York Crank

Glennis said...

I was eight years old when Kennedy was assassinated. It was shocking, and it was probably the only seriously frightening event that I became aware of, at that age. My parents did not expose me to a lot of dark and frightening news, at that age.

When I grew older, say 11 or 12 or in my teens, the frightening and dire news crept into my consciousness, and when I look back on those times, I remember the turmoil, the fear; bomb scares at my school, talk about riots.

I knew, even then, that it wasn't that the world had changed; it was that my eyes had been opened.

I suspect that many of the people who claim the Kennedy era was placid and idyllic are even younger than I am, and were also insulated from the fear and turmoil by their parents or their circumstances.

Just because YOUR life was placid - thanks to your life's circumstances - doesn't mean everyone else's was.

Peter said...

@ Examinator
Mind you last week the TV convinced me I had cancer of the ovaries and me a male too.
I come home from work, and find mrs efgoldman convinced that she (or I) have some never-before-discovered fatal ailment. She watches those doctor shows.

Dark Avenger said...

Crankster, the Rimsky in Nikolai's name was added by his father to commemorate the fathers visit to Rome whilst serving in the Russian Navy. I wouldn't be surprised if he was a relative of the doctor who discovered this form of brain damage, as the professions in Russia were usually open to the upper-crust aristocrats in 19th-Century Imperial Russia.