Why is this NEWS?
November 22, 2013
Published in the Nov. 22, 2013 edition of The Gettysburg Times
By T.W. Burger
A friend, a journalist whose view I respect greatly, recently wrote a post on Facebook wondering why all of the stories on the media quoting people telling their stories about where they were when they learned that President John Fitzgerald had been shot and killed in Dallas, Texas on Nov. 22, 1963.
I understand his question.
He’s right, in a sense. After all, where anybody was half a century ago is hardly news.
But my friend is young. In his early 30s, I would guess. He is to be forgiven his youth. He’ll be over it soon enough.
You see, JFK’s killing was already no longer news when he was born. It was history. When my friend was born, JFK had always been dead.
Some of us were there. Not “there” as in being present in Dealey Plaza when the three shots rang out. “Present” as in our world, our country, when those shots rang out. “Present” when our whole view of what the American world was like for people who grew up with Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S Truman and Dwight David Eisenhower, both old, white men, were the leaders of the free world.
People for whom JFK has always been a dead guy don’t realize, deep down, what we really lost, and how very different we, our country, was after that date and the several years after.
Consider this: JFK had his head blown apart by a nobody, just like that, in front of the whole world (thanks to Mr. Zapruder’s home movie); two days later, another nobody killed Kennedy’s assassin. Shortly thereafter, thanks to a possibly botched and certainly incomplete Warren Commission report, Americans became forever addicted to conspiracy theory. At this point, the only group that hasn’t been blamed for Kennedy’s assassination and Jack Ruby’s murder of Lee Harvey Oswald has been the Girl Scouts of America.
Consider this, also: Less than half a year before JFK’s death, Civil Rights leader Medgar Evers was murdered in Mississippi.
Seven months after JFK’s death, U.S. Army Reserve Lt. Col Lemuel Penn had his head blown off by a carload of klansmen as he was heading home from training exercises in Alabama, I believe. His murder took place 10 minutes from where I lived. I knew by sight the men who did it. This changed my own life in very profound ways, but that’s a topic for another column.)
Less than five years after John Kennedy’s death, Martin Luther King died, shot through the neck by another nobody on April 4, 1968.
Two months later, on June 6, 1968, Robert Kennedy died in a
California hotel kitchen, shot through the head by a Saturday Night Special wielded by another loser.
Presidential candidate and segregationist George Wallace was shot five times by Arthur Bremer, whose only goal was to become famous, on May 15, 1972.
Only a month later, burglars broke into Democratic HQ at the Watergate Hotel in Washington, D.C., an event that lead to the resignation of President Richard M. Nixon on August 9, 1974, and the conviction and incarceration of 43 people, dozens of whom were Nixon’s top administration officials.
Understand: Those of us who were there and then were not necessarily naïve about politics and the convoluted forces at work among the powers-that-be, real or imagined.
But this was something else. Everything was falling apart. There were riots in the streets, for Civil Rights, against the draft and the endless and useless war in Vietnam, and sometimes simply out of a multifaceted rage. I remember a riot case thrown out of court because the judge ruled that if it hadn’t been for all the undercover police agents, there wouldn’t have been enough people to hold a riot in the first place.
So, it was not just a case of “where were you when” that informs our memories. It is a matter of trying to tell those who missed that time that a kind of terrible alchemy transformed We The People into something…different. That change cast this nation into a kind of madness for the next decade, and affects us even today. I firmly believe that the distrust Americans hold toward their government, while always there to some degrees, is now chronic and, perhaps, incurable.
So, no, “Where Were You? Stories are not simply low-hanging fruit for lazy assignment editors, though they are certainly that. Those of us who have those stories to tell want the rest of you to know that our nation was not always Bedlam.