I was two years old when Kennedy was shot. I don’t have memories of where I was and what I was doing, the way I do of Challenger exploding or the planes hitting the World Trade Center on 9/11. I do not have an emotional tie to the Kennedy assassination. It is an important event in American history, that is all.
I wonder, sometimes, at the extent to which Kennedy has been beatified in the American — especially the liberal American — ethos. The man did a lot for civil rights, but he also deepened our involvement in Vietnam. I am sure that, had he lived, his record might not have been as rosy. (Certainly, his personal life was nothing to be proud of. He would never even had made it to the Oval Office if he had to run today.) Kennedy was very charismatic, but charisma alone cannot make a good presidency.
Instead of a president, I think what we lost was a dream. I think any time you have a president assassinated, especially a young president less than three years into his first term, it is a reminder of how vulnerable we are, both as a nation and as people.
I think the continuing existence of conspiracy theories about the JFK assassination is testament to the extent to which the we try to avoid the fact that a lone crazy with a rifle can wreak so much havoc. (Although it is interesting that the only theory that has been proven has to do with the Soviets. The Soviets were not involved in the assassination, but recently released KGB records indicate that the Soviets indulged in a misinformation campaign to make Americans believe that they were — including forging letters to and from Lee Harvey Oswald.) We do not want to admit that the world is as chaotic as it is, that danger and death, even for the most well-secured of us, can lurk anywhere.
Dreams die hard. The dream that we are somehow better, that there is “Camelot” is just around the corner, has died very hard, in the same way that the illusion of safety that we lived under for most of the post W.W. II twentieth century, died 0n 9/11/01.
Of course, we tend to forget that Camelot is pretty much a mythical place, anyway.