Fifty years ago, a flawed but great man, if any man can be great, was murdered in the city of Dallas, Texas. At the time of his death he was the most powerful, the most famous, and the most popular man in the world.
The person who died on November 22, 1963, was the 35th President of the United States, John F. Kennedy.
He was the youngest person ever elected president. He was well-educated, rich, photogenic, witty, charming, but he was also a man of substance.
He was a decorated war veteran. Read his Pulitzer Prize winning book, Profiles of Courage. Kennedy valued people of action and courage. In this book, written while he was a U.S. Senator, he depicts various senators of history who took principled stands and action that they believed in, regardless of the consequence to themselves or their political future.
Read Kennedy’s inauguration speech, or of his challenging this nation to put a man on the moon and safely return him before the 1960s were done. Read his American University speech of June 1963, his speech at the Berlin Wall, or his television address to the nation on civil rights in June 1963, among others.
He made mistakes. The Bay of Pigs CIA operation he inherited from the Eisenhower Administration was a failure for which he took full responsibility. But Kennedy was a fast learner. His calm, clear-eyed actions during the October 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis are a model of Presidential leadership.
Kennedy was pragmatic. Within a year of the Cuban Missile Crisis the two great foes, the Soviet Union and the United States, signed the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty outlawing above ground nuclear testing. Thus, the rain and snow that falls from the sky has little if any fallout within. This would not be the case if this treaty had not been signed. Kennedy also pragmatically advocated tax cuts famously saying “A rising tide lifts all boats.”
John F. Kennedy was beloved by many and not just Americans. Look at tapes of his visits to Ireland, to France, to Berlin and elsewhere around the world. Look at the various peoples’ reaction to him and to the nation, and its concepts he represented as President.
The concepts of freedom, liberty, self-determination, optimism, hope, of seeing and asking the best of ourselves. As President he personified these concepts to many Americans and others around the world. Kennedy believed in these concepts, these ideals, for this nation and all other nations.
December 7, 1941, November 2, 1963, September 11, 2001 were all dates of national and worldwide consequence. So I hope those who don’t remember November 22, 1963 will indulge those who do, and the sense of loss that November 22 represents to many.
Those who remember the fateful words of Shakespeare, “the saddest word written or spoken by man are these, oh what might have been.”