50 Years On, What Have We Learned?

kennedy-150x150For as long as I can remember, each anniversary of JFK’s assassination is anticipated with dread in our country, as well it should be. For me personally, it was one of my earliest memories. The only thing I remember (and dimly at that) was the funeral and little John-John saluting his father’s catafalque as it went by. The grainy, black-and-white footage seemed to sum up the national mood aptly (as did the live murder of Lee Harvey Oswald in the Dallas police garage two days after Kennedy was shot). It still has a stark quality that can’t be replicated even with the best CGI technology available today.

As catastrophic as Kennedy’s death was, it seems that we continue to learn the wrong lessons. The America of Eisenhower and normalcy ended that day. Stephen King, as great a writer as any out there, even wrote an alternative fiction piece last year with precisely that theme. Before Kennedy was shot, America was basically a Protestant Christian, white nation, confident in its mission and unapologetic. To be sure, Kennedy was the first Roman Catholic president and prejudices against the Catholic Church were still ingrained in the American consciousness but there was no doubt where his loyalties lay. Kennedy was a liberal when liberalism was still very much a patriotic ideology, one that upheld American exceptionalism.

It’s hard for some of us to remember what this meant. While a Senator, Kennedy was an avid supporter of his fellow Irish Catholic, Joe McCarthy, whom he regarded as a friend. His brother Bobby, even worked under McCarthy during the latter’s stint as chairman of the Army-McCarthy hearings. Both men, like their father before them, were staunch anti-Communists. Perhaps too much so: when JFK ran for president he ran to the right of Vice-President Richard Nixon, decrying a non-existent “missile gap” with the Soviets. For all practical purposes, he sounded like a war-monger. We also forget that under Eisenhower, there were only 600 military advisors in South Vietnam, under Kennedy this number exploded to 16,000 and the first casualties occurred under his watch. Though the popular imagination we think Lyndon Baines Johnson “owned” Vietnam in reality he was left holding the bag.

This fact bears more scrutiny. Not only did he massively increase our military presence there, he undertook a peasant resettlement program that removed the native Viet population from their ancestral farmlands, a process that bears some resemblance to what we now call today ethnic cleansing. The intent was to prevent the Viet Cong from exploiting the resources of the Vietnamese peasants so there was a military rationale for it. Still, it was deeply unpopular with the conservative natives. He also acceded to the neutrality of Laos thereby allowing for all practical purposes the North Vietnamese to annex the Ho Chi Minh Trail, a supply line they would use to devastating effect. Worst of all, he colluded with the American ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge and disgruntled elements of the Vietnamese military in assassinating the president of South Vietnam, Ngo Dinh Diem and his brother (both of whom were ardent Catholics). In retrospect, this act was hugely ironic as it occurred a mere two weeks before Kennedy’s own assassination. With these acts, the American presence was solidified, making an honorable retreat impossible. It would take Nixon four years of bombardment and the abolition of the draft to remove American military personnel from Vietnam.

All of this was unnecessary. Had he followed the path of Eisenhower (as no doubt Nixon would have), “quagmire” and “Vietnam” would have been two words that would have never have entered our lexicon. After the U2 incident late in his presidency, even Ike became more reticent about projecting military power close to the Soviet Union. Nor should we forget that it was Ike who warned us about putting our trust in a “military-industrial complex.” Kennedy however needlessly placed Jupiter missiles in Turkey, aimed straight at the Russian heartland. This was a clear provocation that no Soviet leader could stand. More, his weakness to Krushchev was obvious from the very start of his presidency. The Soviet leader acted with impunity when he built the Berlin Wall and Kennedy’s response was one of paralysis. When Kennedy failed to give Cuban patriots air cover at the Bay of Pigs, Krushchev thought he could get away with it again. And so the stage was set for placing Soviet missiles in Cuba, a mere 90 miles of the Florida coast.

Kennedy had learned his lesson though and he resolved to not be bullied again. Rather providentially, a mere three months before the Missile Crisis, he had read Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August, the definitive account of the harrowing events that led to World War I. During the Crisis, Kennedy resolved to never put himself in the position of the crowned heads of Europe who could have averted that disaster with some personal diplomacy. In this sense, his instincts were right on the money. The words he chose were judicious to this effect: “quarantine” instead of “blockade,” and he privately opened back-channels to Krushchev, even going so far as to agree to remove the Jupiter missiles from Turkey within six months. In the popular imagination it was perceived that the Russians had blinked and Kennedy’s reputation skyrocketed. In reality, the Soviets got what they wanted. More in fact: they received assurances that America would never again try to invade Cuba. (Not that Cuba –a sinkhole if there ever was one–was a prize in the end to the Russians.)

In the arena of Civil Rights, Kennedy was able to get Gov George C Wallace of Alabama to stand down and allow the admission of two black students to the University of Alabama. On the other hand, he gave J Edgar Hoover the green light to electronically monitor Martin Luther King, Jr. JFK’s fears were not unfounded in that he believed that King’s organization was massively infiltrated by Communists. Because of Hoover’s wiretapping, we know that this was largely true. We also know that King had a checkered private life which tarnished his martyric image. (Not to say that JFK’s was any better in this regard.)

That all being said, Kennedy was in many ways an honorable man. Though many viewed him as a spoiled rich kid, he had served his country honorably in the Navy, even going so far as to “get a boat shot out from under him” as he memorably put it. During the aftermath of the PT-109 disaster, he undertook heroic efforts to save the men under his command. Many criticized him for his carefree, playboy lifestyle, for his father buying a Congressional seat for him then financing his Senatorial campaign. All this was true yet few know about the brave face he displayed in adversity, specifically with his debilitating illnesses. While Senator, he was diagnosed with Addison’s Disease, a hormonal affliction with tremendous morbidity which required him to undergo extremely risky surgery. Contrary to today’s mandatory Oprahfication, which requires public figures to grovel before the camera and confess their weaknesses, he kept his suffering out of public view. Looking at photographs of him from this time we see nothing of the tremendous pain he felt but only his youthful vigor and extreme good looks. His face was so brave that outside of a few people no one knew the extreme pain that he felt every waking moment of his life. Things got so bad for him that he would have to take a cocktail of methamphetamines, steroids, and painkillers which were injected into him seven times a day. It’s probable that this cocktail occluded his judgment and sent his already considerable libido into overdrive.

What have we learned however? Mainly that liberalism lost its way. The confidence in American exceptionalism that was the hallmark of liberalism died that day as well. Among liberals, the scapegoating continues to this day. First it was the city of Dallas that was somehow to blame, then it was right-wingers in general. The fact that Lee Harvey Oswald, a Marxist sore loser if there ever was one, pulled the trigger from a sniper’s nest in the School Book Depository has never set well with most liberals. Conspiracy theories were fabricated from the start in order to absolve the left from any taint in Kennedy’s assassination. (A very good book in this regard is Case Closed, by Gerald Posner.) That being said, the possibility that the fatal shot was fired by one George W Hickey, Jr, a secret serviceman riding in the car behind Kennedy remains an intriguing possibility. According to the Warren Commission, Hickey cocked his Colt AR-15 and pulled it out when he heard the first shot fired. According to eyewitnesses, he pointed it in the direction of the Depository. What is unclear is whether in doing so, he accidentally fired a round in Kennedy’s direction. Hickey of course denied that he did so and none of the other agents in between him and Kennedy felt bullets whizzing by their heads but the trajectory of the fatal head-shot would indicate that it came from directly behind JFK from exactly the spot where Hickey was situated.

Of course we’ll never know with 100 percent certainty what really happened that day. As in all historical accounts, devils lurk in the details. Maybe sometime we’ll explore some of the conspiracy theories, for now we should remember what transpired on that awful day in Dallas fifty years ago today. And pray for the soul of the fallen president. We should pray as well for our country and that we learn the right lessons.


  1. I remember the day of the funeral. My mother sat on a hassock in front of the television crying. My little brother and I tried to comfort her. We were good Roman Catholics – a framed photo of President Kennedy was on one wall and just opposite, one of the Pope.

    I recall reading that President Kennedy’s “tan” was a side effect of the disease. His father had stashed medication for his son all over the country, just in case he needed it and found himself without it.

    Memory eternal.

  2. I would love to have a JFKennedy-Democrat in Washington DC today.

    • George Michalopulos says

      As would I. I pray that that sentiment came through in my assessment.

    • You’re out of fashion. Guys like Joe Lieberman have long since been hounded out of the Democrat party.

      For a time, Obama managed to do a passable imitation of Kennedy, but he turned out to be only Vladimir Lenin dressed in one of JFK’s old suits.

  3. Tim R. Mortiss says

    Well, George, you cover it all. I think that you should

    • Tim R. Mortiss says

      For some reason, there is no edit button. What I mean to say is that you should write alternative-history SF, like Harry Turtledove!
      Everything changed for the bad after [Abraham Lincoln][Teddy Roosevelt][Woodrow Wilson][Jack Kennedy] became President. But then, it wasn’t all bad. It was a conspiracy. But no, it wasn’t a conspiracy.

      You’ve got it all covered, including the kitchen sink!

      I was 15 when JFK was killed. An inexpressibly sad day.

      I believe, like Lincoln, that Providence is always at work, but that we can never understand its workings. We are always looking for causation, but when we think we’ve found it, we’re usually deluded.

  4. The myth of JFK lives on. He was a complete nothing, way over his head. Read Kagan’s account (Origins of War) on the Cuban missile crisis. The only reason he did anything was his advisers concluded it would be political suicide to do nothing. He was a philanderer of the 9th degree (as many of our recent democrat presidents were). Martin Luther King was no moral jewel but at least he accomplished something of everlasting significance.

    • I get it RMR. But most of our presidents weren’t/aren’t experts on the issues that they face(d). If they’re smart, they listen to advisors and cabinet members. Unlike Obama who builds his cabinet and then listens to staffers. JFK wasn’t a nothing, Obama on the other hand …


      I’m not completely convinced on JFK’s sexual escapades. I wonder how someone who is in constant, and debilitating, discomfort and pain would be able to even muster the appetite or be able to for that matter?

  5. Kennedy held a certain appeal to post-war Americans because we were trying to put the war behind us and start living again. (Remember, most of the men who fought the war were in the prime of their lives at that point.) JFK was handsome, charming and had a good sense of humor—a politician from central casting. Unfortunately, as events proved, he was all too human. The Democrat party Platform of 1960 is an interesting read for current liberals. In many respects, the Dems used to be what are now called “dangerous right-wing radicals.” This was before 40 years of marxist indoctrination destroyed us.

    Camelot was always a fatuous myth, but I do miss the old civic optimism that was the hallmark of the Kennedy years. Even conservatives liked the man personally. Issues existed then on which reasonable men could disagree. People respected diversity of opinion and were comfortable expressing themselves. Conservatives as well as Liberals taught in high school and in the academy.

    It was a different age, a different age.

  6. cynthia curran says

    Harry Turtledove!

    • cynthia curran says

      I mean Turtledove, wrote that little novel on Justinian the second. The guy whose noise was removed

  7. cynthia curran says

    Well, Kennedy helped to create Westminster California as Little Saigon. Vietnamese moved there and started lots of small restaurants and stores
    As for Protestant, the Us was more mainline and the mainline was more conservative on the morals then than now The South was really the only evangelical part of the US, but there were a lot of evangelicals in California that caused the evangelicals to spread in the US because of the Hippie Evangelicals of the 1970’s with their modern music. Actually, Catholics were a higher percentage in the Us over 30 percent in 1960. Today, the biggest growth for Catholics is California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Nevada, get the draft.

  8. cynthia curran says

    He was a philanderer of the 9th degree just like Julius Caesar except some gossip that Julius swing both ways.

  9. Daniel E Fall says

    JFK was less than a great man. As a liberal, I have no problem saying so. Not sure what RMR stands for, but he too easily forgets all the Republican adulterers.

    Kennedy was before my time, but the Kennedys would not be popular with Republicans today. They did lots of things that are considered big government now.

    • Tim R. Mortiss says

      Jack Kennedy died 50 years ago. He was murdered too early in his Presidency for all the judgments and rhetoric about him that have piled up over the years to make a lot of sense. He was in his 40s and his mid-first term, for goodness sake! I have three children older than JFK was when he was killed….

      He wasn’t going to be Lincoln or FDR, but he probably would have turned out to be a reasonably good President.
      He had great personal charisma, and women liked him a lot and vice versa.

      His murder was a real tragedy. Why, though, I wonder, do people endlessly project upon him so much, positive and negative, after so many decades?

      All leaders undergo this reflection of what our Lord did: on Palm Sunday, it’s “hosanna in the highest”; on Friday, it’s “crucify him”! The same people who made up the crowd are the ones who make up the mob.

      One thing seems certain: we always, without fail, find somebody or something to blame for whatever it is that “went wrong”.

    • The world lost one of its great minds when you went into Gender Studies. Thank god you have identified the real problem—Republican adulterers. The fact that the hard Left has, in the last 5 years, destroyed every single one of the God-given freedoms you inherited at your birth has, apparently, escaped your notice.

      Try reading the Democrat Party platform of 1960, Dan. It will surprise you.

  10. cynthia curran says

    Anyways, I think Johnson went too far on the great society but he did bring electrically to some parts of Texas that didn’t have it before he was VP. In fact Austin and Houston today would not attract tech firms as much since Austin got electrically in the hill country and Houston got NASA. Believe it or not the Space Program was expensive but it gave a lot of good blue collar jobs in the 1960’s and somewhat into the early 1970’s.

  11. Michael Kinsey says

    A magic bullet killed Kennedy, reported by Arlen Spector, and seconded by Allen Dulles. This is similar to how the laws of conservation of energy, and Newton’s 3rd law of motion didn’t seem to work on 911.It is magic. That the story told at the Memorial of this 50th anniversary of the assignation in Dallas this week. AND , nobody was allowed to speak who disagreed. Remember, St Paul said all lairs, are rejected, and do not enter into the kingdom of Heaven. The insulting, bald faced lying, tempts me to offer all these guys a little ball of dirt and tell them it is candy, then insist they eat it. Authentic Christians never say , yum yum.

  12. cynthia curran says

    I’m not anti-Kennedy as much just going with the observations. Kennedy was able to project pro-American since he also supported the Space Program which is another stimulus for a lot of manufacturing jobs like the Vietnam war. Kennedy and Johnson and less so Reagan later on built up Southern California by supporting heavily spending on the space program and defense Reagan supported mainly defense and Southern Ca was still pumping weapons and commercial planes until the early 1990’s. A good liberal Democrat that wants to help Los Angeles somewhat since lots of those types of jobs went to other states now would pump up the Space Program and it would help Democrats make in-roads into Florida and Texas.

  13. Passing of Mother Taisia says

    Mother Taisia, who was able to fulfill her lifelong dream of becoming tonsured a nun, was laid to rest

    Here is a video of her being tonsured a nun. You might enjoy the whole service. She was ordained by Metropolitan Jonah


    She will be laid to rest by Metropolitan Hilarion today and tomorrow. See Met. Hilarion’s service schedule at Holy Cross parish and details about the panihida in Beltsville, MD here:


  14. Thomas Barker says

    If only we had a president who was able, like the king of Nineveh, to lead our nation to repentance.

    So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them.

    For word came unto the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and he laid his robe from him, and covered him with sackcloth, and sat in ashes.

    And he caused it to be proclaimed and published through Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste any thing: let them not feed, nor drink water:

    But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily unto God: yea, let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands.