Friday, November 22, 2013

A horrible history

   On April 14, 1865, at Ford’s Theatre during a performance of “Our American Cousin,” President Abraham Lincoln became the first American leader to die at the hands of an assassin. No one then and no one since can know how different the nation would be if John Wilkes Booth had not confused his delusions of grandeur for a noble cause.
    Sadly, in their own sick way, political assassins change the course of history.
    We do not know, for example, whether Lincoln was capable of leading the nation to “… achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.” We only know that that the nation was deprived of his vision in the decades that followed.
    Nearly 100 years later, John Fitzgerald Kennedy became the last president to fall to an assassin’s bullet. The young president embodied a sense of glamour, education, possibility and hope.
    The torch, he said, was passing to a new generation of Americans and that passing was accompanied by the messy, noisy, sometimes uncomfortable days that always come with change. Yet, in a second, the dreams of a nation were shattered.
    No one can be certain what would have happened had John F. Kennedy lived to complete his two terms as president. We might have avoided much of the Cold War and the morass of Vietnam, with its 55,000 U.S. casualties. Civil rights legislation might have passed with Kennedy in the White House instead of Lyndon Johnson. We will never know.
    We only know that 50 years later, the eternal flame still burns at Kennedy’s gravesite in Arlington National Cemetery. Americans who were at least 10 years old on Nov. 22, 1963, know where they were when they heard the terrible news that swept over the country. Those who came of age in the 60s know the terrifying, horrific sense that assassination is a possibility.
    Homeland Security’s motto says if we see something, we should say something in order to keep the country safe. Some of us seem able to see dangers that are not really there, and then of joining the too loud chorus of hard-edged voices that imply that violence is somehow an acceptable means to a political end.
    President Kennedy asked, in his inauguration, that we ask not what our country can do for us, but what we can do for our country. Refusing ever to be part of any conversation that might conceivably incite assassination is one of those things we can do.

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