I was six when they assassinated John F. Kennedy. It was warm and sunny in Dallas, but I remember the cold and snow in Rochester, NY. We were visiting my grandparents; I was walking with my mother to the grocery store when a guy driving by shouted the news out of his car window: “Did ya hear about the president? He was just shot.” We turned around and raced back to listen to the radio.
For the next few hours, the grown-ups in the big, roomy apartment were distracted, sort of shell-shocked. My grandpa, a solid Republican, never liked Kennedy the politician, and my dad didn’t particularly like Kennedy’s economic policies, but there was no joking about his death, no talk of covert government plots, no political speculation. Just sadness and respect.
The guy was the president. He fought in WWII. He came home and became part of a generation of optimism, just like my parents. Some lunatic had killed him, and that was just awful. “He was a great man,” my father told me later. “He wasn’t a great president, but he was a great man.”
It wasn’t until much, much later that I began to believe that a lot of what we’d been told about the assassination probably wasn’t true. Long before Watergate happened, Nov. 22, 1963, became a defining moment for baby boomers, the first major, world-changing event from which we developed a passionate distrust for the official government line. Today, I don’t think I know a single person my age who actually thinks Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone.
My son, Michael, won’t remember Sept. 11, 2001. He was barely two years old. But I’ll never forget the nervous feeling I got when I dropped him off at day care that morning. And I’ll never forget the realization that from the moment I started hearing news reports, I knew the government was lying to me.
I can’t sort out all of the Kennedy conspiracies and honestly, I don’t know exactly what happened on the day after my parents’ wedding anniversary five years ago. But I know that I will never tell my son that the president was a “great man.” When Michael asks me where I was Sept. 11, 2001, I’ll tell him it was a Tuesday morning and I was at work, writing a column for the next day’s paper that was as critical of the president of the United States as it was of the people who had just killed 3,000 Americans.
This doesn’t make me terribly comfortable.
See, I’m still a public sector kind of guy, someone who believes that for all its problems, democratically elected government is better than private corporatocracy, that for all the corruption, waste, and fraud, it’s still possible to have national health insurance, a progressive national housing policy, sound public education, and a lot of other things that probably wouldn’t have sounded all that weird to the folks who were my age in 1963.
So let me indulge in a truly strange conspiracy theory.
If I were a Bad Guy and I saw the baby boomers with all their energy and idealism and potential and I wanted to be sure that they never became a threat to the total dominance of private capital in America, I would have killed a president, covered it up, gone to war for no good reason, spied on them or their friends — and given an entire generation every reason to see that government was the enemy.
And it would have worked. SFBG