For a long time, I believed 9-11 was the worst thing that ever
It was awful. Nearly 3,000 people killed and so many families left grief-stricken.
And 9-11 set the
stage for the brutal (and in one case misguided) wars that followed, in
But in the
last few weeks, I've changed my mind.
When I saw the 50th anniversary shows on John F. Kennedy's
assassination, and saw the old footage, it all came back. As bad as 9-11 was, I
don't think anything shook this country as much as the death of President
I've heard phrases thrown around recently to describe the meaning of that day: "The day we lost our innocence," and another, (the title of a blog by Ira Chernus) "The day truth died." These are both right. It was such a shattering event.
Maybe it's because I was a naive 16-year-old in private school when this happened. Very idealistic, and, like a lot of people my age at the time, a great fan of JFK. Here was this dashing young president who was bright, witty and inspiring. He seemed to say and do all the right things: urging young people to get involved helping their country and the world with efforts like the Peace Corps; working to promote the movement for integration; backing legislation that would eventually become Medicare; signing the nuclear test ban treaty; supporting the space program and sending men into space.
In those days, we
were in a Cold War with
And he came to be president at a time when the country was booming economically and was the most admired country in the world. Our standard of living was tops and there were plenty of jobs --- particularly manufacturing jobs.
It seemed like
It was in that cocoon of innocence that I returned from lunch on Nov. 22, set to go to another class, when I overheard someone say, "Kennedy was shot.' Stunned, I rushed over to a building where older students socialized and were allowed to smoke. I lit up a cigarette and listened to a radio blaring the news. Minutes later, there was silence. Then a somber voice announced, "The president is dead.' The Star Spangled Banner began playing. I couldn't believe it. Just total disbelief. But I was also pissed. I threw down my cigarette, stomped on it and left. I didn't want to talk with anyone.
The next several
days, I was glum and kept to myself. I missed the 24-7 television coverage,
missed Oswald getting shot, missed new President Lyndon Johnson's announcements
and much of Kennedy's funeral. How could this happen here? The
I was able to get
over it in part because I was reassured by Johnson's statements and actions. He
pledged to follow the Kennedy program, particularly with civil rights. When the
following fall came around, Johnson seemed downright saintly compared to the
crackpot Republican candidate for president that year, Barry Goldwater, who had
talked about dropping an atomic bomb on Vietnam! Johnson, meanwhile, said he would not send
But within months,
it was clear Johnson was lying. In early '65,
And during the
After Johnson, we got the corruption of Richard Nixon and Watergate. A few years later, the downward curve continued with the coming of Ronald Reagan, and his backwards notion that "government is the problem." Reagan began the process of chipping away at the safety net and the New Deal, and undermining unions --- more trends we're still dealing with today.
More recently we've
had George W. Bush and his disastrous war on