By William Rivers 0aPitt
t r u t h o u t | Perspective
Tuesday 4 November 2003
"Robert Kennedy died last night. Martin Luther King was shot a month 0aago. And every day my Government gives me a count of corpses created by military 0ascience in Vietnam. So it goes."
- Kurt Vonnegut
Benjamin Disraeli, in a speech before the British Parliament, 0aonce said, "Assassination has never changed the history of the world." Some 0aterrible decades later, the sentiment was repeated by Robert Kennedy, who 0acommented upon the death of his brother with the Disraelian observation, "Assassins have never changed history." Benjamin and Robert were both wise men. 0aBoth were completely wrong in ways difficult to measure. Robert, specifically, 0awas not just wrong, but dead wrong.
Very soon now, newspapers and magazines and television screens 0awill become filled with images of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy. The 40th 0aanniversary of that deadly day in Dallas approaches, and so we will see the 0aZapruder film again and again, see his head blasted open, see Connolly bellow 0afrom the front seat, see Jackie crawl desperately across the trunk of the car to 0aretrieve pieces of her husband's skull.
We will hear, of course, all of the theories that have surrounded 0ahis death. It was Oswald, acting alone. It was the Cubans. It was the Mob. It 0awas the CIA. It was all of them together. At the end of it, however, there is a 0atruth that sets the theories aside. The shooting of President Kennedy was Act 0aTwo in a five-scene opera of death and ruin that has forever changed the face 0aand nature of this nation and the world. Benjamin Disraeli was wrong. 0aAssassination changed history, and we are the poorer for it.
The first act came in a driveway in Mississippi, on the night of 0aJune 12, 1963. Medgar Evers was an African American activist fighting for equal 0arights for his people in the South. He opened a chapter of the NAACP in the 0aheart of Mississippi, investigated acts of violence against African American 0acitizens, organized boycotts of local merchants who practiced segregation, and 0abrought national attention to the civil rights struggle while fighting to get 0aAfrican American James Meredith admitted to the segregated University of 0aMississippi. Medgar Evers was shot in the back and died in front of his wife and 0achildren on that night in June. He was 37 years old.
The second act took place in Dallas on November 22, 1963. John 0aKennedy, the youngest President in American history, was shot down in a public 0aexecution that remains veiled in mystery to this day. What is no mystery is the 0aaftermath of his death. Kennedy had been committed to extracting the United 0aStates from the nascent conflict in Vietnam he had inherited from Eisenhower, 0aand to ending the Cold War by creating a level of cooperation between the 0asuperpowers that would have terminated the nature of that struggle. Upon his 0amurder, Lyndon Johnson dramatically stepped up American involvement in Vietnam, 0aunleashing a hurricane that blew away his Presidency, shook this country to its 0afoundations, and added dramatically to the 58,000 names now listed on a black 0amonument in Washington DC. John Kennedy was 46 years old.
The third act unfolded in a Manhattan ballroom on February 21, 0a1965. Malcolm X, the firebrand Muslim and former member of the controversial 0aNation of Islam, was never one to go gentle into that good night. As a leader 0awithin the civil rights struggle, his theme song was not "We Shall Overcome" but "We Shall Kick Your Ass." After a transformative pilgrimage to Mecca, Malcolm 0abegan moving towards a more racially inclusive breed of activism, eschewing his 0aformer separatist rhetoric and preaching his message to all races. One week 0aafter his home was firebombed, Malcolm X was shot fifteen times while giving a 0aspeech. As with Medgar Evers, Malcolm's family was present to witness the 0aslaughter. He was 39 years old.
Act four took place on a balcony in Memphis, Tennessee on April 0a4, 1968. Martin Luther King, Jr. was by far and away the most prominent, and 0aimportant, leader in the struggle for African American civil rights. As an 0aorganizer, King was gifted. As a public speaker, he was and remains without 0apeer. Arrested over 20 times, assaulted at least four times, his courage in the 0aface of violent racism knew no bounds. King's organizing principle for the 0amovement centered around the non-violent confrontations practiced by Gandhi in 0aIndia. His work earned him the Nobel Peace Prize; at the time, he was the 0ayoungest man ever to receive the honor. Running through his work for civil 0arights was a larger struggle for social justice across the entire racial 0aspectrum; King was far more of a radical than our children are taught about in 0aschool today. He was shot down while preparing to participate in an action with 0astriking garbage workers in Memphis. He was 39 years old.
The final act came on the evening of June 4, 1968, in the kitchen 0aof the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. Robert Kennedy, brother and Attorney 0aGeneral to the slain 35th President, had just won the California primary in his 0aown drive for the White House. Kennedy had become a beloved leader for those 0afighting for civil rights, and against the war in Vietnam. On the night of 0aMartin Luther King Jr.'s assassination, Kennedy was speaking to a large crowd in 0aIndianapolis. All across the nation that night, furious riots broke out, killing 0a43 people and injuring thousands more. Kennedy gave an impromptu speech calling 0afor the reconciliation of the races in the aftermath of King's death, and 0aIndianapolis was quiet that night. On June 4, Robert Kennedy was shot in the 0aback of the head. He died on June 6. His body was carried from California to 0aMassachusetts by rail, and all 3,000 miles of the journey found Americans 0astanding in silent respect by the tracks as his train passed. He was 42 years 0aold.
From June of 1963 to June of 1968, a string of bright lights 0abecame forever extinguished. The hopes and prayers and optimism of millions and 0amillions of Americans were poured out in the life blood of these men on the 0astreets of Mississippi, Texas, New York, Tennessee and California. There is no 0acalculating the damage that came because of their absence.
None of these men were even 50 years old when they were killed. 0aAll of them would have entered the 1970s, 1980s and even the 1990s as activists, 0aelder statesmen, and spokesmen for the most righteous progressive causes 0aimaginable. Imagine the good Medgar Evers could have done in the civil rights 0astruggles in the South. Imagine the understanding a newly tolerant Malcolm X 0acould have given Americans about the true nature of the Muslim faith. Tremble at 0athe magnificence of what Martin Luther King Jr. could have done with forty or 0afifty more years to work. Tremble again at the thought of Robert Kennedy given 0athe same opportunity.
What kind of world would this have been had these men lived? 0aWould Ronald Reagan have even bothered to leave Hollywood? Would Richard Nixon 0aand Watergate have happened? Would the rampant ignorance and selfishness that is 0athe standard issue attitude for most Americans today been allowed to flourish as 0ait has? Would George W. Bush be anything more than a thrice-failed oilman in 0aTexas?
No. No and no and no.
The murder of John Fitzgerald Kennedy forty years ago has, beyond 0aquestion, done more damage to this nation and the world than we can 0apossibly imagine. Though Kennedy was a Cold Warrior for the ages, his 0acommitment to radically changing the nature of that conflict would have 0asaved us vast amounts of grief. His committment to reverse America's 0acourse in Vietnam and remove all troops by December 31, 1965 would 0alikewise have avoided the spilling of rivers of blood and tears. Imagine 0aa world where those 58,000 Americans had also been allowed to live out the 0afullness of their days. Imagine what they, too, could have accomplished.
An end to the Cold War would have allowed us to avoid spending 0atrillions of dollars on a suicidal nuclear proliferation that has left the 0aplanet littered with the deadliest of weapons. What other good could that money 0aand ingenuity have been put to?
An end to the Cold War would have meant that the United States 0awould not have armed, funded and trained Osama bin Laden and his cadre of 0aextremist warriors in our proxy war against the Soviets in Afghanistan. The two 0asoaring Towers in New York City, not even conceived when Kennedy was cut down, 0awould still be standing today.
An end to the Cold War would have meant that the United States 0awould not have armed, funded, given aid and intelligence to Saddam Hussein in 0aIraq, as we would have had no need to fashion that dictator into a counterweight 0aagainst Soviet actions in Iran. There would have been no second, nor even a 0afirst, Gulf War.
The trajectory of the bullets that tore through John Kennedy did 0anot stop, but arced through time and space to cut down Paul Velasquez, Algernon 0aAdams, Michael Barrera, Isaac Campoy, Aubrey Bell, Jonathan Falaniko, Steven 0aAcosta, Rachel Bosveld, Charles Buehring, Joseph Guerrera, Jamie Huggins, 0aArtimus Brassfield, Michael Hancock, Jose Mora, John Teal, John Johnson, Jason 0aWard, Paul Bueche, Paul Johnson, David Bernstein, John Hart, Michael Williams, 0aJoseph Bellavia, Sean Grilley, Kim Orlando, Jose Casanova, Benjamin Freeman, 0aDouglas Weismantle, Donald Wheeler, Stephen Wyatt, James Powell, Joseph 0aNorquist, Sean Silva, Christopher Swisher, Spencer Karol, Kerry Scott, Richard 0aTorres, James Pirtle, Charles Sims, James Blankenbecler, Analaura Gutierrez, and 0aSimeon Hunte.
These are the names of the American men and women who died in the 0amonth of October in Iraq. Added to this list are nearly 400 more names, now 0aincluding nearly 20 more who died on Sunday when their helicopter was blasted 0aout of the sky. Like Medgar, like John, like Malcolm, like Martin, and like 0aRobert, none of these men and women were above the age of 50. Most were hardly 0ainto their 20s.
What great or simple good could they have done in this world? 0aWhat great or simple good could have been done by the Iraqi civilians and Iraqi 0asoldiers killed in this conflict, and the last conflict? What great or simple 0agood could the millions of Vietnamese, Cambodian and Laotian civilians killed in 0athat conflict have done? What great or simple good could have been done by the 0athousands of Afghan civilians killed in our Cold War proxy fight, and in our 0amore recent conflict there? What great or simple good could have been done by 0athe thousands of American civilians and soldiers slaughtered on September 0a11?
We are forty years gone from answers we will never know. The 0aassassins stole from us all, and God help us because of it.
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