Saturday, November 23, 2013


This weekend is the fiftieth anniversary of death of a president. If you were in grade school or older on November 22 you’ll know who I’m talking about. If you weren’t you’re probably wondering what all the hub bub is about. I’ve never really thought of myself as part of a declining generation before, but that death in Dallas marked the beginning of a series of events that almost defined a generation.

Montgomery, Dallas, Birmingham, Selma, Memphis, Kent State, Watts, Los Angeles, Vietnam. History landed in our living rooms every time we turned on the evening news. The Summer of Love turned into decades of destruction that haunt us like hungry ghosts. Good laws had unintended consequences. The voting rights act allows minorities to vote. Gerrymandering state houses work to make sure they get to vote for as few candidates as possible.

Integrating the suburbs meant that those with money and mobility could leave the cities with their crowded streets and poverty behind. The city became the place where you worked, played, bought drugs and headed home to the house, minivan and 2.5 kids. Safe in gated communities we could ignore the blasted neighborhoods with too few jobs, crumbling schools and damn few local role models. Public spaces are turned into “free speech” zones or strip malls where there’s no “public” space at all.

Vietnam taught the military and the elected hired help two important lessons. Pay somebody else to do the dirty work and keep the media as far away from the action as possible. The mid seventies to the early nineties were years of death, torture and displacement for hundreds of thousands of people living in Central and South America as the US channeled aid, equipment and millions of tax dollars into the pockets of brutal dictators who claimed they were fighting “subversives” and our war on drugs. Turns out the war on drugs was a great way to channel off the books military aid into those countries.

The Great Communicator challenged Gorbachev to “tear down this wall” in Berlin while our proxies were blowing up fields, shanties, tenements and refugees in El Salvador and Guatamala; it almost never made the evening news. It sure as hell didn’t make it into the local papers.

When we finally chose to do our own dirty work in the Middle East the military made damn sure that the correspondents weren’t allowed to go nosing around on their own. And some of the ones who did try ended up being murdered by the extremists on the other side. Now technology makes it possible for a technician in a control room in the continental US to push a button and kill without ever seeing the ones who die. No more Ed Murrows hitching rides on British bombers and filing reports on the missions.

Voters put a Black man in the White House in 2008 and we pretended that this proved we were living in a post racial society while every new day proves that the divides are deeper and deadlier than ever.

Who knows. Maybe this generation has to pass before we can finally heal the divisions and finally make at least part of the dream Jack Kennedy described for us when he took office half a century ago.

1 comment:

JACKIE said...

And I forgot the Police Riot during the Democratic convention in Chicago in 1968. A professor from the U of O was actually one of the Chicago 7. And then there's Watergate. "what did the president know and when did he know it?" Damn fool tried to steal an election he was going to win anyway. Ironic. After all these years no one has tried to rehabilitate Nixon's image. And now that I think about it. Jimmy Carter took a lot of flak for events that started during the Nixon years. Or earlier. Hell think what the world might be like if we'd kept our long noses out of Iran back in the fifties. The Brits talked us into helping them intervene to prevent Iran from nationalizing their oil company and we ended up catching most of the blowback.