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Posts Tagged ‘assassination’

It’s always interesting, from a historical standpoint, to see which current events made it onto my grandfather’s calendars in the 1960s and ’70s — and which ones didn’t.

Woodstock and the Kent State shootings didn’t get a mention. No great surprise, probably. I am sure my grandpa took heed of these events, but they would not have touched him as deeply as they did younger generations.

Actually, I know my grandpa took note of Woodstock, because the box of historic/noteworthy magazines he kept in his house included Life magazine’s special section on Woodstock. I never stopped to wonder why he kept it. Now that I think of it, it seems distinctly out of character. (The rest of the box consisted mostly of anniversary and Year-in-Pictures issues.)

Getting back to the calendars, the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., didn’t receive a mention either. I’m not sure what to conclude from that, or why my grandfather wouldn’t have considered that worth writing down.

I’ve written before, quoting my father’s words, that my grandpa was not a fan of civil disobedience such as Vietnam War protests. I would like to think he recognized the righteousness of Dr. King’s cause, but perhaps he disapproved of his methods. I don’t know.

(In my grandfather’s defense, April 4, 1968, is completely blank on his calendar. No weather, no visit from the water man, no reminder to mail his income tax. Perhaps he was under the weather or otherwise unable to write.)

Another assassination later in that turbulent year did make his calendar, for reasons I am equally challenged to explain:

June 5, 1968.

The blog entry linked above mentions that my grandpa and grandma tended to vote Republican, because “the Democrats always got us into wars (Roosevelt into WWII, Truman into Korea, Kennedy/Johnson into Vietnam).”

So, my grandfather would not have made this calendar entry because felt a close political kinship to Robert F. Kennedy, a Democrat like his brother.

Perhaps he found it worth mentioning on his calendar because he was touched by the tragedy of two assassinations in one American political family within five years of each other.

Or maybe he saw it as the climax of a violent time — a sort of “what next?” after the collective bloodshed of the John F. Kennedy and MLK assassinations, race riots in major cities, and other forms of civil unrest.

Had I been my grandpa’s age in 1968, I suspect I might have seen the RFK assassination that way — as yet another tear in the civil fabric, and another frustrating step on a gradual but apparently unswerving path to lawlessness.

My own generation has had only sporadic glimpses of political violence. I was appalled by the attempt on U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ life in January 2011; and I can remember hearing about the assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan almost thirty years before while riding a school bus home.

There are not many such memories in between. As much as toxic partisanship seems to plague our country today, it has not led to bullets and blood. (If what I’ve read is correct, the shooters of Rep. Giffords and President Reagan were driven more by mental unbalance than by political affiliation.)

Our veneer of political civility may be thinner than we care to admit. But hopefully it will hold through the upcoming Presidential campaign, and for many years beyond.

I hope no American of our years will mark an otherwise ordinary day as the day a lifetime of leadership, dreams and possibilities died.

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A little thematic music.

Sept. 11, 2001, was a beautiful fall day.

We are ten days away from the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks as I type this. (I tend to write these posts well in advance.)

And one of my welter of memories from that week — perhaps the only truly pleasant one — is how gorgeous it was outside in the Boston suburbs, where I was living at the time.

It wasn’t autumnal yet; the weather was still summery, mostly clear and in the 70s, wonderful while everything else was horrible. I remember looking up at the cloudless blue sky and wondering where all the planes were … and then remembering.

My memories are borne out by my copy of the Sept. 11 morning edition of the Boston Globe, which gives a weather forecast in the mid-70s.

(Compare the weather kicker of the Sept. 11 morning paper to the one in the Sept. 12 morning paper. Just one of a billion small evocations of the way things felt on my generation’s date that will live in infamy. It was not a great time for puns, wordplay or levity.)

My grandfather, who died seven months before 9/11, lived through a couple other of modern America’s darker days.

Like this one:

Nov. 22 and 23, 1963.

I have always associated the Kennedy assassination with driving rain. I wasn’t sure why at first. Clearly it wasn’t raining in Dallas; if it had been, the President wouldn’t have been riding in an open-topped car.

No, I think the vibe that’s stuck in my head stems more from the day after — the Sept. 12, as it were.

In “The Glory And The Dream,” his excellent two-volume history of 20th century America, William Manchester describes Nov. 23 as follows: “Saturday was accompanied by drenching rains and high winds in the capital. … The University of Chicago study indicated that the average adult spent ten hours in front of his television set on Saturday.”

Clearly, the weather was much the same in southwestern Connecticut that day.

And my grandfather’s notation, “SUN SETS 4:31,” adds a capping note of meteorological depression to the day.

Makes me think of Americans turning on the TV at 9 a.m. or so … not budging for hours (certainly not to go outside in the driving rain) … and looking up absentmindedly at 4:30 to notice that the day had slipped entirely away from them.

Some snippets of CBS’ coverage from Nov. 23 are online; you can watch clips here and here if you’re so inclined.

In a perfect world in which I had limitless time and money, it would be an interesting exercise to sit down and watch ten hours of news programming from Nov. 23. As Manchester pointed out, there wasn’t much in the way of actual news that day: JFK hadn’t been buried yet, and Lee Harvey Oswald, then in police custody, hadn’t been shot yet.

It’s a matter of course nowadays that breaking TV news coverage consists of roughly two minutes per hour of actual news (if you’re lucky), interspersed with fifty or so minutes of people trying to interpret things they didn’t see or weren’t privy to. I assume the same was true in Walter Cronkite’s day, but I’d be curious to see if they handled the long news-less periods any more smoothly or intelligently than today’s news networks.

In the hours, days and weeks after 9/11, the mass media brought Americans a lot of indelible images — but also a fair amount of crap, as underequipped pundits wrestled with the notion of What It All Meant.

I remember lots of trend stories, for instance, about how Americans were turning back to comfort food in their desire for security. It was not a great time for puns, wordplay or levity; but it was a pretty good time to collect macaroni and cheese recipes.

That seems like as good a place as any to end for the week. No rousing conclusion, but I’m not sure one exists. People are still debating the causes and lasting impacts of the Kennedy assassination, almost 50 years later. I don’t expect that the 10th anniversary of 9/11 will magically bring us any more insight either.

So we leave my grandfather staring at flickering black-and-white images on a rainy day, and me staring at a gorgeous blue New England sky … two average Americans, looking for answers that refuse to show themselves.

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