Historian Arnold Toynbee, who escaped service in World War I only because he had contracted typhoid fever in Greece before the war began, saw that war kill most of his college contemporaries. Much later, toward the far end of his long life, he wrote that his grief and indignation at the sacrifice of so many million lives had not lessened, but had grown greater, as the years went by. What had been lost grew ever clearer. What had been attained grew ever less. The evil consequences that had followed the useless sacrifice had become ever more plain.
That’s how I feel about the murder of John F. Kennedy.
In the years since his death, his reputation was tarnished by revelations about his sex life, and about his indirect contact with underworld figures, and by revelation about the government’s attempts on the life of Fidel Castro. In addition, what looks like an organized disinformation campaign has spread all manner of rumors about him and his brothers. Even the controversies surrounding various attempts to come to the truth about his assassination have diverted attention from what it was that he actually did, and thought, and said, and wanted to do.
John F. Kennedy gave off the impression of youthful vigor, but the carefully guarded truth was that in all his 46 years, he was never able to count upon normal health in the way that most people can. He was always ill, often critically so. (He received the last rites of his church four times before he was murdered.) It seems likely that he would have died relatively young even had he been allowed a natural death. So it is not because his life was cut short that I still mourn his assassination. As his brother said to his children, “Jack had a wonderful life.”
No, it isn’t so much for him as for the world he was helping to steer toward sanity.
Fifty years have shown how far ahead of public opinion he was, how much more he understood about his times than almost anyone else in a position of power, how much more rational and sane his policies and perspectives were than those which were implemented when he was gone.
After 50 years, I am more than ever overwhelmed by grief at what we lost.