Tuesday, November 22, 2005

The Anniversary of John F. Kennedy's Assassination

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John Murtha's recent comments on the Iraq war, and his subsequent emergence as a sincere and earnest voice adeptly diagnosing the costs of our military misjudgments has reminded me how far behind we have fallen from the prestige and self-sacrifice of past generations. Where politicians in the 1950's had invariably met the greatest challenge, fighting in real wars, fighting against fascism and totalitarianism, risking their lives and limbs and sons and daughters for the future of the nation... by contrast our small minded, self-serving political representatives today can't sacrifice a tax cut or a pork barrel project to not leave our children in trillions of dollars of debt.

Where John Murtha's generation was consumed by war, our generation is consumed by rhetorical warfare, too busy branding each other extreme in the constant hope of retaining power or regaining it, to be invested in the truth, or humble enough to recognize mistakes like the post war planning, or lack of it, in Iraq.

John F. Kennedy was the man who brought the world back from the brink of self-destruction a year before he was assassinated. When all of his advisors called for the invasion of Cuba, after Soviet missiles were discovered hidden there via Satellite photographs, Kennedy reached out to Soviet Premier Khrushchev and found a different solution, publicly agreeing never to invade Cuba while secretly agreeing to remove ballistic missiles from Turkey within a six month time frame. As a result, the missiles were removed from Cuba by the Soviet Union and a war that would have resulted in a ground battle for Berlin, possibly escalating into nuclear exchanges throughout the world was prevented.

Domestically, John F. Kennedy was the man who transformed civil rights, personally enforcing the 1954 SCOTUS ruling outlawing racial segregation, while proposing the civil rights act that was implemented after he died. He also proposed one of the biggest, and most successful tax cuts in US history, while investing heavily in schools, hospitals, and care for the elderly under the banner of the "New Frontier." One of his first acts as President was to create the Peace Corps to help spread freedom around the world via non-military means.

But, for me what made John F. Kennedy a great President was the eloquence, precision, and timeless, everlasting truth of his words. His Presidency challenged the world to focus upon what we shared when we were at our most divided and fearful:

"For in the final analysis, our most basic common link, is that we all inhabit this small planet, we all breathe the same air, we all cherish our children's futures, and we are all mortal."

So much of what he said is applicable to the world today. To Israel and Palestine, to N. Ireland, to Kashmir and tensions between India and Pakistan, to the growing threat of terrorism around the world and the ever expanding divide between the West and Arab world.... perhaps we should try and always remember this:

"Too many of us think (peace) is impossible. Too many think it is unreal. But that is a dangerous, defeatist belief. It leads to the conclusion that war is inevitable, that mankind is doomed, that we are gripped by forces we cannot control. We need not accept that view. Our problems are manmade; therefore, they can be solved by man. And man can be as big as he wants. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings... World peace, like community peace, does not require that each man love his neighbor, it requires only that they live together in mutual tolerance, submitting their disputes to a just and peaceful settlement. And history teaches us that enmities between nations, as between individuals, do not last forever."

The World, not just the United States, lost a great leader on November 22nd, 1963, and the Democratic Party lost the man whose spirit will continue on in perpetuity defining what its Presidential hopefuls should aspire to.

R.I.P. J.F.K.