JFK at 50: a ceremony not sad enough

Dealey Plaza 50 years later: under control.

The tightly controlled commemoration of the 50th anniversary of JFK’s death in Dealey Plaza proved more a salve for the wounded civic spirit of Dallas than celebration of the life and legacy of President Kennedy.

A ticketed crowd of 5,000 people gathered on a bitterly cold day, while Dallas police officers kept passersby, the curious, and the unticketed at bay. There was no vantage on the event that was not controlled by city authorities. The admirers of JFK who have gathered on this spot every Nov. 22 for decades were nowhere to be seen.

Message discipline

The ceremony grounds had been artfully constructed so the cameras from around the world captured Dallas’s skyline. The Texas Schoolbook Depository from which gunfire issued 50 years ago was usually just outside the cameras’ range. Ditto for the grassy knoll from which dozens of people thought another gunshot originated.

Inside the security perimeter, message discipline was strict. As I walked up the stairs to the grassy knoll, the cops were shooing away cameramen who wanted to capture the ceremony from the perch. “You can’t stay here,” said the cops.”Move along.”

For the commemoration of a tragedy few tears were shed. The most affecting part of the ceremony came before it began when the Jumbotron screen showed technicolor highlights of JFK’s family and his friends, his appearances in Berlin and Ireland. The color guard and the chorus that followed were pleasant and ordinary. Mercifully, a flyover of jets was cancelled because of the weather.

Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings gave an honest speech, acknowledging that Dallas in 1963 was a city filled with hate that didn’t tolerate the expression of liberal points of views. He spoke of the strides Dallas had made, and anybody who has spent time in the city could not disagree. This is not a city of legal segregation and political venom as it was in 1963. That’s good news for Dallas but it relevance to the purpose of the ceremony — celebrating JFK — was obscure, if not odd. Is the message of JFK’s death that right-wing extremism should be discredited? Maybe.

After a moment of silence, historian David McCullough took the podium to praise Kennedy and to recite from some of his less inspiring speeches, including one about landing on the moon. Nothing from his call for passage of the Civil Rights Act or his American University speech on peace, and perhaps understandably so.

Such liberal sentiments might have served to remind the audience and the world that such policies were exactly why JFK was hated here. By his omission, McCullough managed to remind the world that JFK was, in many respects, a conventional politician who could brighten up platitudes but not always transcend them.

Why here?

All of which raised the question, why have this ceremony here? Why now?

We do not honor the life and legacy of  Martin Luther King on the balcony of a Memphis motel on April 4? We do not celebrate Abraham Lincoln in Ford’s Theater on April 15? We celebrate their birthdays, not their place of violent death, and we celebrate them everywhere.

It was hard to avoid the conclusion that the purpose of the ceremony was to prevent others from using the place and the occasion to express disbelief about the official theory of what happened here. The ceremony’s blandness was born in the contradiction between the reality of JFK’s death in this spot and the denial of that reality 50 years later. The event  was neither inspiring nor cathartic, and that was the saddest thing about a day that was not sad enough.

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19 comments

  1. leslie sharp says:

    Watching the live stream, we had a very similar reaction. We thought that the bag pipes version of The Wearing of the Green was the single most moving moment; otherwise, the ceremony was clearly perfunctory from this vantage point, and saddest of all was a lost opportunity to inspire a catharsis on a national scale.

  2. Fearfaxer says:

    “It was hard to avoid the conclusion that the purpose of the ceremony was to prevent others from using the place and the occasion to express disbelief about the official theory of what happened here. The ceremony’s blandness was born in the contradiction between the reality of JFK’s death in this spot and the denial of that reality 50 years later. The event was neither inspiring nor cathartic, and that was the saddest thing about a day that not sad enough.”

    Beautifully put.

  3. G. Albert says:

    Having had an opportunity to see the ceremony via TV, I agree with many of your comments… Even the fine historian, David McCullough, let us down… He did not bring anything forward from JFK’s American University speech on peace- which was very disappointing… Given that he is a good historian, I have to believe he is aware of the speech and more importantly its significance… [It would be an interesting side-story just to find out why Mr. McCullough chose the speeches (or segments of speeches) he ended up with]…

    By the way, started out watching the ceremony on CNN until Gerald Posner showed up on the screen (I will be kind and say nothing more)… At least, after switching to Fox News, Mr. Morley’s work regarding disclosure of CIA files was given mention…

  4. Dan says:

    One of the cable networks ran video this afternoon of Jim Garrison on TV in 1967 telling the American people that their government was withholding information from them about the assassination of their President. Unfortunately that statement is still true in 2013 as the government is withholding thousands of pages of classified CIA documents and redactions from released records in the National Archives. To me that is the true meaning of “the 50th”.

  5. John Kirsch says:

    Re: the last part of the post,”It was hard to avoid the conclusion that the purpose of the ceremony was to prevent others from using the place and the occasion to express disbelief about the official theory of what happened here.” That section and an earlier passage where you talked about how the police shooed people along — both of those passages reminded me of how the police succeeded in removing the Occupy encampments. The members of the Occupy movement had some very tough questions to ask, just like those who question the Official Story on 11/22 and in both cases, the police have made sure that people with pesky questions don’t get the chance to raise them.

  6. Paul Pena says:

    Good article. It is just such an insult to the intelligence of every American this “single shooter theory”. Even a cursory look at the facts should make one realize how ridiculous the theory is. From the super bullet theory which sounds like something out of a science fiction movie to the denial of evidence from some of the best acoustic physicists on earth to the Zapruder film which clearly shows a frontal head shot to the 90 second round trip Oswald would have had to have made to execute the assassination. I do hope the Gov’t comes clean about this at some point or just admit they have no idea who the shooters were.

  7. Ronnie Wayne says:

    I try to take solace in my belief that JFK’s last few moments were happy ones. An unexpectedly huge crowd of 90% plus smiling faces cheering in a place he may have expected a more hostile reception. He was not spat upon as LBJ in 60. A few derogatory signs along the way but no organized protests. Probably the last words he heard from Mrs. Connally’s “you can’t say Dallas doesn’t love you Mr. President”.
    The working people of Dallas obviously did.
    Working there for nine years I remember mostly friendly, honest, courteous (maybe not some when driving)people who didn’t seem to support the idea of politics by Assassination.
    Then again this was not in 63′ and I never hung around the Petroleum Club (Hunt, Murchison, Byrd, Bush, etc.), the Bankers, corrupt Cop’s or any of the few CIA funded anti Castro Cubans.
    Rest in Peace Mr. President.

  8. William Kane says:

    “50 years! We’re almost all gone There’ll never be this much attention paid to JFK, Dallas and all ever again. We did it!”

    Yeah right. We’ll see about that.

  9. mitchum22 says:

    Beautiful article. Thank you.

    I couldn’t believe what I was seeing on TV. All we saw was droning speakers against a backdrop of — as always these days in our military/police state — people in military uniforms, navy uniforms in some peculiar tribute, I supoose, to JFK’s WWII experience. Perhaps the ghost of Kennedy-hater and Chief of Naval operations Arleigh Burke was floating above Dealey Plaza, chortling.

    But was it Dealey Plaza? We saw nothing of the atmosphere or the location. It may as well have been held at Yankee Stadium or the local shopping mall.

    A shameful occassion, particularly in light of who and what was kept out.

    • Photon says:

      You must truly be ignorant about ADM Arleigh Burke, one of the finest men this country has ever produced, an excellent sailor, officer,leader and innovator. He was so exceptional that he was leapfrogged over dozens of more senior admirals and promoted from Rear Admiral directly to Admiral to assume CNO duties, without ever having a third star.
      As he retired in 1961 I don’t see how his personal opinions of JFK, no matter how you misrepresent them, are germane to this discussion.

      • Samuel Gion says:

        Photon,
        I totally agree with you. In the late 50′s, Adm. Burke tried to promote his views on nuclear war : that USA should achieve limited deterrence, via a reliable second-strike capability from submarines. He lost to the USAF, it’s “overkill” and first-strike capability goals, wich made the arm race more costly and far more dangerous. Would his ideas have prevailed, we’d live in a safer world, such as if JFK had lived.
        Mitchum22 :
        May be you’re mistaking Burke for Adm. Anderson, who certainly was more trigger-happy, and would have agreed with Gen. LeMay to start WW3 during the Cuban missile crisis ?

        • mitchum22 says:

          No, I mean Arleigh Burke.

          As the April 1961 Bay of Pigs fiasco unfolded:

          KENNEDY: I don’t want the United States involved in this.

          ADMIRAL ARLEIGH BURKE: Hell, Mr. President, we are involved. Can we send in a few Navy jets?

          KENNEDY: No, because they could be identified as United States planes.

          BURKE: We can paint out their numbers.

          KENNEDY: No.

          BURKE: Can we get something in there? Anything?

          KENNEDY: No.

          BURKE: If you let me have two destroyers, we’ll give gunfire support and we can hold the beachhead with two ships forever.

          KENNEDY: No.

          BURKE: One destroyer, Mr. President?

          KENNEDY: No.

          NO.

          The point of the original post was not about Burke, but about the militarizing of everything in this dear sweet land, including the tribute to a man taken out, at least in part, by his own military.

      • leslie sharp says:

        Other than facts that include but are not limited to: Admiral Burke continued a private career in the military industrial complex along side men like General George Olmsted of Equity Corp/Bell Helicopter (along side Dallas banker Pearson Beverly Garrett whose colleagues include many who were named as capable of backing an assassination in the earliest days) and immediately assumed a position on the board of Texas Co./Texaco Oil Co., serving at the time that John Tilton’s son Glenn was hired for what became a thirty year career there. (was Glenn in LaPaz with his father in 1967?) Ret. Admiral Burke was involved with Olmsted (whose offices were at 1701 PA Ave., HQ for CREEP in 1972/3 and an early member of the foreign policy/military think-tank CSIS) as he built a financial empire, a division of which was taken over by outlaw Bank of Credit and Commerce. From there, the disasters of US foreign policy included Iran Contra and the first Iraq war, and from there we can trace a trajectory to today in terms of accelerated military imperialism including the use of drones (Bell Heli, a major beneficiary of the Vietnam War, morphed into one of the earliest developers of the unmanned aerial vehicles.) Suffice to say, Admiral Burke left an imprint long after he retired.

        What can be read into this dot connecting is corporate profit, abuse of military might, and semi-private control over foreign policy of the United States of America in the decades since the assassination of our president in 1963. More succinctly stated, a cabal. The dots do not prove that any of these people were directly involved in this assassination, but they do suggest that they had the might to discover who was and chose not to. After all, this was a Commander in Chief who was murdered. Had a Commander fallen on the battlefield, are we to believe that military leaders would not have moved heaven and earth to determine if a plot existed?

  10. The History Channel’s replay of tapes from 50 years ago was the best. They followed the story in the early hours – then added additional material on related events, MLK, Bobby Kennedy & moments from civil rights strife. All done with brief, mostly explainatory talk-over. The pictures spoke for themselves.

  11. John Kirsch says:

    At the risk of making too broad a statement, I would say that the refusal of the governing elite in Dallas to come to terms with 11/22 and to allow a free, open discussion and event to mark the 50 years since 11/22 — that refusal is of a piece with the traditional Southern refusal to confront the past. That is regrettable and damaging to the South, a region that includes Texas, despite Texans’ strenuous PR efforts to market the state as part of the West. Texas was a slave state and part of the Confederacy, therefore Texas is part of the South.
    It isn’t hard to see why Southerners in general and Texans in general refuse to face the truth about their past, because their past (and present, too) is one that is very dark, filled with violence and injustice where men believe that society has licensed them to commit violence. So the powers that be in Dallas staged a pseudo-event to slide by a black mark against their city, once called a city of hate.
    Evasion and denial are very Southern traits.

  12. Total control was not achieved today, at Dealey Plaza. The trick was for the audience member to have a) citizen’s awareness and b) situa-
    tional awareness, swiveling the head around just a bit, and seeing/hearing Alex Jones’ Infowars presence there. Check this YouTube for video evidence of thug members’ of the Dallas County Sheriff’s Department attacking Alex Jones and Vivian Kubrick (daughter of the late Stanley Kubrick): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GqvvSqaeqA8

  13. Samuel Gion says:

    Great & sad piece.
    I’m fed up with JFK’s 1962 speech “we want to go the moon”.
    There are many evidences of him turning from cold-warrior to peace seaker : maybe the strongest one is his september 1963 UN speech, his proposal for a joint USA-USSR lunar mission.
    When asked how different the world would be, if JFK had lived, I’m inclined to answer : the first two men on the moon would have been an american and a soviet, and they would have planted the UN flag on the Moon.

  14. ….Outstanding Jeff…. Specifically agree 100% with, “All of which raised the question, why have this ceremony here? Why now?

    We do not honor the life and legacy of Martin Luther King on the balcony of a Memphis motel on April 4? We do not celebrate Abraham Lincoln in Ford’s Theater on April 15? We celebrate their birthdays, not their place of violent death, and we celebrate them everywhere.

    It was hard to avoid the conclusion that the purpose of the ceremony was to prevent others from using the place and the occasion to express disbelief about the official theory of what happened here. The ceremony’s blandness was born in the contradiction between the reality of JFK’s death in this spot and the denial of that reality 50 years later. The event was neither inspiring nor cathartic, and that was the saddest thing about a day that was not sad enough.”

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