Friday, November 21, 2008

November 22, 1963

By Alan Caruba

I doubt that most Americans will recall that, forty-five years ago, on November 22, 1963, the President of the United States, John F. Kennedy, was assassinated in Dallas, Texas.

Clearly, part of the reason is that a lot of Americans have been born since then, but the other part of the reason is that, according to a newly released study, most Americans simply have not been successfully taught American history or civics since the 1960s. They have no real knowledge, facts, dates, events, to call upon.

That is no accident. There has been a deliberate effort to “dumb down” Americans to a point where they literally do not know how their government came to be and what its guiding principles, embodied in the U.S. Constitution, permits, proscribes, and limits.

Assassination is the ultimate act of treason. It renders the entire electoral process null and void despite the rule of succession that elevates the vice president to the position of chief executive. Only once in our history, the accession of Theodore Roosevelt to the presidency, has an assassination produced a President of truly great stature.

I recall hearing the news of JFK’s assassination. I was working in Miami at the time, a callow youth of 26, well educated, but lacking any real insight to the event. Two other things happened that day. Lyndon B. Johnson was sworn in as the new President and I quit my job and returned home. Shortly after, I became a journalist.

What would follow in fairly short order would be the assassinations of Robert F. Kennedy while campaigning in Los Angeles against a first full term for Johnson and the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. At that point, the nation was engulfed in the turmoil of the Civil Rights movement and, with the election of Johnson, would find itself mired in the Vietnam War. The streets of Washington, D.C. would fill, time and again, with Americans protesting that war.

Johnson would decide not to run for a second term. The nation would elect Richard M. Nixon twice, only to see him disgrace the office with the Watergate scandal and become the first President to resign.

In a very real way, all of these events began on November 22, 1963.

I was struck by the adulation, the exuberance of the huge crowds that turned out during President-elect Barack Obama’s campaign. It reminded me a great deal of the same response the then-youngest President, John F. Kennedy, engendered. Rumors would circulate after his election that the Chicago machine, led by then-Mayor Richard J. Daley, had stuffed the ballot boxes to ensure his victory.

The reason it is essential to know something of the history of the nation is the ability to draw lessons from it. As popular as JFK was, he quickly blundered into the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961, having won office in 1960. This was redeemed only by the standoff with the Soviets that forced them to withdraw their missiles from Cuba in 1962. A year later, JFK was dead; the victim of what some have said was an extraordinary feat of marksmanship attributed to Lee Harvey Oswald, a leftist malcontent.

The election of Barack Obama has been hailed as historic and, as the first Afro-American President, it surely qualifies, but history has a relentless repetition to it.

I am not suggesting the President Obama will fall to an assassin’s bullet, but I am suggesting that whoever holds the office of President will determine whether America continues to lead the world economically, militarily, culturally, and—yes—physically. If 9/11 was just a taste of what the Islamofascists have in mind for us, we are surely as threatened today as ever in history. Taking a longer view, we need to be mindful of the military buildup in China.

That is why it is essential to pay attention to Obama’s expressed views on homeland security and defense issues. President Ronald Reagan said that there was no evidence in all of human history that a nation was attacked because it was too strong. Even the ancient Romans knew that truth. “Si vis pacem, para bellum.” If you want peace, plan for war.

That’s why, as we commemorate the loss of John F. Kennedy to an assassin’s bullet, we need also to ask why an Arizona Governor, Janet Napolitano, is being considered for Director of Homeland Security. If she could not or would not defend the border of her State with Mexico against illegal aliens and drug smugglers, why should we expect her to do this and more for the entire nation?

President-elect Obama is already on record saying, “I will cut investments in unproven missile defense systems. I will not weaponize space. I will set a goal of a world without nuclear weapons. To seek that goal, I will not develop new nuclear systems.” It can be argued that nuclear weapons have deterred a fourth world war and conflicts between nations that possess them.

Leaving America defenseless or at least greatly weakened in a dangerous world is a suicidal policy.

It is said that Obama sees himself as some kind of national and international “transformative” figure. History will write the final chapter on that.


Doug said...

A small correction, Alan: the youngest US president ever was Teddy Roosevelt. The asterisk next to his name is that he was not *elected* to the office at age 42, as JFK was when he (JFK) was 43.

Alan Caruba said...

Thanks. In between the clunkers, Americans manage from time to time to get lucky with their Presidents.