Monday, November 22, 2010

Missing JFK More Than Ever

He has been gone now longer than he lived. On this day 47 years ago, John F. Kennedy was killed at 44, and November 22nd has been a heartsick day ever since for those who remember.

What we feel this year is more than nostalgia. We miss a president who, after averting nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis, felt the urgency to control those weapons by signing the first Test Ban Treaty with the Soviets, which the Senate ratified by a vote of 80-19 two months later, only weeks before he died (Jon Kyl, take note).

Now, as Republicans play political games to stall a new arms treaty with the Russians to the alarm of American allies and the North Koreans keep playing nuclear chicken, I recall what JFK told me in an interview then:

"(T)hose who are in opposition to these efforts usually are well organized and highly motivated, and they make their voices heard up on the Hill and throughout the country...

"A great mass of the people frequently are not heard or may not be informed, may not understand the arguments, may feel the arguments are too complicated, may be so involved in their own private lives that they don't have time to take an informed interest in world events or in great national issues. Therefore, the field is left to a few participants on both sides."

In another interview with me, he had put it more simply. "Too many people," Kennedy said, "want to blow up the world."

As today's President struggles to find the votes to prevent that, he could do worse than falling back on what JFK said back then: “It is insane that two men, sitting on opposite sides of the world, should be able to decide to bring an end to civilization.”

If he had been spared, John F. Kennedy would be 91 now and certainly saying the same things. With the wisdom of age, he might well repeat what he said then about the brutal and violent instincts of human beings that, in his words, “have been implanted in us growing out of the dust.”

In controlling those destructive impulses, JFK said sadly, “we have done reasonably well——but only reasonably well.“

More than ever, we miss him.

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