Friday, November 22, 2013

The slaying of JFK–fifty years on

My school friend David Carter contracted polio when very young. At our boarding school he played a very full part in most things despite the handicap of having one callipered leg and having to get around the school in a wheelchair. Within a few days of our first term together as new boys in 1959 I and the others in David’s house had pretty much forgotten his disability. It wasn’t a big deal. We competed with one another to push him around and tried to break speed records from our House to the Dining Room just around the Quadrangle and past the Chapel.

On 22nd November 1963 I was sitting in my study with friends when I heard this commotion in the distance, then the unmistakeable sound of David moving at speed in my direction his gammy leg banging hard on the floor as he limped along. “Guys, guys” he shouted as he charged down the corridor “Guys, Kennedy’s been shot.” In my study I had a large, ancient but rather good radio set – it was tuned in as always to one of the pirate radio stations that were prevalent at that time. We spun the dial to try and get more news and latched on to the “American Forces Network” (AFN) which had a strong signal as there were many US Forces bases near us in Cambridge. For the next hour we sat silent as the news came in – made all the more poignant by the American accents of the reporters.

It’s a cliché, I know, to remember where you were when Kennedy was shot. For me it will always be associated with David’s noisy approach and that increasingly dreadful news coming from the American radio station. The following day was my 17th birthday and there was a school outing to London that I was to take part in. We were all somewhat subdued when we borded the bus having seen the newspapers with their terrible story. In London I phoned home using the cheaper local rates and my Mother wished me a Happy Birthday. Neither of us said a word about Kennedy – I think that it was just too difficult to find words…

John Kennedy was President for just 1000 days. He was work in progress. In 1962 he had saved the world form oblivion by fronting up to Nikita Khrushchev during the Cuban Missile Crisis. He had also moved Western governance firmly into the 20th Century – he was the first US President to have been born in that century. He was younger than my father! He was modern, articulate and for a seventeen year old he had a charisma (although I doubt I knew that word at the time!) so absent from the stuffy old Victorian suits who ran Britain!

Would Kennedy have been a great President if he had been allowed a second term in 1964? Above all would he have avoided American involvement in the Vietnam War – that vile conflict which lasted through my student years later in the decade? Well the Jury is out on that one – my view is that JFK, advised by his more liberal brother Robert Kennedy, would have limited America’s involvement, would have had the good sense to see what was happening and would have avoided the obscene escalation that destroyed his successor’s presidency, alienated my generation and eventually gave us Richard Nixon. But – who really know?


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home