Sunday, November 22, 2009

Oh, this date

Younger people may well not have this experience but I cannot ever be conscious of today's date without remembering with enormous sadness the day President Kennedy was assassinated.

I was fourteen years old and in the ninth grade. I got the news during geography class. There had been rumors among the students in the hallway between classes; someone had a transistor radio. And then the principal came on the P.A. system and told us that it was true. Not only had the president been shot but that he was dead. I remember sitting there in shock, tears welling up while praying the Kyrie over and over, looking out the window and noticing with amazement that the sun was shining.

Here are two powerful things this great man said that, as you can see, are connected and that we have often forgotten since his death:

The very word "secrecy" is repugnant in a free and open society; and we are as a people inherently and historically opposed to secret societies, to secret oaths and to secret proceedings. We decided long ago that the dangers of excessive and unwarranted concealment of pertinent facts far outweighed the dangers which are cited to justify it. Even today, there is little value in opposing the threat of a closed society by imitating its arbitrary restrictions. Even today, there is little value in insuring the survival of our nation if our traditions do not survive with it. And there is very grave danger that an announced need for increased security will be seized upon by those anxious to expand its meaning to the very limits of official censorship and concealment. That I do not intend to permit to the extent that it is in my control. And no official of my Administration, whether his rank is high or low, civilian or military, should interpret my words here tonight as an excuse to censor the news, to stifle dissent, to cover up our mistakes or to withhold from the press and the public the facts they deserve to know.
If this nation is to be wise as well as strong, if we are to achieve our destiny, then we need more new ideas for more wise men reading more good books in more public libraries. These libraries should be open to all — except the censor. We must know all the facts and hear all the alternatives and listen to all the criticisms. Let us welcome controversial books and controversial authors. For the Bill of Rights is the guardian of our security as well as our liberty.

I can't help but wonder if Kennedy's objection to censorship is part of what got him killed.

I have read recently that certain members of the religious right are actually urging people to pray for President Obama's death by referencing Psalm 109. I wonder if those people were alive when Kennedy was shot. I wonder if they remember how traumatized this nation was. I wonder if they care. How these people can consider themselves Christian is utterly beyond me.


  1. I'll always remember that day, too. I was in 7th grade in Japan, and it was a Saturday morning.

  2. Anonymous4:01 PM

    I was 16; a junior in high school and our principal, too, announced it over the speaker system. Truly unforgettable.

    annie c


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