uploaded : Wednesday 5th Nov 2003 at 13:24
by : William Rivers Pitt
[Editors' Note: We felt this article was of exceptional importance as we reflect on the colossal loss of life in Israel in the eight years since the death of Yitzhak Rabin.]
Tuesday 4 November 2003
by William Rivers Pitt
"Robert Kennedy died last night. Martin Luther King was shot a month ago. And every day my Government gives me a count of corpses created by military science in Vietnam. So it goes."
- Kurt Vonnegut
Benjamin Disraeli, in a speech before the British Parliament, once said, "Assassination has never changed the history of the world." Some terrible decades later, the sentiment was repeated by Robert Kennedy, who commented upon the death of his brother with the Disraelian observation, "Assassins have never changed history." Benjamin and Robert were both wise men. Both were completely wrong in ways difficult to measure. Robert, specifically, was not just wrong, but dead wrong.
Very soon now, newspapers and magazines and television screens will become filled with images of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy. The 40th anniversary of that deadly day in Dallas approaches, and so we will see the Zapruder film again and again, see his head blasted open, see Connolly bellow from the front seat, see Jackie crawl desperately across the trunk of the car to retrieve pieces of her husband's skull.
We will hear, of course, all of the theories that have surrounded his death. It was Oswald, acting alone. It was the Cubans. It was the Mob. It was the CIA. It was all of them together. At the end of it, however, there is a truth that sets the theories aside. The shooting of President Kennedy was Act Two in a five-scene opera of death and ruin that has forever changed the face and nature of this nation and the world. Benjamin Disraeli was wrong. Assassination changed history, and we are the poorer for it.
The first act came in a driveway in Mississippi, on the night of June 12, 1963. Medgar Evers was an African American activist fighting for equal rights for his people in the South. He opened a chapter of the NAACP in the heart of Mississippi, investigated acts of violence against African American citizens, organized boycotts of local merchants who practiced segregation, and brought national attention to the civil rights struggle while fighting to get African American James Meredith admitted to the segregated University of Mississippi. Medgar Evers was shot in the back and died in front of his wife and children on that night in June. He was 37 years old.
The second act took place in Dallas on November 22, 1963. John Kennedy, the youngest President in American history, was shot down in a public execution that remains veiled in mystery to this day. What is no mystery is the aftermath of his death. Kennedy had been committed to extracting the United States from the nascent conflict in Vietnam he had inherited from Eisenhower, and to ending the Cold War by creating a level of cooperation between the superpowers that would have terminated the nature of that struggle. Upon his murder, Lyndon Johnson dramatically stepped up American involvement in Vietnam, unleashing a hurricane that blew away his Presidency, shook this country to its foundations, and added dramatically to the 58,000 names now listed on a black monument in Washington DC. John Kennedy was 46 years old.
The third act unfolded in a Manhattan ballroom on February 21, 1965. Malcolm X, the firebrand Muslim and former member of the controversial Nation of Islam, was never one to go gentle into that good night. As a leader within the civil rights struggle, his theme song was not "We Shall Overcome" but "We Shall Kick Your Ass." After a transformative pilgrimage to Mecca, Malcolm began moving towards a more racially inclusive breed of activism, eschewing his former separatist rhetoric and preaching his message to all races. One week after his home was firebombed, Malcolm X was shot fifteen times while giving a speech. As with Medgar Evers, Malcolm's family was present to witness the slaughter. He was 39 years old.
Act four took place on a balcony in Memphis, Tennessee on April 4, 1968. Martin Luther King, Jr. was by far and away the most prominent, and important, leader in the struggle for African American civil rights. As an organizer, King was gifted. As a public speaker, he was and remains without peer. Arrested over 20 times, assaulted at least four times, his courage in the face of violent racism knew no bounds. King's organizing principle for the movement centered around the non-violent confrontations practiced by Gandhi in India. His work earned him the Nobel Peace Prize; at the time, he was the youngest man ever to receive the honor. Running through his work for civil rights was a larger struggle for social justice across the entire racial spectrum; King was far more of a radical than our children are taught about in school today. He was shot down while preparing to participate in an action with striking garbage workers in Memphis. He was 39 years old.
The final act came on the evening of June 4, 1968, in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. Robert Kennedy, brother and Attorney General to the slain 35th President, had just won the California primary in his own drive for the White House. Kennedy had become a beloved leader for those fighting for civil rights, and against the war in Vietnam. On the night of Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination, Kennedy was speaking to a large crowd in Indianapolis. All across the nation that night, furious riots broke out, killing 43 people and injuring thousands more. Kennedy gave an impromptu speech calling for the reconciliation of the races in the aftermath of King's death, and Indianapolis was quiet that night. On June 4, Robert Kennedy was shot in the back of the head. He died on June 6. His body was carried from California to Massachusetts by rail, and all 3,000 miles of the journey found Americans standing in silent respect by the tracks as his train passed. He was 42 years old.
From June of 1963 to June of 1968, a string of bright lights became forever extinguished. The hopes and prayers and optimism of millions and millions of Americans were poured out in the life blood of these men on the streets of Mississippi, Texas, New York, Tennessee and California. There is no calculating the damage that came because of their absence.
None of these men were even 50 years old when they were killed. All of them would have entered the 1970s, 1980s and even the 1990s as activists, elder statesmen, and spokesmen for the most righteous progressive causes imaginable. Imagine the good Medgar Evers could have done in the civil rights struggles in the South. Imagine the understanding a newly tolerant Malcolm X could have given Americans about the true nature of the Muslim faith. Tremble at the magnificence of what Martin Luther King Jr. could have done with forty or fifty more years to work. Tremble again at the thought of Robert Kennedy given the same opportunity.
What kind of world would this have been had these men lived? Would Ronald Reagan have even bothered to leave Hollywood? Would Richard Nixon and Watergate have happened? Would the rampant ignorance and selfishness that is the standard issue attitude for most Americans today been allowed to flourish as it has? Would George W. Bush be anything more than a thrice-failed oilman in Texas?
No. No and no and no.
The murder of John Fitzgerald Kennedy forty years ago has, beyond question, done more damage to this nation and the world than we can possibly imagine. Though Kennedy was a Cold Warrior for the ages, his commitment to radically changing the nature of that conflict would have saved us vast amounts of grief. His committment to reverse America's course in Vietnam and remove all troops by December 31, 1965 would likewise have avoided the spilling of rivers of blood and tears. Imagine a world where those 58,000 Americans had also been allowed to live out the fullness of their days. Imagine what they, too, could have accomplished.
An end to the Cold War would have allowed us to avoid spending trillions of dollars on a suicidal nuclear proliferation that has left the planet littered with the deadliest of weapons. What other good could that money and ingenuity have been put to?
An end to the Cold War would have meant that the United States would not have armed, funded and trained Osama bin Laden and his cadre of extremist warriors in our proxy war against the Soviets in Afghanistan. The two soaring Towers in New York City, not even conceived when Kennedy was cut down, would still be standing today.
An end to the Cold War would have meant that the United States would not have armed, funded, given aid and intelligence to Saddam Hussein in Iraq, as we would have had no need to fashion that dictator into a counterweight against Soviet actions in Iran. There would have been no second, nor even a first, Gulf War.
The trajectory of the bullets that tore through John Kennedy did not stop, but arced through time and space to cut down Paul Velasquez, Algernon Adams, Michael Barrera, Isaac Campoy, Aubrey Bell, Jonathan Falaniko, Steven Acosta, Rachel Bosveld, Charles Buehring, Joseph Guerrera, Jamie Huggins, Artimus Brassfield, Michael Hancock, Jose Mora, John Teal, John Johnson, Jason Ward, Paul Bueche, Paul Johnson, David Bernstein, John Hart, Michael Williams, Joseph Bellavia, Sean Grilley, Kim Orlando, Jose Casanova, Benjamin Freeman, Douglas Weismantle, Donald Wheeler, Stephen Wyatt, James Powell, Joseph Norquist, Sean Silva, Christopher Swisher, Spencer Karol, Kerry Scott, Richard Torres, James Pirtle, Charles Sims, James Blankenbecler, Analaura Gutierrez, and Simeon Hunte.
These are the names of the American men and women who died in the month of October in Iraq. Added to this list are nearly 400 more names, now including nearly 20 more who died on Sunday when their helicopter was blasted out of the sky. Like Medgar, like John, like Malcolm, like Martin, and like Robert, none of these men and women were above the age of 50. Most were hardly into their 20s.
What great or simple good could they have done in this world? What great or simple good could have been done by the Iraqi civilians and Iraqi soldiers killed in this conflict, and the last conflict? What great or simple good could the millions of Vietnamese, Cambodian and Laotian civilians killed in that conflict have done? What great or simple good could have been done by the thousands of Afghan civilians killed in our Cold War proxy fight, and in our more recent conflict there? What great or simple good could have been done by the thousands of American civilians and soldiers slaughtered on September 11?
We are forty years gone from answers we will never know. The assassins stole from us all, and God help us because of it.
William Rivers Pitt is the Managing Editor of truthout.org. He is a New York Times and international best-selling author of three books - "War On Iraq," available from Context Books, "The Greatest Sedition is Silence," available from Pluto Press, and "Our Flag, Too: The Paradox of Patriotism," available in August from Context Books.
? Copyright 2003 by TruthOut.org