Thursday, June 05, 2008
Forty years ago this morning, my sister Linda woke my sister Nancy & I with the news that RFK had been shot. I remember that moment starkly, but after that I went numb. I don’t remember the next day when he died (or was pronounced), I don’t remember much of the days following except for seeing the news photos of people lined along the train route to pay their last respects. I may remember that bit because my parents commented it was similar to when FDR died & people lined the train route then. Oddly, I remember everything about the day JFK was shot, almost 5 years earlier.
RFK was my hero then (I was all of 12) for so many reasons. He said it was wrong for minorities to be forbidden to vote, to be treated as substandard & sub-human; for poor people to be forbidden opportunities to better themselves (maybe not in so many words, but if you didn’t ‘have’, it was damn tough to ‘get’) ; for us to be “bombing a ‘backward’ country back into the Stone Age (someone else’s quote, but it sure fits) & so many of our young men (boys) to be coming home in body bags. He was right on all counts.
As an adult, I’ve tried to get a better perspective of the man, his views & his politics. I’ve read so many times that he was a ruthless SOB to anyone who crossed him or got in his way. However, he did resign from the House Un-American Activities Committee, because he thought that Joe McCarthy was going too far in his zeal to weed out commies (or more like simply to glorify himself as the ultimate patriot). I’ve read his was the level head that kept us out of nuclear war during the “Cuban Missile Crisis” (which I also remember, even though I was only 6). Also that it was his influence that brought the issue of civil rights to the forefront during his brother’s Administration. If only all ruthless SOBs were so humane.
I’ve read that the death of his brother was a turning point in the way he thought & percieved the problems in this country. He felt a moral imperative to change the state of the state & its citizens.
Everything I’ve read about his decision to run for President as well as time leading up to it is described as a moral choice. That his political stands were based on the choice of doing what’s RIGHT, not what’s easy. That his conscience demanded that he try to make changes in this country. I can’t remember the last time I heard any politician discuss morality or conscience (except to say that someone else didn’t have any of either). For all these reasons, he is still my hero as an adult.
There is an excellent article in Vanity Fair magazine this month, taken from a book to be published this month : The Last Campaign: Robert F. Kennedy and 82 Days That Inspired America, by Thurston Clarke.
There are also photos, from another book to be published this month:
A Time It Was: Bobby Kennedy in the Sixties; photographs and text by Bill Eppridge; introduction by Pete Hamill. Both can be viewed online:
There is a quote at the bottom of page 6 that struck me. It struck me that 40 years later, nothing has changed.
“I am concerned—as I believe most Americans are concerned—that the course we are following at the present time is deeply wrong.… I am concerned—as I believe most Americans are concerned—that we are acting as if no other nation existed, against the judgment and desires of neutrals and our historic allies alike.”
Robert F. Kennedy
March 18, 1968.