There’s An America That Doesn’t Deserve the Myth of Camelot

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Nicholas Branch in his glove-leather armchair is a retired senior analyst of the Central Intelligence Agency, hired on contract to write the secret history of the assassination of President Kennedy. Six point nine seconds of heat and light. Let’s call a meeting to analyze the blur. Let’s devote our lives to understanding this moment, separating the elements of each crowded second. We will build theories that gleam like jade idols, intriguing systems of assumptions, four-faced, graceful. We will follow the bullet trajectories backwards to the lives that occupy the shadows, actual men who moan in their dreams. Elm Street. A woman wonders why she is sitting on the grass, bloodspray all around. Tenth Street. A witness leaves her shoes on the hood of a bleeding policeman’s car. A strangeness, Branch feels, that is almost holy. There is much here that is holy, an aberration in the heartland of the real. Let’s regain our grip on things.–Don DeLillo, Libra (1988)

No one asks where you were anymore on the day Kennedy was shot.  I’m sure there are still people around who remember that tragic day in American history, complete with exactly where they stood and what they were doing when the news broke. As for me, I was a few days shy of being five months old. I’m sure my mom must have told me where we were on that day. Likely, we were at home, in the tiny house next door to my paternal grandmother, on a street two blocks long, somewhere in a part of Corona, California, which is now lost to me forever.  Similarly, Kennedy’s memory has receded into the vanishing point of time, no longer a part of living history, but of the kind of mythologizing and historical critique that regularly occurs as the story of such lives are told and retold, alternately romanticized and criticized, each time evoking an image of America that simultaneously exists in the minds of those who were there, but are now gone, leaving only traces, and those who think they remember, but are actually only recalling the endless stream of images that have become entrenched in our collective memory. Behind it all there lurks the truth of what happened at Dealey Plaza, replete with an America beyond the grassy knoll, where social, political, and economic turmoil was waiting to turn into epic upheaval, rending the nation asunder. America may have been “Camelot” for some, as they recall it wistfully in their reveries; for others, the shots that rang out on November 22, 1963, jarringly awoke people to the real America that throbbed with raging reality behind the Kennedy charm.

[photo credit: David Martínez]

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