We have to claim Napoleon to a certain degree around our neighborhood, because if he had not been such a basket case, the United States would have never made the greatest real estate deal in history when Napoleon sold us the Louisiana Purchase – which, of course, is the ground we walk on.
Napoleon was no saint, and he was no hero – at least in the high sense – but he did fulfill an earthly career, at any rate. His life went the full trajectory. One could study the line of it and know, for better or worse, what the man was, and did, and could do. He inhabited his life. He completed it. He passed through it to the end of its possibilities.
I am not trying to compare Napoleon to Kennedy, but if you can remember 1963, then you no doubt remember exactly where you were and what you doing when you heard the news that John Kennedy had been assassinated. Remember the photo of little John-John saluting his father the day of the funeral
John F. Kennedy’s bright trajectory as president ended in mid-passage, severed in the glaring Friday mid-day light in Dallas, on November 22, 1963. We will never know just what he may have accomplished. His history abruptly ended and after the shock had begun to pass, the myth-making begun – the mind haunting by the hypothetical, by what might have been. The myth overwhelmed conventional judgment and still does till this day. At an extraordinary auction of the possessions of Kennedy’s late wife, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, in New York back in 1996, a bidding frenzy for a cigar humidor, valued before the sale at $2,500, went for $547,500. The buyers thought they were buying a piece of history. But were probably just purchasing a piece of Kennedy mythology.
John F. Kennedy’s presence in the national memory remains powerful, out of proportion to his accomplishments. The truth is he was not president long enough to be judged by the customary standards.
Kennedy did have his obvious achievements. Merely by arriving in the White House as a Roman Catholic, for instance, and being the youngest person elected president in history with a glamorous, young, beautiful wife and two young children, he brought youthfulness and a refreshing idealism to the nation. He presided over a change of political generations in America, and did so with class. He refreshed the country with a conviction that the world could be changed. Yet with such almost ruthless optimism brought us the Bay of Pigs and our venture into South Vietnam.
It’s difficult to know whether Kennedy was a visionary or not. He did have a high sense of adventure and idealism, which he combined with patriotism in the launching of his plans to put a man on the moon and the founding of the Peace Corps and Alliance for Progress.
But for all that he accomplished, or may have accomplished, November 22 caused his record to simply go blank. The death of JFK became an American tragedy felt around the globe. Thanks to television, the intensely intimate coverage swept us all into a another dimension.
In an atmosphere of grief and remorse after the assassination, his successor, Lyndon Johnson, pushed through Congress many of programs Kennedy had begun: Medicare, civil rights, Head Start, and the other programs that became Johnson’s Great Society.
Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy managed to radiate glamour and shyness at the same time. She was very artistic and updated and redesigned the interior of the White House.
During the couple’s 1,000 days, Jackie’s greatest impact was probably on ladies’ fashions. She brought the girls permission to wear slacks and shorts for all occasions.
Reference: “Great People of the 20th Century,” by the publishers of Time.
To reach Ted W. Stillwell, send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at 816-252-9909.