Friday, November 22, 2013

What you can do

I was born a week after Kennedy was inaugurated, and I remember a melamine serving tray, of all things, the surface of which contained those famous lines about doing for your country, and the date of that event.  It sat propped against the kitchen wall for years when I was a child.  Even from the banal absurdity of the serving tray, those words could not be dimmed or made trivial.  They were perfect words, and they represented a promise about the future.

But we never saw that promise fulfilled. Instead we became, as conspiracy theorist Jim Garrison so famously observed, a nation of Hamlets, certain that we had been cheated of our birthright, but unable to prove or do anything about it. 

And for sure we wailed like Hamlet, and struggled like him against the yoke of undeserved authority, and pointed at every ghost on every parapet, certain that this time, we would finally be believed…and then, eventually, with the passage of each subsequent decade, ever more certain that we would never be believed.

Those who took our future away were never caught, never punished.  The trial never really began and never really ended.  And so it was with us as Americans.  We were lied to as a matter of necessity, then of policy, then of habit.  We expected it.  We learned to look for the lies before any words were even spoken.  Because of course there would be lies.  We would be cheated.  It was who we were.  Nothing had changed, or ever would change.  We became hardened and completely cynical, because everything that happened – Watergate, Iran-Contra, the Gulf Wars – everything in the decades that followed proved that we were right.

I dispute none of that.

Except it’s all wrong.  

When you realize that it was just one guy who changed it all, and not a conspiracy of the powerful and wealthy, then you realize that we cheated ourselves.  We blamed everyone: Johnson, Castro, the Mafia, the Secret Service.  It was because the corporations wanted the war in Vietnam to continue so they could expand their military industrial complex. It was because JFK was going to replace Hoover; it was because he was going to shut down the CIA.

When really, it was a guy who idolized Fidel Castro, and who didn’t want the Kennedy administration to kill Castro, as we now know it attempted to do, many times.

It was one guy.  It was one guy with a beef.  And all the wailing and pointing at ghosts - it’s just us wanting the truth to not be the truth, because the truth means that our enemies are not necessarily mighty.  The truth means that it doesn’t take a cabal of wealth and power to derail the America that we want to have.  It just takes one person, and that person is us.  We cheated ourselves, by not seeing the truth.  We wanted it to mean more than it did.  Because then, it would not be our fault that we gave up on that promise.