Monday, November 22, 2010

John F. Kennedy’s Not-So-Happy Anniversary

November 22, 2010 is the forty-seventh anniversary of the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy in Dallas and there was limited coverage in the media today. It’s akin to high school reunions in that such events attract much more attention when the anniversary number seems more significant — such as the twenty-fifth or fiftieth.

When the 50th anniversary of JFK’s death takes place three years from now, there may be more hullabaloo, and one aspect of remembrance will change quite dramatically. The number of those who remember where they were on the day he was killed will diminish considerably, and not so much so because those who were around have died, although most of those who were in their thirties back in 1963 will be gone.

Forgetting to Remember

However, the main contributor to this demise in remembrance can be attributed to the fact that as of this date, most Americans weren’t around back then and they weren’t all that keen to hear their parents and grandparents start off any story with “I remember when.”

The younger generations have much less of an interest in and a knowledge of history, perhaps remembering their most significant date as the day when they joined Facebook.

Of our estimated population of more than 310 million, more than 69% were less than ten years old when Kennedy died and naturally, most have no recollection of what happened on that day. The median age in the United States today is 36.8 years of age, which means that many of our reporters and news gatherers fit into that group who learned about recent history over the Internet, or perhaps a rare few read about Kennedy in the pages of a book.

The Past As We See It

We all have a potential tendency to distort the past with uncorroborated thoughts about long ago events both large and small. Those events that we lived through tend to fade into a distorted fog or are remembered not as they happened but as how we would like to have had them taken place.

When I came to California in 1960, on our first day my friend Nick and I ended up in Long Beach where a fishing boat accident had just occurred and the captain was being carried away on stretcher. We took photographs of the scene, rushed the film to the Los Angeles Times, and our photograph appeared on page two of the next day’s paper, for which we were paid $15. Years later I visited Detroit and at a party, I listened as Nick told the fishing boat story to a group of people. He proudly spoke of the $150 we had been paid for our efforts, and I did not contradict him then but when I went home I found my photocopy of the $15 check.

Inflated Ideas Are the Norm Today

Rather than accusing him of knowingly or unknowingly distorting the facts, I decided to give him credit for adjusting the sum by taking inflation into account.