Following the end of the Second World War the United States emerged victorious as a superpower. However, the transition from an almost dormant world politic player to ‘the’ political mover was anything but smooth and easy. Just as a person that is passing from childhood to adulthood the passage of the nation from its childhood to its adulthood was fraught with challenges, heartbreaks, bouts of anger, and experiments to test the boundaries of our newly found adulthood and freedom. Though the modern era is filled with many such experiences and moments, there are a few that seem to stand out among the rest. One of those is the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy on November 22, 1963.
President Kennedy and the First Lady arrived at Love Airfield, Dallas Texas on a day that would rock the nation in such a way that it still reverberates in our collective memory over 40 years later. Soon after arriving President Kennedy and the First Lady stepped into their open-top limousine accompanied by Texas Governor John B. Connelly and set out for a 45 minute ride that would take them through the downtown areas of Dallas. When they reached Elm Street at 12:30pm the motorcade approached what is now known as the infamous “grassy knoll.” Seconds later shoots are heard ringing out and the President is struck first in the back and then in the head. He is immediately rushed to Parkland Memorial Hospital where over 15 doctors are awaiting his arrival. Upon his arrival the doctors immediately began to try and accomplish the impossible and save him from his mortal head wound. Although all vital signs indicated that he was dead upon arrival the doctors struggled in vain until 1pm when they officially pronounced John F. Kennedy dead. Kennedy was the youngest elected president in the history of the United States. He also was the youngest to die.
The feeling that engulfed the nation following this event is one that is repeatedly expressed in the literature of the modern era. Although, the stories that we read in class make no specific mention to Kennedy or his death, the tone and mood of many of the stories is one that is closely associated with the feeling that spread over the nation following the assassination. Feelings of loss and despair, of uncertainty in the future and the lack of hope at being able to return to what was lost, the desire and temptation to drown the feelings of loss and despair in alcohol, as expressed by Fitzgerald in Babylon revisited.
Even the image of John F. Kennedy is reflected in the writings and attitudes of the authors of the time period-a young, handsome, graceful, righteous and strong man to lead a young, handsome, graceful and strong nation. The image was a perfect match or so it seemed. But, just as John F. Kennedy was assassinated and as other details of his life came out into the public view, Allen Ginsberg with his work “Howl,” assassinated the idea of a perfect and just nation showing us that all is not made from gold, but rather is only gilded in gold to cover the raw black, cold, and dirty iron that lays underneath.
Such a national self-identity realization causes pain and suffering, even depression. As is so common in teenagers who have grown up as children expecting their first steps in adulthood to be glorious only to be met with the reality that things are not as wonderful as one thought. Sometimes the gold is only skin deep, and when it is peeled back whether by death, injustice, racism, sexism, war, or assassination we find the hard unforgiving iron that lays beneath; and with it find ourselves filled with the feelings of confusion, despair, depravity and pain. And so we, as a nation, endured the growing pains of the passage from childhood to adulthood.