The Critical 'I'

Read. React. Repeat.

Saturday, November 22, 2003

As we approach the 40th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, we're getting to the point where the event has passed out of the active, living American consciousness and squarely into the history books. To a large degree, 9/11 may have supplanted the Kennedy assassination as a watershed moment.

I was born 8 years after Kennedy was shot, so I'm part of the population that doesn't have a personal recollection of it, even through the prism of early childhood. Frankly, I don't remember devoting any serious amount of thought to it, despite a love of history in general, until JFK came out in 1991. That movie is nothing to base your historical scholarship upon, but it was definitely thought-provoking. It also imparted upon me the creepiest post-movie sensation I've ever had while walking out of a theater, before or since.

Other general person impressions of the assassination:

- The "Camelot" label was, in fact, never actually used during the Kennedy White House years; it was a tag given to the era afterward. It stems from a magazine interview that Jackie Kennedy gave right after the assassination; it was JFK's favorite line from the musical "Camelot".

- The conspiracy theories... I guess this answer will have to suffice, until all the records are unsealed in around 20 years (or however long it'll be). I'm skeptical of conspiracy theories in general, and the Kennedy ones are demonstrative of why. I'm not saying it's impossible that there was a grand plot, but I'd need more evidence 40 years after the fact.

- Related to the above, a couple of my old uncles once illustrated for me just why the unsealing of all the Warren Commission files in the mid-21st Century is less than satisfying. I pointed out to them that, eventually, all the facts would come out in the year two-thousand-whatever, so it would be all good. They pointed out: "Sure, after those of us who were around then are all dead." That struck me as significant.

- Lastly, one of the most poignant, and funny, memories of the assassination isn't even mine. It's the recollection of one of my older cousins, who was five years old when it happened; he related it to a group of us only a few years back.

His parents took him over to one of the relatives' houses in New York the day after the shooting for some social gathering. It was, obviously, a somber atmosphere all around. Once they came through the door, my cousin remembers all the aunts and uncles sitting around, low-level chatting and watching the endless news reports on the television. Seeing all this, his father asked the room, in Greek, "What's going on here, then?"

The response, from someone in the room (no one quite remembers who exactly it was) was in Greek. It's pretty much untranslatable. Technically, I can render it into English, but without the context and cadence that a Greek speaker would have, it wouldn't really have the same impact, or the same, almost unintentional, bittersweet humor. Therefore, I'm going to present it here in Greek, and to any Greek speakers reading this, enjoy. I'm not going to use the Greek alphabet; I could, but I have a feeling it won't render correctly in most browsers. So, here it is in Roman alphabet, more or less phonetically:

Na, vlepumeh ta halyah mas.

... It occurs to me that I've just written a fairly lengthy post about historical event I wasn't even alive to witness. So maybe there's still a good amount of relevance to Camelot, after all.