It was well into the morning before it hit me that this was the anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963. It was little noted in the daily papers I subscribe to, and indeed in many ways his muscular Americanism has faded into obscurity.
This is the president who told us not to ask what our country could do for us, but rather what we could do for our country. It was a time when America had been cast reluctantly into the role of the leader of the free world, an era in which we faced a Soviet empire and ideology that was determined to bury us.
It was a time when we knew who we were and what we had to do. World War II and the hundreds of thousands of Americans who had died was a recent and painful memory. We understood that there was evil in the world and that sometimes we had to go to war and see our loved ones risk being killed to defend our freedoms. It was the way of the world.
John Kennedy understood that merely talking with enemies was not enough, that there were times when honest dialogue was not possible because the assumption of good will on the other side was false and dangerous. Ronald Reagan could talk productively with Premier Gorbachev because the Soviet Union had been brought to it knees economically by Reagan’s determination to maintain military superiority. He did and the Soviet Union crumbled.
Today America’s position as the world’s only super power seems to be a source of embarrassment to the political, academic, and media elite. Only our mistakes in the use of power are recalled. That fact that America saved Europe economically with its Marshall Plan is ignored. Our military power stopped Stalin from taking over the rest of Europe after President Roosevelt conceded Eastern Europe to him. Reagan, ridiculed for calling the Soviet Union an Evil Empire, brought down that evil empire.
Nowadays our homegrown hate-America crowd labels our nation as an international bully. Apparently we are arrogantly bullying and provoking Iran and North Korea as they pursue their nuclear dreams. We are told that we should step down off our pedestal and become merely one of many equals in the family of nations. Then and only then will the Mideast autocrats and the Asian dictators listen to us. Good luck with that one.
Meanwhile, President Obama, apparently a subscriber to the notion that we are at base a colonialist power, is discovering the ugly necessity of flexing our muscles. President Karzai, pocketing our billions while he pokes a stick in our eye, tells us to ease off on the “military footprint.” and he is told to bug off. Despite protests from his own base, Obama continues to send unmanned drones into Pakistan to kill terrorists hiding there.
Our President is earning his degree in world reality politics. No longer are terrorist attacks described as man-made catastrophes. Terrorists themselves are labeled as such, no longer called insurgents. It’s a start. Let’s hope he can make the honor role.
John F. Kennedy recognized that life is unfair. It is hard to explain why evil exists in the world, and why some people have to fight our wars for us and die. But he knew that in this fallen world evil must be opposed and that we must live with the ambiguities of our choices. Bad people exist, and sometimes they kill our policemen and our soldiers, the brave ones who stand between us and them.
It’s sad but true. No wishful thinking can make it go away.