Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Shooting of Robert Kennedy

Five years ago, just a few days before the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, I wrote of my memories of that time.

Today is the 45th anniversary of that event, and I have no new revelations about it to share. Neither, it seems, does anyone else, although I have been fascinated by the articles I have found on the subject.

Five years ago in Newsweek, for example, Evan Thomas wrote about the looming "what if" from 1968: What if Kennedy had not been killed? Would he have spared the nation the agony of Watergate?

Thomas never really answered that question. He wrote of the pros and cons of Kennedy's personality and candidacy — and he did point out some inconvenient historical truths. For example, Americans in the 21st century are conditioned to believe that presidential candidates win their party's nominations via the primary route, and Kennedy won many primaries in the spring of 1968 — but choosing delegates in primaries is a fairly recent political phenomenon.

In 1968, most convention delegates were still selected by party bosses, and Vice President Hubert Humphrey was the choice of the Democratic Party's establishment. It is by no means certain that Kennedy would have prevailed at the party's convention later that summer in Chicago.

To me, though, the fact that Thomas' question was even asked in 2008 seems to be proof of what Theodore H. White wrote in "The Making of the President 1968":
"The gash that Robert F. Kennedy tore in the story of 1968 aches still — aches in personal memory, but more in history itself. Of all the men who challenged for the presidency, he alone, by the assassin's bullets, was deprived of the final judgment of his party and people."
Clearly, the "gash," as White put it, still ached after four decades.

A year earlier, in The Independent, Liz Hoggard recounted the event as Emilio Estevez's movie "Bobby" was in theaters. That was interesting, but it really added nothing to what was known about the shooting.

Last year, Michael Martinez and Brad Johnson of CNN reported that a witness had told them there was a second shooter in the pantry that night.

To date, nothing seems to have come from that assertion.

An interesting addition to the story came from CBS recently. CBS reported the story of a black doctor who did what he could to save Kennedy's life.

That is interesting, as I say, but it really adds nothing to the tale. The doctor wasn't successful, and it provides no evidence of who else might have been involved.

A few days ago, Gina Logue of the Murfreesboro (Tenn.) Post wrote that Kennedy's assassination was the end of our national innocence.

I'm not so sure I buy that one, but I will agree that it was a traumatic event for the country.

A lot of things have been described as the end of our national innocence, but I'm inclined to think that there is some event like that for every generation.

I really began to think that five years ago. At the time, I was working for an online study guide. Two young women in their 20s were working with me. We wrote history and civics questions and lessons for students in subscribing school districts to use.

Around this time, I recall hearing one of them ask sort of general questions about Bobby Kennedy that told me she knew nothing about him — other than the fact that he had the same last name as the president who was killed here in Dallas nearly 50 years ago.

She had been affected more by Princess Diana's untimely death 10 years earlier. That was probably the major innocence–robbing event for her generation — at least until 9–11.

Folks in that age group really can't understand how different it was for my generation, who had only three TV networks (and no internet) — nor can my generation truly understand what it was like for our parents, who grew up with the radio and nothing else, not even a landline phone, in many homes.

There's no question that the shooting of Bobby Kennedy, like the shooting of Martin Luther King a couple of months earlier, had a profound effect on everyone. But, in a culture that had been rocked by the killing of a president, the murders of civil rights activists in Mississippi, race riots, a seemingly never–ending war, the fiery launching–pad deaths of three astronauts and King's shooting within the previous five years, it's hard to justify regarding it as a generational flash point.

More like one in a series of flash points.

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