Trust and belated reflections on November 22

I was going to pass on adding my $0.02 to the discussions of the Kennedy assassination.  I have nothing to add concerning the event itself.  I am writing this post because of a comment I cannot get out of my mind:

“Like a tornado, the Kennedy conspiracy theories have spun off whirlwinds of doubt about other national traumas and controversies…The legacy of that shocking instant is a troubling habit of the modern American mind: suspicion is a reflex now, trust a figment.” – David Von Drehle in Time Magazine, Nov. 25, 2013

You can’t argue with Drehle’s conclusion, that suspicion of government is a reflex,  but when and how did it come about? I truly don’t remember it starting in Dallas.  People at the time expressed shock and grief, and everyone shook their head and said the killing of Lee Harvey Oswald was “pretty suspicious,” but no one I knew, and not a single history teacher I ever had, obsessed about the conspiracy like we do now.

I wonder if that’s a key – like we do now.  I wonder if the weight given this month to assassination conspiracy theories isn’t history revised in light of our current mistrust of government, a mistrust that came about from a long string of incidents rather than a single one.

There was the Gulf of Tonkin the following year, used to justify escalating the war in Vietnam, which Robert McNamara, then Secretary of Defense, later admitted never happened.  There was the 1970 National Guard shooting of 13 students in Kent, Ohio, when fear and loathing of government rose to heights I’ve never seen before or since.  There was Watergate, the non-existent Iraq WMD’s, and now let’s all say hi to the NSA, both I who am writing and you who are reading this post.

Trust is the foundation of any honest relationship, slow to evolve and quickly broken by deceit.  In interpersonal relationships, once it’s gone it is pretty much gone for good – “fool me once…” as they say.

The flags flying at half-staff yesterday brought to mind a childhood grief, but we have moved on from the loss of one man.  What lingers and haunts is the memory of how that man could invite a public trust – “Ask not what your country can do for you…” – and seem worthy of it.  That level of hope and public trust is gone, and I don’t see it coming back.

More than a man, that is what I found myself mourning yesterday.


9 thoughts on “Trust and belated reflections on November 22

  1. well, i was three when he JFK was shot. but it seems to me the whole conspiracy climate over everything came in vogue about the time Oliver Stone’s JFK came out


    • I agree. With the film, it went from one of those mysteries we were never going to solve (like the identity of Jack the Ripper) to a deliberate effort to deceive. I know the film raised my blood pressure when I saw it.


  2. Oliver Stone’s film, I agree, was a factor. The internet is another factor. Wikileaks, another.
    Perhaps just as the photos of the earth from space have forever changed something in our psyche, so has our view of the world and much our history which is filled with corruption and misinformation.
    I agree, the trust won’t come back easily, if ever.


    • Increasingly online I encounter the sentiment that positive change of any sort will have to come from outside and in spite of government. An example given is the civil rights movement. Martin Luther King never allied with either political party. I’ve seen recent references to historical periods of transition and the conclusion that “the future” never emerges from an outworn status quo – now I’ll have to start nothings references to such writings.


  3. I think the distrust of government started long before Oliver Stone’s blood-boiling movie, probably with Nixon and all his shenanigans. And it seems to have continued on a downward spiral since. No reason to believe it will ever right itself. I see no one who can lead us out of this morass and bring belief back to this country. It’s a pretty sad state of affairs.


    • I remember a qualitative difference when Watergate hit the news – the idea that Nixon was an isolated bad apple – get rid of him and things would be better. Now I take it as a systemic situation.

      I don’t know any cures, but I do think separating big money from politics is a necessary, if not sufficient condition for a fix – wonder when the foxes will right things in the henhouse… Who knows when it really began, but I do love the story of George Washington selling some acres of his Mt. Vernon estate to pay for the cost of his presidency…


      • Sad but true – the concerned citizen’s role – trying to contain government mischief. The government’s role – using it’s extensive spying technology to try to contain the above. Lovely.


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