Where Were You?

If you are in your mid-fifties or older, you must remember where you were and what you were doing when you learned that JFK had been shot in Dallas.

I have long since repented of my admiration for JFK (e.g., here). But my repentance is irrelevant to this story. The events in Dallas on November 22, 1963, burned into my brain a memory that will remain with me for the rest of my life.

I was in Arlington, Virginia, where I was employed by a defense think-tank. I was seated in the company van that made regular trips to the Pentagon (a few miles away), where members of the think-tank’s staff met often with their clients. The van was being held to await a senior manager. As he entered the van (it must have been shortly after 1:30 p.m. EST) he broke the news that Kennedy had been shot in Dallas. When I arrived at the Pentagon, the TV sets in the Pentagon’s public concourse were tuned to coverage of the shooting. JFK’s death (officially at 2:00 p.m. EST) was announced while I watched the TV coverage.

That bare-bones recitation may seem cold but emotions fade with time, and I have come to see that the emotions that stirred in me 48 years ago were foolish ones. The greatest tragedy of JFK’s passing was LBJ’s succession to the presidency. LBJ’s cynical use of JFK’s memory helped him to unleash policies that have divided America and threaten to bankrupt it.