Friday, November 22, 2013

50 Years After JFK Assassination: What Did We Learn?

by Daniel Applegate
President, Arlington Memorial Gardens

What did we learn from the tragic events that took place in Dallas 50 years ago?
First, consider this. This is obviously an historic observance. However, it’s not the first of its kind.  Fifty years after perhaps the most similarly chilling event – the Lincoln assassination -- how did Americans react on April 15, 1915?

Yet, if you were around in November, 1963 and over the age of five or six, it’s most likely one of your most vivid memories. If you were younger, you may not have had the capacity to make much sense of what had transpired in Dallas, but you would have certainly realized that it was an unusual moment.

What we learned from the Kennedy assassination is a complex subject, certainly much too complex to unwind here. But there are some general observations to offer.

It might have signaled the end of innocence for America: within just a couple of years, we were entangled in the Vietnam War, a cultural experience that still resonates with many Americans as the embodiment of the 1960s and 1970s. Dallas may have also unleashed a sense of cynicism crowding out, perhaps, America’s lusty embrace of optimism.  It certainly seems likely that it helped usher in a brand of politics with not just sharp elbows, but politicians armed with irreconcilably sharp knives.

Furthermore, because in 1963 we most likely suffered from a collectively strong case of the great man theory, Dallas may have resulted in our willingness to believe in conspiracy theories.  Was it possible that such a “little man” could have really pulled this off?  It seemed so decisively improbable that it raised the specter of the “grassy knoll” which has morphed over time into the palpable willingness to believe in all types of latter day conspiracies, many that can only be termed as vivid fantasies.

Nevertheless, there are some practical, less historically imbued lessons from which we can learn coming out of the events of Dallas on the weekend of November 22, 1963, that hold little historical significance, but are still momentous.  For instance, we learned that, all of us are human and with blinding speed and within the blink of an eye, our lives can become profoundly disoriented.  It certainly reinforces one of our areas of emphasis here at Arlington Memorial Gardens: taking part in "The Dialogue" and planning for our inevitable ending helps to offset many of the effects of disorientation for those we love and leave behind.
Also, President Kennedy’s very grand, but elaborately dignified, funeral service, orchestrated by Mrs. Kennedy, was a powerful expression of remembrance. That, together with memorialization, symbolized by the Eternal Flame at Arlington National Cemetery, demonstrates the very real meaningfulness of the human impulse to remember and be remembered.

So, while we observe the 50th anniversary of the events in Dallas on the weekend of November 22, 1963, we may become mindful of our own mortality. If so, consider engaging in "The Dialogue" for yourself. While it may not hold historical significance, it’s certainly important, even critically important, for you and those you love.

Daniel Applegate became part of the Arlington Memorial Gardens organization in 2001 and has worked in the cemetery industry since 1981, including serving as Secretary/Treasurer and then as President of the Ohio state cemetery association.  He was appointed by Ohio Governor George Voinovich and served two terms on the Ohio Cemetery Dispute Resolution Commission, Ohio's cemetery oversight agency. He is a graduate of The Ohio State University holding a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Political Science.