PBS has a terrific film (as they usually do) on John Fitzgerald Kennedy. They’ve already released the first of the two part series. The first film covers his life before he became president. I managed to go through the two hour presentation thanks to my PBS app on my Apple TV (shameless plug).
My standards for historical documentaries are probably a little different than most folks since I’ve spent more than half of my adult life teaching history. I came away learning a few things about the man and his family that I didn’t already know. That is the best kudos I can think of for any historical documentary. Beyond that, I think it was fairly balanced as it didn’t try to laud him or throw him in the ditch.
Obviously, many of tomorrow’s stories will focus on the untimely end of his presidency. That is to be expected following one of three successful presidential assassinations in the history of our country. By far, it is the most intriguing for those that follow such things. The conspiracy theorists love the intrigue and I suppose everyone should have something they are intrigued by.
For me, the comprehensive look back on his life before the presidency was very enlightening. Even those that lived back then tend to whitewash the past. We forget that people struggled and fought against civil rights, Medicare, and the other measures we now take for granted. Sometimes we forget what side those folks were on when they fought those measures.
Fifty plus years later, it is easy to see where the right side of history was. Fifty years later it is easy to see who was simply being an obstructionist and who was fighting for progress. Fast-forward to today and those things are not necessarily so cut and dried. Some people believe deeply in what they are saying and firmly believe they are on the right side of history even if they are seemingly fighting progress.
The important thing to remember for those of us that think this level of hate and venom is unprecedented is to remember what happened on November 22nd, 1963. We don’t know how many people were involved due to the different accounts of the day, but we know that at least one person was so disgruntled and disturbed that they decided to take a life that day.
We could argue motives, conspiracies, and the like, but the fact remains that people have always cared deeply about politics and some people will go to far to “defend” their point of view. It is times like these where I try to keep in mind one cardinal rule for evaluating all politicians and statesmen: everyone in public office loves this country and they want what is best for this country. We simply have disagreements (sometimes heated ones) about what that looks like.
The true measure of a man (or woman) is not in what they believe, but what they are willing (and not willing) to do to carry out that vision. My fellow Italian comrade Niccolo Machiavelli told us that “the ends justify the means.” I turn that philosophy on its ear. The true measure of a person is not what ends they feel need justified but in what means they are willing to use to carry out that end.