Later this month will mark the 40th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
People from all over America and the world have paid tribute to Kennedy over
the years. I recall my father telling me that his mother lit a candle
after his assassination. A rather unusual gesture, as it is a Jewish
tradition reserved for the passing of other Jews. Kennedy was of course,
In 1988, when visiting Israel, there was a memorial at John F. Kennedy Park
outside of Jerusalem. The memorial consisted of 50 wooden pillars representing
each U.S. state in the shape of a tree stump. Our guide asked us its
meaning. I raised my hand and replied, “It symbolizes that he was cut
down in the prime of his life.”
I lived in London for the first half of 1995 at the International Students
House on Great Portland Street just off Marylebone Road across the street
from Regents Park and just down the road from Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum.
At the side of the residence there sat a bust and plaque commemorating JFK.
For the past three and a half years, I have called Boston home. I live
within walking distance of JFK’s birthplace on 85 Beals Street in neighboring
Brookline. There is also the JFK Presidential Library and Museum not far
from the University of Massachusetts Boston. On many a Sunday while
listening to Boston Red Sox games on my walkman, I will end up at JFK Memorial
Park facing the Charles River near Harvard Square.
JFK remains a figure that represents youth, vitality, optimism the world
over. In America JFK is admired for his Presidency by people of both liberal
and conservative tendencies.
Sadly, while President Bush is held in high esteem by conservatives and in
certain parts of the United States, in other parts of this country (including
my own) and in much of the world, President Bush is perceived as a pariah
greater than Saddam Hussein or Osama bin Laden. He is sometimes
compared to Adolf Hitler -- unfavorably.
Of course, I suspect that those who hold this sentiment have lived their
whole lives in freedom and have never known a day of tyranny in their lives.
And no, an increase in tuition fees is not an act of tyranny.
One can hope that history will grace President Bush more kindly.
Historians may look upon President Bush’s speech on November 6th to the National
Endowment for Democracy in Washington D.C. in a manner favorable to JFK’s
vision of a New Frontier four decades ago.
Indeed, President Bush had history on his mind when he made these remarks:
in the future will reflect on an extraordinary, undeniable fact: Over time,
free nations grow stronger and dictatorships grow weaker. In the middle
of the 20th Century, some imagined that the central planning and social regimentation
were a shortcut to national strength. In fact, the prosperity, and social
vitality and technological progress of a people are directly determined by
the extent of their liberty. Freedom honors and unleashes human
creativity – and creativity determines the strength and wealth of nations.
Liberty is both the plan of Heaven for humanity, and the best hope for progress
here on earth.
of humanity’s inherent desire for freedom, President Bush argues that it
is only a matter of time before democracy comes forth in countries like Cuba,
Burma, North Korea, Zimbabwe and China. Of course, much of the President’s
focus was on the Middle East. There are critics who believe that democracy
will never take root in the Middle East. But President Bush reminded
his audience that similar sentiments had been echoed in Japan and Germany
after World War II and in former British colonies such as India.
President Bush argued that democracy is not an end but rather a means:
after time, observers have questioned whether this country, or that people,
or this group, are “ready” for democracy – as if freedom were a prize you
win for meeting our own Western standards of progress. In fact,
the daily work of democracy itself is the path of progress. It
teaches cooperation, the free exchange of ideas, and the peaceful resolution
one might ask if democracy is not an end then what is the end?
President Bush would reply, “We believe that human fulfillment and excellence
come in the responsible exercise of liberty.”
Sadly many Americans do not give this much thought and who can blame them.
They do not have to do so. Consequently, it is easy for Americans to
describe America and the President as “fascist” “racist” or “a Nazi.”
The Americans who fought the Nazis, the fascists and racists first hand and
understand what they were about are dying and too many of us are willing
to rely on second hand definitions of these terms at face value.
This is why it is so important to understand the experiences of Jews in the
former Soviet Union who were forbidden from practicing their religion or
the experiences of Christians in the Sudan who were sold into slavery by
Fundamentalist Islamic governments. America has given these people
an opportunity unknown in their own country. In America, they can live their
lives as they see fit and are not at the mercy of an arbitrary capricious
But President Bush believes that can change. President Bush believes
that America and the world are in an age of liberty. For the Middle East
and other parts of the world, liberty is a new frontier. Of course,
it will not be easy. Reversing decades and centuries of authoritarian
and totalitarian rule is not an overnight proposition.
Exploring new frontiers is often arduous and at times perilous.
Ordinary activities are death-defying acts of courage. One only
need read Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America to appreciate
that sentiment. But liberty is a principle that is worth fighting for.
JFK understood it. President Bush understands it. When liberty
flourishes in the Middle East perhaps one day President Bush’s critics will
understand as well. Perhaps then he will be admired the world over.
Email Aaron Goldstein
Aaron Goldstein, a former member of the socialist New Democratic Party, writes poetry and has a chapbook titled Oysters and the Newborn Child: Melancholy and Dead Musicians. His poetry can be viewed on www.poetsforthewar.org.
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