Skip to main content

Hello. It looks like you’re using an ad blocker that may prevent our website from working properly. To receive the best experience possible, please make sure any ad blockers are switched off, or add to your trusted sites, and refresh the page.

If you have any questions or need help you can email us.

On a November day 60 years ago, both a president and a dream died

The assassination of JFK forever changed America’s national psyche

John F Kennedy, Jacqueline Kennedy and Texas governor John Connally smile at the crowds in Dallas on November 22, 1963. Minutes later the president was assassinated

There are some things that are still possible to remember:

A late November day in 1963. A school day. I am at the beginning of my secondary school career at a Catholic girls’ school in Chicago.

On this late November day, one of the nuns suddenly strides into the middle of the class and tells us that we are to stand and walk quickly and quietly to the assembly hall. The principal – the Mother Superior – wants to speak to us.

In a straight, anxious line, we walk down the hallway. I catch sight of an open door. Behind it, one of the nuns is sitting at her desk with her face in her hands. Crying.

I had never seen a nun cry before. I had never seen an adult cry before. I will see plenty of that before darkness falls.

We sit in the assembly hall. The principal walks straight on to the stage. A no-nonsense Irish woman, she tells us to go to our lockers, collect our stuff and go home. President Kennedy has been shot.

It was lunchtime. Outside was like something out of a Warner Brothers black and white melodrama from the 1930s or 40s.

It is raining. People are in the street crying. Wailing. But, unlike a film, there is no accompanying music.

I walk home, not knowing what I will find there. I ring the bell. Mamma opens it. In tears. I have never seen my mother cry before.

I am sure that my father is there too, because he works on the factory assembly line at night. And my other brothers and sisters must be in there too. But there is only mamma and me, because we watch old movies together after school while she does the ironing.

What is unfolding is like something out of a movie. We are watching Walter Cronkite.

There are only three television networks: ABC, NBC and CBS. The evening news reports are anchored by men who are more or less considered gods because there is no one else to refute them.

And the god of gods is Cronkite, who had reported for CBS from London during the blitz. He signs off every night with the words: “And that’s the way it is.” And that was always the way it was. Because he said so.

Now he is on air, in the afternoon, in his shirtsleeves. In the newsroom, other journalists are running around behind him. A big clock is over his right shoulder.

Cronkite is wearing glasses. I have never seen him in glasses before. He looks into the camera and announces that President Kennedy is dead.

Then he turns, and glances over his right shoulder at the big wall clock behind him. Then he turns back to the camera. Takes his glasses off. He is close to tears.

The days after are a blur; a blur for the entire nation, too. I remember the funeral because it was very slow, with the black horse, the black riderless horse, being led down the Mall, the horse’s stirrups turned backwards. And those drums. Those languorous, deep, rolling drums.

My little cousin would often, afterwards, play the beat whenever he came over. He did that until he was a teenager.

I can remember Jackie Kennedy standing there with her two children and little John-John saluting the coffin as it went past. That was both moving and grotesque at the same time. How did that little guy know about saluting anybody?

Soon after the assassination, the swearing-in of LBJ on the plane back to Washington had taken place. On television. There was Jackie, the former first lady, still with JFK’s blood on her pink Chanel suit.

And then a few days after that, Lee Harvey Oswald, who had assassinated JFK, is assassinated himself.

It is important to understand and to know that all of this happened on live TV. The president was assassinated on lunchtime television.

My generation, the Baby Boomers, were the first “kids with screens”. We lived in front of that big box and the only difference between us and kids today is that the television set went off at a certain time. So we were actually blacked out. If the networks didn’t go off air, actually shut down, we too would have been stuck in front, around it, in it, just like kids are with their screens today.

So to see the president of the United States and the guy accused of assassinating him, both of them, murdered live on television wasn’t anything that we thought about. Because TV was normal.

We couldn’t and didn’t think about the effect that it had on our psyche and the national psyche. But what happened was that we became the generation that did not believe the Official Word. You think that the young invented that?

Look at our movies: The Godfather, The Parallax View, Shaft, Dirty Harry, Three Days Of The Condor. The list is long.

We were and still are a generation that sees the federal government as the enemy. Liars, with something up their sleeves.

We split up into camps: became MAGA Trumper Republicans, or joined the “it’s all fucked up” cohort of the left and the middle.

When I look back at presidents Obama, Clinton, LBJ, even Reagan, you can see in a sense that they were all trying to conjure up something that had died that November day in 1963.

And today, despite all of the bullshit, the mayhem, the chaos, the sheer dysfunction of America, Joe Biden still BELIEVES.

But the thing that began in Dallas 60 years ago after those shots rang out is always there; the anti-American dream that we have been confronting ever since. That our republic of The People, by The People, and for The People – in Lincoln’s immortal words at Gettysburg during the civil war – is not for ever and will one day perish from the earth.

I look, from time to time, at my passport. There are millions of people who want one like mine. Some would even kill for one – and have.

It took an amendment to the constitution to ensure that my ancestors, born on American soil, had the right to be citizens of the United States.

I know all of this. Respect it, too.

But my passport has expired. I have yet to renew it.

Hello. It looks like you’re using an ad blocker that may prevent our website from working properly. To receive the best experience possible, please make sure any ad blockers are switched off, or add to your trusted sites, and refresh the page.

If you have any questions or need help you can email us.

See inside the Blood on his hands edition

In his toe-curling interview with ‘alpha male’ Elon Musk, Rishi Sunak, in his shirt sleeves and curtailed trousers, squirmed excitedly in his chair like Will from The Inbetweeners. Image: The New European

Sunak’s gruesome interview with Elon Musk demeaned the office of PM

Sunak has stooped to cheap sensationalism and the country deserves a leader who aims higher

Image: The New European

Alastair Campbell’s Diary: The findings of the Covid inquiry merit real punishment

The damage Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings did to the country is off the scale