JFK: Why he matters still…

By Beryl Wajsman on November 27, 2014

“I hear it said that West Berlin is militarily untenable — and so was Bastogne, and so, in fact, was Stalingrad. Any danger spot is tenable if men — brave men — will make it so."

~ President John F. Kennedy

Today is the fifty-first anniversary of the funeral of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, 35th President of the United States. Just over a half-century after his assassination, his hold on our imagination does not wane. It is important to reflect on the reasons why.

We live in a petty era colored by false pieties, moral relativism and obsequious pandering to the lowest common denominator. JFK matters to us still because he made courage tenable. Courage to be just. Courage to be compassionate. Courage to be dreamers. And he challenged all our resolves to make it so.

The tragedy of his death, the lost hopes and possibilities, haunt us still. In many ways and at all times. The writer Mary McGrory said on the day of his murder that we shall never smile again. Daniel Patrick Moynihan answered ” No, we may smile again, but we’ll never be young again. For many it was the day hope died. JFK was the first post-war leader who inspired hope. A quality that was understandably lost after the descent of civilized Europe into the barbaric bloodlust of genocide. Many historians call the postwar era the post-apocalyptic age. One would be hard put to argue. But hope, like courage, rests not on the shoulders of any one man but lives on from the testament of that man in the hearts of all. All we need is the resolve to remember, and to carry on.

It is in that remembrance that we answer the question of many scholars as to what JFK’s legacy really was. His Presidency too short to see the fulfillment of many of his boldest initiatives, how is it that he captures our imaginations still? The answer rests in his words as much as his deeds. For those words, those ideas, still make us see possibilities in ourselves that we thought unimaginable.

They held out the vision of a generosity of spirit that could realize the ancient dream of the brotherhood of man. They challenged us to vigorous service and sacrifice in our daily lives. And most of all, they dared us to be brave. They lit the flame of courage within each of us that made us all understand that the indomitable spirit of freedom inevitably triumphs over the dark forces of tyranny.Perhaps that is the greatest quality of leadership. To make people bolder, braver, better than they ever thought possible.

At no time since he was cut down has the world been in need of such hope and such courage. It is for that reason that his words stay with us . At no time since the Second World War have the free been so full of fear, fear of being impotent to decide their own lives. At no time since that era, has appeasement of terror and villainy been so endemic. Kennedy understood these dangers well. In his 1940 best-selling book “Why England Slept” he wrote “It is an unfortunate fact that we can secure peace only by preparing for war.” Today history repeats itself. Today, so many countries rest, as Bruce Bawer has so eloquently phrased in While Europe Slept, in “New cloaks for the old tyrannies.”

The greatest tribute to John F. Kennedy is that his words and vision during his “…one brief shining moment…” remain relevant as calls of conscience for us today. And if we do not answer those calls; if we do not respond to conscience, then years from now people will ask how it came to be that the family of the free was so willingly complicit in its own self-abnegation.

For on this sad anniversary, we witness too many leaders demonstrating ignominious surrender to political correctness. We see too many voices of conscience hiding from threats or being intimidated in their expression. We see too marked a submission to those who would subvert individual liberty and subjugate liberal pluralism.

We seem to be surrounded with the message that if one wants to survive one must sublimate one’s beliefs and one’s courage. That indeed there is nothing worth believing in and certainly nothing worth fighting for. In short, that our culture should not stand for something and be prepared to fall for anything. The British writer Melanie Phillips, has called it “a dialogue of the demented.” It is the mindset of the victimized and the demonized.

There could be few more poignant days to remind us all that submission to this bodyguard of lies is not a strategy against existential threat. A threat that has been driven as a stake into the hearts of almost every western capital over the past dozen years.

Today, a different “ism” has replaced the threats Kennedy fought. Today`s ism It emanates from many capitols. It too enslaves millions through different walls. But its most noxious by-product on the free world has been fear. The legacy of John Fitzgerald Kennedy is the antidote to that fear. JFK marshaled the nobler angels of our spirit. He put himself on the firing line of freedom. And through his words and deeds roused a stagnant world from its lethargy of fear. Let us remember. And let us begin anew.


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