In the summer of 1957, the city of Little Rock, Arkansas, made plans to desegregate its public schools. On the night before school was to start, Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus called out the state's National Guard to surround Little Rock Central High School and prevent any black students from entering. On September 25, 1957, the nine black students entered the school under the protection of 1,000 members of the 101st Airborne Division of the United States Army. Today, when I see newsreel footage of those poor, frightened children, I want to cry thinking of what we put them through.
In the years following the end of World War II, fear of Communism grew.In the midst of this fear came Senator Joseph R. McCarthy. In 1950, this senator from Wisconsin made a speech in Wheeling, West Virginia, where he claimed to have a list of 205 people in the state department who were members of the Communist party. It's scary looking back to see how far this lunatic was able to fool the American people before he was stopped cold by a brilliant and gutsy lawyer named Joseph Welch. In our zeal for vigilance, we allowed ourselves to be railroaded by a fear mongering demigod who damaged many reputations before common sense again prevailed.
In 1960 John F. Kennedy was the youngest man ever to be elected president of the United States, narrowly beating Republican Vice President Richard Nixon. Kennedy was probably the first and last Democrat I voted for; chalk it up to my youth. On November 22, 1963 in Dallas, Texas, Kennedy was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald. The country was in shock. We stayed glued to our TV sets (much like on 9/11/01) and listened to newscasters tell this unbelievable story. When Oswald was killed by nightclub owner Jack Ruby a few days later, the conspiracy theorists got busy and remain so to this day. Camelot was in ashes, and Kennedy was practically canonized. His halo has been tarnished a little since.
On a recent episode of Mad Men, they reprised the events surrounding what came to be known as the Cuban Missile Crisis. In October 1962, President John Kennedy went toe-to-toe with Russian premier Nikita Krushchev over offensive missile silos that Russia was constructing in Cuba, just 90 miles from the United States. Thankfully, Krushchev blinked and the crisis was over, but not before it scared the bejesus out of us. My wife remembered the event better than I, and how frightened Catholics were lining up for Confession in the belief we might all be blown to kingdom come like some prequel to the movie Dr. Strangelove. That was, as far as the government tells us the truth, the closest we ever came to the "Big One".
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