Sunday, November 25, 2012

Ribbons Of Time

We're coming up fast on the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy. It's an historical milestone, to be sure, but also rife with all manner of controversy and intrigue. Who really shot JFK? Is there a curse on the whole Kennedy family? I can answer that one: No. People die. Pretty much all of them. Whether they die in fiery plane crashes or quietly in their beds at a ripe old age, they all go sometime. Even if, or perhaps because, their last name is Kennedy.
Still, there are those who like to conjecture, such as Scott Bomboy of the National Constitution Center. He has taken a page from the Marvel Comics canon, wondering "What if John F. Kennedy had survived his assassination?" The obvious starting point would be "in what condition?" We assume that either the plot was foiled ahead of time or maybe hitting a moving target from eighty-eight feet away was a trickier shot than Lee Harvey Oswald was prepared to make. No matter, let's just put JFK's switch back to the "on" position in November of 1963. One of the things that Bomboy suggests that might have changed, other than the not-shot Kennedy, would have been the Civil Rights Act. Without a nation in mourning, he believes that the sentiment would not have been there to help push that piece of legislation over the top. He continues to muse on America's role in the Vietnam war if Kennedy had been alive. Maybe he would have taken a more diplomatic tack than Lyndon Johnson. We could have avoided that whole quagmire.
And that's why this "What If" game is so very fun. It's a little like the historical version of "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon." And like all those episodes of Star Trek that found the crew of various Enterprises worrying about the space-time continuum, it does make one wonder if the rest of the Kennedy family might have fared better, curse-wise, if that magic bullet had gone awry. Maybe Bobby Kennedy could have dodged his own, and given us a miss on that whole Nixon era. The sixties might have become an era of social and political upheaval, but in a good way. George McGovern could have gotten elected in that universe.
Or maybe, as Voltaire has suggested, this truly is the best of all possible worlds. Suffering ultimately leads to happiness, and death springs from life. Sorry, Mister Bomboy, but I'm going to have to go with Candide on this one.

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