Sunday, June 1, 2008
Rembering the Death of an American Prince
On June 6, 1968 I was completing my Junior year at Sammamish High School in Bellevue. The year was pivotal during the turbulent ‘60s. Martin Luther King had been murdered in April, the War in Vietnam was at its height, the Summer of Love had been the previous summer and it was a presidential election year. In the wake of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the death of MLK and the widening of the war, the murder of Robert F. Kennedy in CA seemed to be the death of hope.
The heir presumptive to the Kennedy family political legacy, RFK seemed to be the hope of so many Americans of returning to Camelot with the addition of civil rights and peace—a new and better nation. There was a belief that he might be the savior of a country in serious trouble. The events of 1968 seemed to turn the universe topsy turvy.
On January 31st the Viet Cong had launched the Tet Offensive marking the beginning of the end of the American involvement in Viet Nam. Many Americans blamed President Lyndon Johnson for the ever increasing American deaths in Viet Nam which American families witnessed each night on the evening news. Would JFK have allowed our country to become so enmeshed in the quagmire of Vietnam? On March 31st Johnson surprised the nation by announcing his decision not to run for reelection. A few days later came the assassination of MLK. Who could lead us out of this chaos? Many hopes were pinned on Robert Kennedy leading the nation into a time of equality and peace.
History can be cruel. A twenty-four-year-old Palestinian named Sirhan Sirhan had other ideas. His ideas are unclear except that they included murder and there is some speculation that although he was tried and convicted of killing RFK and is serving a life sentence in CA, he was not responsible for the shots that killed Kennedy. Sirhan claims to have no memory of the shooting. No matter who killed RFK it was the death of an American prince and hope for a speedy end to the war. Following the assassination of RFK the Secret Service protection was extended to presidential candidates.
The riots of the Democratic Convention in Chicago would be that August as the nation became gripped by violence and struggle and Richard Nixon would be elected with promises of ending the war that would not bear fruit for six more bloody years.
One can speculate on what might have happened had all three of these men lived. In the case of Robert Kennedy I believe that he died much too soon. If he had lived would he have won the Democratic nomination? The General Election? What would the United States have looked like under a Robert Kennedy administration? Forty years later we can only speculate and grieve a great politician taken much too soon.