John F. Kennedy

By: Adam McGovern
May 29, 2011

We know JOHN F. KENNEDY (1917-63) was no saint, though he is one now. He was mythologized all along, but nowhere near as much as he’s been since someone killed him. We hear some bad surprises, like trying to order assassinations, and some good ones, like actually defusing the nuclear countdown with Cuba by secretly agreeing to back down on missiles in Turkey; a retroactively instructive example of when smart is strong. We remember youthfulness, bravery, and style, which set a tone that would be more ideal than practice for generations to come, and thus, like the irreversibly young James Dean, safe from compromise and disappointment. We remember tradeoffs and personal failings, but we subscribe to the paralyzing logic that, if he hadn’t been ready to change things profoundly, there would have been no point in killing him — a black-magic bullet that cleaved through several decades of American willingness to hope and readiness to risk, at least until enough people who’d been born since JFK died decided to vote for a young man of color whose opponents show up to his appearances heavily armed (and whose purpose turned out to be to manage hope, not channel it). So, though he’s the only sainted president in the memory of anyone who’s alive, Kennedy isn’t the most influential person of his century and ours. That would be the one (or ones) who killed him, whom we don’t know — and who clearly have no use for glamour.


On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: T.H. White and Paul Ehrlich.

READ MORE about members of the New Gods generation (1914-23).


HiLo Heroes

What do you think?

  1. A fine piece. Adam, do you know James Douglass’ recent-ish “JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters”?

    I was turned on to it by poet, musician and activist Ed Sanders and, to my surprise, it merits reading even by those who think they are tired of JFK speculation.

  2. I’m never tired of the speculation; he’s now been theory for longer than he ever was flesh…and I hadn’t known about that one; thanks for the lead and the kind attentions….

  3. Levon Helm, drummer, mandolin player and vocalist with THE BAND, played Mr. Rate, an old Tennessee gun smith in Antoine Fuqua’s 2007 conspiracy thriller SHOOTER:
    Mr. Rate: “Them boys on the grassy knoll were dead within 3 hours, buried in the damn desert, unmarked graves out past Terlingua…”
    FBI Agent:”You know this for a fact?”
    Mr. Rate: (nods):”Still got the shovel.”

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