This week marks the fiftieth anniversary of Robert F. Kennedy’s death, so the news has been filled with news accounts of his assassination, the newly-published books about his life, and discussions relaying memories of that day. At thirteen, I remember the Sixties as being a decade overflowing with anger and violence directed toward the Vietnam War, civil rights, and full equality for women.
Time to head for the box of Grandpa’s newspapers. An article written in my local paper, The Daily Record, caught my eye: “Violence Surfaces in America Life.” On the day RFK died, a New York psychiatrist wrote:
“Violence by gun is an American trait. We are still living under the legend of the Wild West where action was the easiest solution. On the frontier, settlers solved their problems with the gun.”—Dr. David Abrahamsen
Alongside that article, JFK speechwriter and Presidential Special Assistant, Arthur Schlesinger, called Americans
“the most frightening people on this planet. These acts of violence are not accidents. They have their origins in our national past. They began when the white man began the practice of murdering the Indians and enslaving those he deemed his inferiors because of the color their skin. We cannot blame violence in America on deviant individuals. We are stamped by society with a birthright of violence.”
This could be written today. Just substitute the word Indians with Mexicans, African Americans, or Muslims. Nothing changes.
The final paragraph of the article was chillingly familiar to what we are seeing today when our president and his spokespersons attack the media and refer to any negative reports as “fake news,” or when Americans protestors are accused of being paid when they march. (I personally am still waiting for my checks to arrive in the mail since I have participated in the Women’s March, Science March, and the March for our Lives.)
“Calling a ‘season of despair’ in the legitimacy of libertarian democracy, Schlesinger warned against suppression of individual liberties for the purpose of maintain order.”
These words were all written fifty years ago. Just let that sink in.