Born without a clue. A lifetime later, situation largely unchanged. Nevertheless, one perseveres.....
Not when I lost my virginity.
That was at an all too embarrassingly later stage.
No, it was - though I didn’t realise it at the time - when Cheryl Reid turned around to me in high school French class. We were early and the room awaited more students and the teacher. She said, “Did you hear that President Kennedy was shot?”
Surprised but fairly unmoved (I was more interested in Cheryl), I confessed “No.” “Aren’t you afraid?” she asked, clear blue eyes wide. “Of what?” I responded, gormlessly. “I’m afraid there’s going to be a war.” she said and turned back to her work.
What followed was months, then years, then decades of conjecture and subterfuge. In the midst of striving for some form of adulthood, I didn’t initially pay much attention. It seemed straightforward enough. The man was shot. They caught the sniper. He was shot. The shooter died of cancer. End of story.
But little by little, even my befuddled middle-class brain began to see the outright absurdity of the “official” narrative. And in contrast, other facts began to emerge from a variety of sources – sufficiently cross-referenced to be taken seriously – about events on and leading up to the day. Over time, it became obvious that the American people – and the rest of the world – were being systematically lied to.
How could that be? In the land of the free and the brave, we all stood on our hind legs and fought to rid the world of “commies” because we knew that they inveterately and systematically lied to and manipulated their own people. We knew they did this through tightly controlled media and repetitious propaganda. How could we possibly be subjected to the same thing? We had elections for heaven’s sake! We had freedom of the press! And, most importantly, we could buy things commies couldn’t even dream of.
But there it was. Like a running sore. That handsome and forward thinking President had been murdered – and it looked more and more and more like an inside job.
Of course, that handsome idealised President was far from perfect. A chronic womaniser and raised in privilege, he strode the political landscape with the casual ease of copious wealth. No need for ostentation as many of the privileged seem to require, he rarely spent lavishly on himself. But in a relaxed and generous manner he used his wealth to open doors of opportunity for people with ideals who then became intensely loyal. He built up a tribe of unswervingly dedicated support.
But even his benighted campaign for the presidency was tainted with underworld dealings, cynical compromise, and massive spending. By the time he got there he was already beholden to dark powers and forces which expected returns. And seemingly caught off guard in the early months, he was dragged into the Bay of Pigs and undermined by his own military and intelligence services.
He might have blundered on in this fashion as many dumb ass Presidents have done since, but he seemed to have paused and taken deep stock and come out fighting for principles he re-discovered. And with this seemed to come a gradual realisation of what he was actually up against internally. He seemed to have some inkling – as many of us slowly did - that the “commies” weren’t really the main enemy after all. No, some other massive game seemed to be afoot.
In his lately more famous speech of April 27, 1961 he hinted at his concerns. In much the same way as his predecessor had hinted at and warned of “the military industrial complex” which was slowly taking control of the economy and national strategic direction, he outlined his own perception of the problem:
“Even today, there is little value in opposing the threat of a closed society by imitating its arbitrary restrictions. Even today, there is little value in ensuring the survival of our nation if our traditions do not survive with it. And there is very grave danger that an announced need for increased security will be seized upon by those anxious to expand its meaning to the very limits of official censorship and concealment.”
Of course we all assumed he was talking about commies. But was he, perhaps like Dwight before him, not just talking about commies?
Persistent Innocence vs Fear & Hatred
So tensions continued to build up and we all endured the “Cuban missile crisis”, when it seemed like the major military economies of the world would take us all down with themselves. The whole thing was eventually averted by informal “back channel” communications between Kennedy and Kruschev. Unmonitored by their own “intelligence” services, they hammered out a deal which in itself looked like a promising basis for longer term peaceful coexistence.
But for the untimely (or timely, depending which side of “intelligence” you stood) demise of the slowly wisening President, the world might now be a very different place. As we saw his brains being splattered all over his wife, most of us knew, subconsciously if not consciously, that something much larger had also died.
But my own innocence persisted, albeit in the gloomy depressing aftermath of November ‘63. In those dark times we started to get wind of a UK based cultural phenomenon. Four mop headed popsters infiltrated our consciousnesses and then absolutely exploded into our frontal lobes via the televised “Ed Sullivan Show”. We were lifted by the Beatles who, despite preceding the mass advent of colour in television and printed media and being framed largely in black and white, broke into our abysmal greyness with searing shafts of sunlight, humour, optimism, and sheer unadulterated joy. They triggered an entire generational shift away from the mainstream “Fear and Hatred” programme and thousands upon thousands of us let our hair grow and hit the roads of the world looking for deeper explanations than what that programme had to offer.
My blinkered innocence (although not, thank god, my virginity) persisted as I (not unlike Kennedy) continued to be driven by the hard-wired prime male directive (inseminate). But I was also driven by a need to chase and explore other more considered ways of thinking and perceiving and being.
Looking back, my sense is that, for me, my first encounter with the mighty herb was perhaps a significant turning point. (see First Spliff)
I suddenly found I had stepped into a maturity and an unselfconscious detachment which threw so much of what I had learned up to that point into a kind of cosmic relief. I began to wander in a state of perpetual wonderment at all the world had to offer, including an empathy with and a sympathy for so many more of my fellow human beings.
But after two years of aimless wandering I returned to a broken university career and, prompted I think by some vague sense of “duty”, tried to achieve some form of normality. And there I found that the uplift provided by the Beatles and the mighty herb had levelled off. A kind of cultural paranoia had descended and settled, largely as a result of the “Fear and Hatred” programme’s determination to eradicate the mighty herb and all its proponents, but also as a result of the programme's obscene and ugly US intervention in the impoverished fields and forests of Vietnam.
NEXT Instalment: Vietnam
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Murder Most Foul
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