- The Washington Times - Monday, November 21, 2005

Forty-two years ago today, a series of shots rang out in Dallas that still echo through the world, if only because of the contrast the event provided between the United States and the rest of the world then and the United States and the rest of the world today.

While much of what happened that day remains a matter of dispute, one thing is certain: A young American president collapsed mortally wounded into the arms of his wife while they were driven through the Texas city’s downtown.

John F. Kennedy’s assassination brought tears of mourning not just in his own country but everywhere his name was known — not only in the Free World but also behind the Iron Curtain. For he had earned the respect of the Soviet leaders with his handling of the Cuban missile crisis.

Kennedy was seen overseas as a symbol of the best of the United States: vigorous, glamorous, a war hero, a man of wealth who showed true compassion for those less fortunate than he and his family.

He was seen as following in the footsteps of Franklin D. Roosevelt as a true defender of democracy, both in his foreign policy and in his drive for civil rights at home.

Living in Paris, one could see the French of both high and low estate felt one of their own had been killed. They went out of their way to commiserate with the Americans in their midst and did their best to offer comfort. This feeling swept across the Continent, in both Western and Eastern Europe. And from reports of the day, it rolled all around the world.

There was no suspicion of any conspiracy until Jack Ruby shot accused assassin Lee Harvey Oswald to death, an event caught on television and seen around the world. No one in France — or all of Europe — could believe any police force could be incompetent enough to let such a thing happen accidentally and felt it must have been done deliberately. They could not believe professional law officers would be so eager for publicity they would endanger such a notorious and important prisoner. Many Americans harbor the same feeling.

As Kennedy was viewed, so was the country he led. The United States was seen as holding the flame of liberty high; while there might be temporary aberrations, in the long run personal freedoms would be protected. There would be no secret FBI probes of library records, telephone links and other private records; taxes would not be tilted to help the rich get richer and the poor get poorer; torture would not be justified and defended for any reason, nor would secret prisons be run by agents of the U.S. government around the world.

While the weather in Paris on Nov. 22, 1963, was gray, damp and bleak as though reflecting the grim events in Dallas, the United States still seemed bathed in the sunshine of good fortune despite having suffered such a serious loss.

It was an impression that lasted almost four decades, only vanishing in the last few years.

I suspect what angers so many of our former friends and remaining reluctant allies around the world so much is not what we have done to others but what we have done to ourselves.

Stroube Smith, a former copy editor for The Washington Times, is a free-lance writer.

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