Comments on economics, mystery fiction, drama, and art.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

And what rough beast...

An ongoing thread on a listserv I participate in (Dorothy-L, where the usual topic of conversation is murder—fictional, of course) concerns the events of November 22, 1963.  The assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, one of four presidents killed while in office (14 other Presidents were targeted, but were not killed).  (  tes_presidential_assassination_attempts_and_plots)
People have been remembering where they were, how they heard of Kennedy’s shooting, and how it affected them.  I was 15, and working on my high school’s student newspaper.  We had a Friday deadline for the paper which would appear the following Wednesday.  Our principal made an announcement of the shooting over the PA system (at about 2:30 EST—about an hour after the shooting occurred), and then switched it so that we heard the CBS news feed.  Needless to say, we did not get any more work done.  We were in shock. 
I had grown up in a very (politically) conservative household and was, at the time, quire conservative (although I had disliked Richard Nixon).  My parents, and my father in particular, had little use for Kennedy or his policies, and they were shocked—stunned—by his death.  Two presidents had died in their lifetimes (Harding, but they were very young, and FDR) and one had narrowly escaped assassination (Truman).  Eisenhower had nearly died of a heart attack.  So presidential deaths were not uncommon in their lifetimes, but assassination attempts…They saw it as an attack, by someone, some group, some enemy, on the country itself.  And they immediately suspected that it was a communist plot—either Russian or Cuban.  I think my father never gave up on that belief.
The weekend was surreal…high school football games cancelled on Friday night…continuous news coverage of the developments…speculation…and then the arrest of Lee Harvey Oswald (at 1:45 PM—I did look this up), barely an hour after the shooting, and Oswald’s shooting by Jack Ruby on November 24.  Lyndon Johnson’s swearing in.  I remember being on the phone a lot that weekend, talking with friends, trying to deal with what seemed like Yeats’ second coming (a poem I already knew, and which leapt into my mind…I can’t recite it any more, but I can look it up:
    Turning and turning in the widening gyre
    The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
    Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
    The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity.
    Surely some revelation is at hand;
    Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
    The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
    When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
    Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
    A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
    A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
    Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
    Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.
    The darkness drops again but now I know
    That twenty centuries of stony sleep
    Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
    And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
    Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
It then seemed to me like a prophecy, and a prophecy that then seemed to play out over the next five—ten—fifteen years…the blood-dimmed tide had certainly been loosed.  Somehow, as I lived through the 1960s and 1970s, Kennedy’s death seemed to have been a foreshadowing of the 50,000 American soldiers to die in Viet Nam and the millions wounded, of the nearly 2 million deaths, soldiers and civilians, in Viet Nam, of the deaths of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy and the students who died at Kent State (Alison Krause, Sandra Scheuer, Jeffrey Glenn Miller and William K. Schroeder) and at Jackson State (Phillip Lafayette Gibbs and James Earl Green), of the others whose lives were torn apart by wars around the world.

And then we all went back to school on Monday.  And in the cafeteria, I heard people at the table next to where my friends and I were, and someone—I never did know who—said, “Yeah, it’s about time someone shot him.” 

And now, another November, and 120+ people have died in Paris and 40+ in Beirut and 30+ in Nigeria (where thousands have died this year in terrorist bombings).  And again the question is what rough beast, its time come round again, is now slouching…to where we do not know…to be born once again?

Friday, November 13, 2015

Novmber 13, 2015. Paris

Bob Dylan wrote a song, probably in late 1962, probably partly in response to the Cuban missile crisis. That song is “Masters of War,” and here are the lyrics:

Come you masters of war
You that build all the guns
You that build the death planes...
You that build the big bombs
You that hide behind walls
You that hide behind desks
I just want you to know
I can see through your masks

You that never done nothin’
But build to destroy
You play with my world
Like it’s your little toy
You put a gun in my hand
And you hide from my eyes
And you turn and run farther
When the fast bullets fly

Like Judas of old
You lie and deceive
A world war can be won
You want me to believe
But I see through your eyes
And I see through your brain
Like I see through the water
That runs down my drain

You fasten the triggers
For the others to fire
Then you set back and watch
When the death count gets higher
You hide in your mansion
As young people’s blood
Flows out of their bodies
And is buried in the mud

You’ve thrown the worst fear
That can ever be hurled
Fear to bring children
Into the world
For threatening my baby
Unborn and unnamed
You ain’t worth the blood
That runs in your veins

How much do I know
To talk out of turn
You might say that I’m young
You might say I’m unlearned
But there’s one thing I know
Though I’m younger than you
Even Jesus would never
Forgive what you do

Let me ask you one question
Is your money that good
Will it buy you forgiveness
Do you think that it could
I think you will find
When your death takes its toll
All the money you made
Will never buy back your soul

And I hope that you die
And your death’ll come soon
I will follow your casket
In the pale afternoon
And I’ll watch while you’re lowered
Down to your deathbed
And I’ll stand o’er your grave
’Til I’m sure that you’re dead

The rage there has a history, and it has not gone away or ended. But the end of that rage is simply death. That is the frightening thing about the events today in France, about this song, about the world in which we live. The end of rage is not peace, not justice. It is simply death. Look at the final verse. There’s no hope there. There is only rage and death.

And I hope that you die
And your death’ll come soon
I will follow your casket
In the pale afternoon
And I’ll watch while you’re lowered
Down to your deathbed
And I’ll stand o’er your grave
’Til I’m sure that you’re dead

There are times when I wish I had a belief in a god of peace and justice. But all the gods seem to be gods of war and hatred and death. And so I do not believe. I hope, but hope comes increasingly more difficult. And I do not hope for more deaths, but I’m afraid a lot of people out there will agree with Dylan:

And I hope that you die
And your death’ll come soon
I will follow your casket
In the pale afternoon
And I’ll watch while you’re lowered
Down to your deathbed
And I’ll stand o’er your grave
’Til I’m sure that you’re dead