Why we still talk about JFK

2. Our parents experienced it as a different kind of trauma. They had lost one of their own. He had fought in World War II, like them. He was still young, like them, and now he was brutally cut down. What a lot of them felt was captured in the famous conversation of the newspaper columnist Mary McGrory and her friend Pat Moynihan. McGrory said: Oh Pat, can you believe we’re at Jack Kennedy’s funeral? “I feel like we’ll never laugh again.” He replied: “We’ll laugh again, but we’ll never be young again.”

3. We talk about JFK’s death because for the 18 years leading up to that point—between the end of the war, as we used to say, and 1963—America knew placidity. Many problems were growing and quietly brewing, but on the surface America was placid, growing more affluent, and politically calm. And then this rupture, this shock, this violence, this new sense that anything can happen, history can be ripped from its rails, that security once won cannot necessarily be maintained. That our luck won’t necessarily hold.

4. And what followed—growing political unrest, cultural spasms, riots at political conventions, more assassinations and assassination attempts—was so different from the years preceding that we couldn’t help look back at JFK’s murder as the breakpoint, the rupture. After that, things turned difficult.