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Following a Series of Tragic Plane Crashes, Congress May Direct the Pentagon’s Attention to the Causes

John F. Kennedy arrived in Dallas’s Love Field shortly before noon local time on Friday, November 22, 1963, as he neared the end of a two-day, five-city tour of Texas.

On that trip, Kennedy hoped to accomplish several things: He hoped to lay the groundwork for his nascent 1964 reelection campaign; he hoped to heal a schism among party leaders in Texas, which he feared would jeopardise his success in that key state; and he wanted to road test themes and refrains he thought would define his 1964 campaign, such as national security and world peace.

But as he stepped off the plane after a 13-minute flight from Fort Worth, he was thinking about domestic extremism, disinformation, and the destructive effect it could have on the US.

He was ready to denounce “voices teaching beliefs utterly foreign to reality” in Dallas, which he thought might “handicap this country’s security.”

“We cannot expect everyone, to use a phrase from a decade ago, to ‘speak sense to the American people,” he planned to remark. We may, however, hope that fewer people will listen to this foolishness.”

If he had lived to give it, it would have been a strong statement and a harsh warning, one that may have changed the shape of our nation’s response to today’s violent, disassociated discourse.

We typically look for deeper meaning in leaders’ final comments, a message for the ages. Although Thomas Jefferson’s last remarks to his servants were unrecorded in the early morning hours of July 4, 1826, and his last known words to his physician were, “No doctor, nothing more,” we instead emphasise the fact that on the evening of July 3, Jefferson awoke and inquired, “Is it the Fourth?”

It seems more fitting that Jefferson’s final words inquire about the independence movement he helped launch exactly 50 years before.

Of all, we often use poetic licence with last words because people rarely know what their final words will be, especially when death strikes unexpectedly.

Whether or whether the speaker was aware that death was approaching, we give those final comments a weight that we might not otherwise. Perhaps we hear such words more clearly in death because we never got to hear them spoken in life.

The final chapter of my new book, “Undelivered,” examines the speeches that Pope Pius XI, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Albert Einstein, and John F. Kennedy were working on when they died.

Each of them has a tremendous message for a future they won’t see.

President John F. Kennedy was hugely popular as 1962 turned into 1963. He began the year with a 70 per cent approval rating after successfully navigating the Cuban missile crisis.

He had 67 per cent to 27 per cent polling leads over his Republican opponent, Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater, in March.

Kennedy was also a cultural phenomenon, with about half of all Americans having witnessed or heard a Kennedy impersonator.

However, Kennedy’s emphasis on racial rights began to wear thin as the year went on. His popularity declined across the board, and it plummeted in the South.


Texas had already become a major political battleground by the time Air Force One landed in Dallas.

“Even if Mr Kennedy should write off most of the South, he is not writing off Texas’s 25 votes,” the New York Times reported in early November.

A political update memo from the Democratic National Committee, an article on the economic situation in Texas from the Texas Business Review, and “administration accomplishments” documents for Texas that included statistics on public works spending were among the documents that various administration and DNC officials submitted to speechwriter Ted Sorensen to prepare for the trip. Kennedy had requested a collection of “Texas humour,” which Sorensen complied.

Kennedy was prepared to talk to a diverse crowd in Dallas. Members of the Dallas Citizens Council and the Dallas Assembly, two groupings of local business and nonprofit leaders, as well as a contingent from the Graduate Research Center of the Southwest, were among those who attended.

Audiences like this can be difficult for speechwriters to handle: how can you address your thoughts to all of the groups while yet conveying something meaningful to each?

The “connection between leadership and learning” became Kennedy’s uniting theme. “Leadership and learning are inextricably linked,” Kennedy was to say. Learning depends on community leadership for financial and political support, and the outcomes of that learning are crucial to the leadership’s goals for sustained progress and prosperity.”

While Kennedy’s prior speeches and those he planned to give on his Texas trip were largely routine, with lists of successes and requests for support, he was ready to take a different approach with this address and audience.

To begin, it placed a strong emphasis on national security.

It is because of the powerful and well-publicized climax that Kennedy’s final, undelivered comments are remembered to this day. Kennedy had planned to close his address with the following words:

We in this country, in this generation, are the watchmen on the walls of world freedom by fate rather than choice.

We beg, therefore, that we be worthy of our power and duty, that we apply our strength with wisdom and restraint, and that we realise the ancient ideal of “peace on earth, good will toward men” in our time and for all time.

That must always be our purpose, and our strength must always be founded on the righteousness of our cause. Because, as it was said long ago, “unless the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh in vain.”

Yes, Kennedy envisioned America as the world’s watchdog for freedom. However, a closer examination of the speech and the circumstances surrounding its composition reveals that Kennedy knew and sought to emphasise that the watchman on the wall must not just look outward for threats to freedom, but must also glance within the walls.

Although the speech is renowned for being on national security, over half of it is about what Sorensen called “the fires of fury” that raged beneath the surface of America’s peace and prosperity.

These rages erupted in a growing right-wing campaign to discredit and demonise Kennedy. Edwin Walker, a former World War II commander who helped incite riots at the University of Mississippi in 1962 when the school attempted to integrate by enrolling James Meredith, was one of the organisers of this campaign.

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Walker also ran for governor of Texas as a fringe candidate. Walker said that civil rights marches in Washington and Texas were “pro-Kennedy, pro-Communist, and pro-Socialist,” using language that echoed President Donald Trump’s and his supporters’ attacks on political opponents half a century later.

Violent words are often a forerunner — and give a permission structure — for violent actions, as we have seen all too often recently.

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