When President Kennedy died, I was just a kid, living in, of all places, the United States of America. Yes, of course I remember when our teacher came in and announced what had happened. Of course; although I remember little else from that period of my life. I also remember how proud I was when Bobby Kennedy later shook my small hand among the millions of other anonymous hands when he was campaigning.
I also remember how pained I was ten-fifteen years later when I was told in various ways and by various people that Kennedy was not the hero I thought he was. He had much to answer for about Vietnam and about sins committed against humanity in the name of anti-Communism.
The purpose of this post is not to throw stones at JFK and his brother Bobby. They were men of their space-time and, not least, products of their social class. There is no way you can become president of the USA unless you embrace extremely unsavoury views, and we like to believe that the president’s also having embraced drugs and certain off-bounds women were reactions to unpalatable decisions he was forced to make.
No, my message here is not to bring down or even undress statues. It is to undress us, who prostrate ourselves, adoring our icons uncritically, refusing to even see any inexcusable acts underwritten by the persons or ideologies the icons represent.
You don’t thank the bearer of tidings when he tells you your husband, son or father has ordered a massacre. You don’t feel relieved of a lifelong burden of lies; you cling all the more to those very lies as though your life depended on them. You do so, to begin with, by not feeling, period. You refuse to feel, and after that, you simply deny, even in the face of clear evidence. That is what we all do. I do it, my neighbour does it and you, who are reading this, probably do it too.
Even now, knowing better, JFK is one of my heroes. Even now, knowing better, yours might be the Democratic Party, which has let at least 60% of the US population down. Or your hero might be Putin or Mao or Castro or Chavez or Che, all very fallible men. Most men are, in fact, fallible. I’m absolutely sure that even my favourite guru for the moment, Thomas Piketty, must be fallible.
Even women are fallible, and I’m not referring to Ocasio Cortez. She hit my country’s headlines today, not for defending equal rights to health care and education, but for delivering a “lesson in decency“. I’m sure Ocasio Cortez’s verbal lunge at the Tea Party member was more than well served and well deserved. Frankly, I would probably have used much more offensive language to address the fascistoid m__ f__r, and I’m certainly not going to undress Ocasio Cortez! I only wish to point out that the only reason she was in my country’s news today was because she disliked being referred to as a “bitch”. In other words, what was being applauded by my country was her feminism, not her defence of human rights for women and men. Frankly, I’m embarrassed. Yet, I go on believing in the justice, the goodness and the wisdom of my country. In short, I put to you that we are all a bit blind.
I cannot recomend enough the allegorical novel by José Saramago Blindness ( Ensaio sobre a cegueira, meaning Essay on Blindness). It was written in 1995, but is more relevant now than ever.
26 July: I need to add a postscript. The European so-called Istambul Convention prohibits violence against women and domestic violence in no uncertain terms. Poland and Turkey are threatening to withdraw their adherence to it. FIE!