JFK -or- The Burden and the Glory of the American Dream

This "Field Note of a Dream Researcher" remembers John F. Kennedy, his dream and his assassination fifty years ago. 

Ask Not What Your Country Can Do For You -or- The Soul of a People 

On November 22, 1963 I was eight years old, I understood little or nothing about the historical idea of "nation building" or nation builders. Being born in Orillia, Ontario, the summer home of the humorist Stephen Leacock, I knew that I was Canadian with a Jewish-European background. Some of the political theatre ideas of the sense of the tragic (1) were conveyed to me via my parent's responses to the assassination of President Kennedy (11) in Dallas, Texas. 

Who can forget the stoic grief ridded face of Walter Cronkite (watch video) reporting the death of President Kennedy on TV. Ironically, from a tragic political history repeating itself, I would find myself discussing and identifying with my daughter and her sense of the unfolding American tragedy of 9/11 (discussed in a different ‘Field Note", "Remembering the World Trade Centre") when she was nearly eight. 

My parents were deeply saddened by Kennedy's assassination, at least that's what I sensed as a child. I remember as my parents cynically talked (while watching the drama on TV) about the variety of conspiracy theories that still circulate, to this day. In the summer of 1964, my parents and I traveled through the United States via New York to Washington DC. We spent some time at Arlington National Cemetery where Kennedy is interred and finds his last resting place.  

According to the German philosopher Hegel, political history, "is an idea of the state with a moral and spiritual force beyond the material interests of its subjects: it followed that the state was the main agent of historical change" In contrast to this "state" organized idea of political "nation building" history and change, is the idea of a "people's history". Our dreams are the everyday stuff (2) that political state and a people's history are made of.

The International Institute for Dream Resarch (IIDR) is giving "epic" voice to both the political history of the state and leadership (history from above (shakers and movers) of "Who's Who"  in the "global theatre") and to a "people's history" ("first person" (3) history from below) of collective dream vision communication patterns. In this unified transpersonal global theatre (4) we find the dramatic movement of politics, social history and people, social movements deeply sociologically rooted in our everyday "dream visions". The literacy programme of the IIDR is to give epic voice to the sociology of dream vision (read interpretation, "Researching the Sociology of Dreams"), or to what has also been called "The Soul of a People" (5)

One senses, that one of the great traumatic dream vision knots (6) in collective memory and the "poetic soul" of the modern era can be found in the 50th anniversary in the Remembrance of the murder of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Kennedy is part of a larger epic canvas of the "Artistic Portrait of the American Dream" (read interpretation). You the reader can decide whether Kennedy was a "great man" with a vision, a dream and a poetic soul. 

My Fellow Americans -or- The Epic Political Tale of American Dream Vision 

Need we really ask whether Kennedy lived the "American Dream"? The Hollywood dream factory film "PT 109" was released a few months before he was assassinated. The biographical war film portrays Kennedy (played by Cliff Robertson, reportedly chosen by President Kennedy himself) as using his father's influence to be assigned to fighting in the WWII "Pacific theatre". Kennedy is seen heroically risking his own life to save and defend others. Kennedy was elected to the House of Representatives in 1946 for the state of Massachusetts, he went on to become a US Senator in 1952. According to Time-Life (7), Kennedy's fairy tale marriage to Jacqueline Lee Bouvier in 1953, "was the social event of the decade". 

In 1953 Kennedy began writing "Profiles in Courage", a book about the biography's of US Senators who had shown integrity of character and bravery in the face of adversity and criticism. The book received the "Pulizer Prize" in 1957. Some critical voices believed that Kennedy's father's influence secured him the Pulizer. Was the fix was in? The political fix has historically always been in, that's why it's history from above. Any amateur studying history will understand the cliché, "it's not what you know, it's who you know". Was Kennedy deserving of the Pulizer, many believe he was. 

James Truslow Adams in his 1931 book "Epic of America"  popularized the cultural idiom of the "American Dream". Did Kennedy have a dream? What was Kennedy's role in the national epic of the American Dream? In dreams we can find and see what has been called "the need for achievement". Kennedy in his career aspired to become American President. Here is the story of the prophetic and ambitious dream Kennedy is quoted as having; 

"Several nights ago, I dreamed that the good Lord touched me on the shoulder and said, ‘Don't worry, you'll be the Democratic presidential nominee in 1960. What's more, you'll be elected'. I told [U.S. Senator] Stu Symington about my dream. ‘Funny thing,' he said, ‘I had the same dream myself.' We both told about our dreams to Lyndon Johnson, and Johnson said, ‘That's funny. For the life of me, I can't remember tapping either one of you two boys for the job.'" 

In the West, the political separation of Church and State has been a historical given for some time. However, Kennedy's theocratic styled ("the good Lord touched me on the shoulder") dream seems to meld both American traditional and charismatic legitimacy of the "body political" "head of state". 

Kennedy, Symington and Johnson were sitting Democratic US Senators. Kennedy and Symington have had the same ambitious presidential dream, Johnson who is told both dreams proceeds to humorously mock them, by projecting himself into the dream and taking on the character role of "the good Lord". After Kennedy was assassinated, Vice-President Lyndon B. Johnson was indeed tapped to take over as President from Kennedy, Johnson had his own dream, that of a "Great Society". President Johnson's dream of the "Great Society" failed and with increasing public opposition to his escalation of the Vietnam War and its costs both in terms of human life and financially, Johnson decided not to run for another term of office (8)

The 1960 US presidential election was hotly contested. In the Kennedy-Nixon televised political debates, Kennedy showed himself off to the American public as a political "heavyweight". Kennedy's political road to the White House was aided by Johnson's influence with voters in the South, which helped the Democrats to win the White House. Kennedy chose Johnson as his vice-presidential running mate, despite preferring Symington who was reportedly supported by President Truman as the Democratic candidate. In his Inauguration address, Kennedy the 35th President of the United States employs the focal political and rhetorical agon of international values by emphasizing the relationships between power, duty, action for the greater good and the goal of international unity. 

The beginning of the 1960's, was marked with a growing activism in the United States coming from different domestic fields and the far corners of American society. The technological spark that ignited the movements of "counter-culture" seem closely linked to the "birth control" pill, which was approved by the FDA in 1960. Let the American sexual revolution of Helen Gurley Brown's "Sex and the Single Girl" begin. 

Jane Jacob's book "Death and Life of Great American Cities" is published in1961, critiquing American urban planning policy which she believes has led to the decline of many city neighborhoods. Rachel Carsen's book "Silent Spring" published in 1962 setting in motion and launching the green "environmental movement". In 1963, Betty Frieden's "The Feminine Mystique" is published, and is credited for sparking what has been called "second wave feminism" and the "woman's liberation movement". The African-American civil rights movement led by Martin Luther King is kindled by "I Have a Dream" speech, August 28, 1963 in Washington, DC. 

From an International geo-political theatre perspective, the 60's sees the Orwellian "Cold War"  struggle for global influence heating up. After the failed CIA sponsored "Bay of Pigs" invasion of Cuba, the "Vienna Summit" sets the political tone for the Kennedy-Khrushchev "Cold War" rhetoric. The propaganda of the Kennedy Cold War era was politically fueled by the American-Soviet "space race". U-2 spy photos of Soviet missiles being installed in Cuba sparks the nuclear brinksmanship of the "Cuban Missile Crisis". After the Cuban missile crisis, the Moscow-Washington hotline was installed. After the erection of the Berlin Wall, Kennedy politically responds by visiting the besieged city, providing a message of help and support to those living in Berlin by saying "Ich bin ein Berliner" (I am a Berliner).    

The influence of the Cold War on dreams is undeniable, read the dream interpretation "Remembering the Cold War". The present geo-political militarization of the "Grand Chessboard"  and the great geo-political game on the planet and in space can be directly traced back to the growing influence of the American "Military-Industrial Complex". Reportedly, over 1.5 trillion dollars of military expenditure was spent on the planet in 2009, half of which was American. 

President Eisenhauer in his farewell address (watch and listen to President Eisenhauer's message) before leaving office warned the American public of the dark influence of the "military industrial complex". One body political conspiracy theory sees their involvement in Kennedy's assassination. "Field Notes of a Dream Researcher" includes a dream "The American Military-Industrial Complex" sent from a military source in early 2001, the dream coincidently and evidently features "Cliff Robertson" (who played Kennedy in "PT 109"). 

Is this really just a coincidence, or was Kennedy's assassination in fact Eisenhauer's self-fulfilling prophesy, waiting for the other political shoe to drop? On September 20, 1963 Kennedy (watch video) in front of the United Nations General Assembly called on the Soviets (and Nikita Khrushchev) to join forces in the dream of landing a man on the moon. Kennedy was assassinated two months later. Kennedy's vision of easing the "war game" brinksmanship tensions with the Soviets went unrealized and the Cold War escalated to apocalyptic MAD  proportions, especially under the Reagan administration. 

The Hollywood dream factory film "JFK"  based on a true story, brings the "film noir" like conspiracy theory of the "military-industrial complex" to the light and into the court of public opinion. What is certain from my own perspective about the Kennedy assassination, is that once more "The Killers of the Dream" (read IIDR dream interpretation) were hard at work. Having searched the web for a dream about John F. Kennedy, I came across one that reflects Kennedy's message, dream and tragic historical fate. 

Here is the reported dream; 

"The dream takes place on an ever-expanding beach. On the beach I am with John F. Kennedy and Abraham Lincoln, together Kennedy, Lincoln and myself are building an ark. The dream ends with the three of us working on the framework of the ark." 

The dream reflects what Howard Zinn called a "A People's History of the United States". Kennedy and Lincoln were both American Presidents, both lived in troubled times, in a nation divided, both were assassinated, both were trying to achieve and build their dream, build their nation, and build a "just" society. It has always been necessary for everyday people to want to help build the national dream, unfortunately not all citizens are like minded. In this political sense of the dream of building and working together, we can give JFK the final words found in five of his quotes; 

"Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country." 

"If more politicians knew poetry, and more poets knew politics, I am convinced the world would be a little better place in which to live." 

"Abraham Lincoln once said, ‘One who has the heart to help has the right to criticize.'" 

"My fellow inhabitants of this planet, let us take our stand here in this Assembly of nations. And let us see if we, in our time, can move the world to a just and lasting peace."(9) 

"We in this country, in this generation, are by destiny rather than choice, the watchmen on the walls of world freedom. We ask, therefore, that we may be worthy of our power and responsibility, that we may exercise our strength with wisdom and restraint, and that we may achieve in our time the ancient vision of ‘peace on earth, good will toward men.' That must be our goal-and the righteousness of our cause must always underlie our strength. For as was written long ago: ‘Except the Lord keep the city, the watchmen waketh but in vain.'" (10) 

FOOTNOTES:     JFK: The Burden and the Glory of the American Dream 

  1. Terry Eagleton, "Sweet Violence: The Idea of the Tragic"
  2. Joel Fineman, "The Subjectivity Effect in the Western Literary Tradition"
  3. Ann Banks, "First Person America"
  4. Marshall McLuhan, "From Cliché to Archetype"
  5. David A. Taylor, "Soul of a People: The WPA Writers' Project Uncovers Depression America"
  6. Elisabeth Bronfen , "The Knotted Subject: Hysteria and its Discontents"
  7. "The American Dream: The 50's", Time-Life Books
  8. Doris Kearns Goodwin, "Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream"
  9. John F. Kennedy, "The Burden and the Glory" (edited by Allan Nevins, foreword by President Johnson), from his speech "The Tasks of the United Nations", delivered September 20, 1963, p67-76.
  10. John F. Kennedy, "The Burden and the Glory" (edited by Allan Nevins, foreword by President Johnson), from his speech that President Kennedy was to deliver on November 22, 1963 to the Dallas Citizen Council, p271-277.
  11. David Horowitz, "The Kennedys: An American Drama".
All material Copyright 2006 International Institute for Dream Research. All rights reserved.