The first sentence of James McAuley’s opinion piece in Sunday’s editions of The New York Times showed that this is a writer who is out of touch:
“For 50 years, Dallas has done its best to avoid coming to terms with the one event that made it famous: the assassination of John F. Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963.”
I disagree with some of the opinions I select for publication almost every day, but I try to limit my selections to those with a close tie to today’s world.
McAuley, class of 2012 at Harvard and now a Marshall Scholar at Oxford, already has a long list of credits and is obviously a smart person.
He and the editors of the Times missed it on this one. Far from avoiding “coming to terms” with the Kennedy assassination, Dallas has wallowed in self-reproach for 50 years.
The Dallas Morning News Editorial Board published a retort to McAuley‘s piece on Tuesday. It pointed to a year of news coverage, public discussions and other events leading up to the assassination’s 50th anniversary, including planned ceremonies Friday at Dealey Plaza.
Dallas charts its own “Big D” path, it’s true, but that has not included any attempt to hide or ignore the racism or the radical right politics, even hatred, that were part of the city in 1963.
Racism still exists. Radical right politics surges today. Dallas is not the epicenter of either — let’s not waste time trying to figure out which city is, because there are too many candidates.
If it were left to me, I would say Dallas should put the Kennedy assassination behind. Don’t forget it — that would be impossible — but for heaven’s sake, move on.
The most prominent symbol of the city’s JFK assassination self-flagellation is the continued existence of Dealey Plaza itself, a shrine not to Kennedy but to Lee Harvey Oswald.
Tourists at Dealey Plaza may say they go out of respect for the slain president, but what they do when they get there is look at the window on the sixth floor of the former Texas School Book Depository and at the places on Elm Street where Kennedy was hit.
They marvel at the assassin’s marksmanship.
They remember the terrible frames of the Zapruder film. They envision themselves standing on the grassy knoll watching events unfold.
That’s not necessary. A modern museum could show people what happened.
Dealey Plaza, kept practically unchanged for 50 years, is a lead weight around the neck of downtown Dallas.
Bulldoze it, dynamite the book depository, reconfigure Elm and Commerce streets, get rid of the grassy knoll and rebuild the triple underpass. Put something better in its place.
Build a better facility to house the Sixth Floor Museum and tell the story of the assassination. Move on.
In 1993, the plaza and its surroundings were named a National Historic Landmark. That could hinder the bulldozers, but Dallas can do what it sets its mind to do.
People like Oswald, crazy loners with guns and knowledge of how to use them, still exist. They kill people: kids in school, late-night movie fans in a theater, people at a shopping mall political meeting, a security guard at an airport, sometimes just their own family or friends or gangland enemies.
We don’t build shrines or preserve the scenes of their lunacy for decades.
Dallas has done that long enough.