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November 22, 2012

No innocence

JFK

On this day in 1963, President John F. Kennedy was murdered in Dallas. A friend on Facebook referred to that as the day "America lost her innocence." I remember that awful day 49 years ago (I was 7), and have fond memories of President Kennedy. But as to America having lost her innocence that day, let's re-examine. Prior to Nov. 22, 1963, America had seen: The Trail of Tears. Slavery. At least eight wars. Presidents Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley assassinated. The atomic bomb. The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. The internment of Japanese Americans. The Dust Bowl. The murder of Emmitt Till. Unsafe industrial practices. A boatful of German Jewish refugees turned away from our shores. Thousands of lives ruined by official anti-gay "security risk" hysteria in the 1950s. Toppling democracy in Iran and installing the Shah. You get the idea. Not much innocence.

I have a feeling that pointing out these less uplifting moments from our nation's history will be seen as inappropriate, if not downright unpatriotic, especially on Thanksgiving. But I think that we are strong enough to look at our past truthfully, and that true patriotism must be made of sterner stuff. We have done much good for the world, and have struggled long and hard to make up for some of our past sins. More than 600,000 Americans died in the war that ended slavery here. Many struggled for justice. We have pioneered many breakthroughs in architecture, industry, agriculture, medicine, filmmaking, theater and the arts. We liberated Europe from Hitler. We defeated the Soviet Union while averting nuclear war. We astonished the world by electing an African American as our President. And as JFK himself summoned us to do, we landed a man on the moon and returned him safely to the earth.

With all that and more for which to be proud, we can surely afford to stop the nonsense that we were innocent as a nation prior to one horrific event in 1963. We have seen much and done much, a lot of it good but also a lot of it very bad indeed. One thing for which we ought to be thankful on this day is our capacity to face up to our faults and strive to correct them. Two days after participating in the annual Transgender Day of Remembrance, I think that is a perfectly appropriate thought. But then I am an inveterate troublemaker. In any case, happy Thanksgiving.

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