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EDITOR’S PAGE

HOW NOT TO HATE AMERICA

The News Changed the Rhythm of Buenos Aires

That was one of the headlines in Clarín, a leading Buenos Aires daily, on November 23, 1963. The “news” was, of course, the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Now, in the year 2002, when the United States of America is almost universally disliked, detested or even hated, it is very interesting to compare this to the days of Kennedy’s presidency, when the opposite sentiments prevailed.

Today Clarín began a supplement series: “Great Deeds – XX Century”, by reproducing the newspaper on the relevant days. They lead off with November 23, 1963 - “John F. Kennedy – the Magnicide of the Century”. I was in Buenos Aires on that day, having been recently sent there by my company, and probably read the newspaper now being reproduced. Like so many other Americans, I was devastated by the news. What surprised me, though, was the similar effect it had on almost all the Argentines around me. But I’ll let the Article speak for itself (my translation):

Minutes before 3 p.m., the city’s rhythm changed abruptly in an impressive manner. The cables vibrated transmitting a news item that caused, first, perplexity, then frustration and finally anguish. The feeling about John Kennedy’s assassination was unanimous and was faithfully reflected in the center of the city. Multitudes gathered in front of the newspaper offices to read the latest news posted on the bulletin boards; the newspapers were all sold out and the principal shops closed after placing black crape and pictures of the deceased on their doors.

At 2:45

The first news about the attack perpetrated in Dallas was sent over the local radio stations at 2:45. Immediately the news spread through the city and the public gathered around newsstands and radios, which transmitted the successive cables from international news agencies.

At 3:40 there was no longer any doubt. John Kennedy was dead. A state of stupor extended over the city. At first the public stood in silence, then sobs were heard and some women began to cry. The were so many people in front of Clarín on Corrientes Street, that they interrupted traffic.

The anguish was generalized and an attempt was made to find the cause behind the irreparable. The deceased president’s heroic campaign against racial intolerance was cited as cause. And an Argentine woman, sobbing, named Jacqueline Kennedy: “Just as Mrs. Roosevelt, she will be an illustrious widow. She may not remarry, which is a great pity, because she is very young…and so pretty”. The public also remembered Kennedy’s two children, 6 and 2 years old.

The residents of Buenos Aires felt their hearts tighten as shadows descended over the city and a lump in the throat was the symbol of pain for the dead American patriot.  
       
At the Embassy

Dramatic moments and profound anguish among all the personnel was apparent yesterday at the United States embassy in this city upon hearing the news of Kennedy’s death. Said embassy, situated at 663 Sarmiento Street, received the first notification in Buenos Aires of the tragic event. Minutes before the news of the attack had arrived, stating that John Kennedy’s state was critical.

It was 2:45. On the second floor of the embassy, room 225, the Press Chief, Mr. John Brogan, was surrounded by his technical assistants following letter by letter what flowed from the modern teletype connected directly to the Department of State in Washington. Outside the office, the embassy employees, mostly Argentines,  filled the corridors also waiting for further news.


“ARF DALLAS, TEXAS. NOV. 22. MALCOLM KILDUFF, ACTING WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY, ISSUED THE FOLLOWING ANNOUNCEMENT: AT 1:35 DALLAS TIME (1935 GMT) JOHN FITZGERALD KENNEDY DIED AT APPROXIMATELY 1 P.M. CENTRAL STANDARD TIME (1900 GMT) HERE IN DALLAS. HE DIED OF A GUNSHOT WOUND IN THE BRAIN.”

It was the first notification for Buenos Aires. Trembling hands tore off the brief notice. Mr. Brogan, choked with emotion, advanced through the human corridor, confirming by his look and the expression on his face what all had feared. As he reached the elevator to bring the message to the ambassador, the first sobs were heard, which later would multiply in the whole city, in the whole country, in the world…”

The U.S. consulate in downtown Buenos Aires set up a condolence book just inside the entrance. The line to sign the book stretched around the whole block for days after his death. (This isn’t from a newspaper article; I witnessed it.) Argentines whom I barely knew, travel agents, airline personnel (I was in that business), sent me letters of condolence, merely because they knew I was an American. Most of the world loved Jack Kennedy and, through him and his actions, the country he represented; but there were also those in his own country who hated him. Many of you who read this were too young – or weren’t even born  --  to have felt the world’s grief at that man’s death.

The times have changed though, as we well know, and the people who have held the office of president since Kennedy, culminating in the current holder, have not only not had his magnetism and charisma, but have acted in a way that has caused the world to change its opinion of the United States and its successive governments. It seems obvious, then, that if we don’t wish to be hated, we must find and elect people who can step into the shoes of John F. Kennedy and give the world new hope, for that’s what Jack Kennedy represented: Hope.

Frank Thomas Smith