Lets bring perspective to our perspective, shall we? Its been skewed of
Two weeks ago, as our nostalgic nation was time traveling back 30 years for
another look at the first moon landing, we got blind-sided by the untimely
death of an icon, and so took a side trip through the on-going Greek tragedy known as The
Obviously were conflicted when it comes to Kennedys, a family that attracts
ironies like the moon attracts craters. Ironies pile up and overlap in ways that
would be unbelievable in a novel. Yet they form patterns that show just how thin is
the line between courage and arrogance--those twin attributes of famous Kennedy men.
Think back. Such ironies were on display July 20, 1969, the day Neil Armstrong
walked on the moon. It should have been the ultimate monument to John F. Kennedys
vision and courage. It was Kennedy, after all, who made going to the moon a
national quest. He whose words set rockets in motion to make it happen.
Fate had rather more artful ideas. Some 36 hours before Armstrong landed on the moon,
JFKs younger brother Edward landed in a dark drink of water with a young woman not
his wife. She was drowned. The event robbed the moon of its pure Kennedy luster, and
robbed Edward of any real chance at the presidency.
Such direct ironies strike with TNT force.
Take this one. Richard Nixon made that most distant of long-distance phone
calls to the moon, hijacking JFKs glory with self-serving remarks. It's understandable. Nixon
looked down on the Kennedys with utmost envy, in the pithy words of commentator William
Safire. Nixon lost the 1960 presidential election to JFK by the
narrowest margin in history, it is said. In 1969, Nixons revenge was complete, as he
basked in the glow of a moon program he even then was strangling by cutting off its
Lesser ironies strike tangentially.
Lyndon Baines Johnson would have made that phone call to the moon, had fortune
been kinder. It was Johnson, some would claim, who fathered the space
program. His enabling legislation while a senator in the 1950s, made NASA possible.
Unfortunately, Johnsons thunder was silenced--his reign curtailed--by the guns and bombs of
So it was Nixons call.
Safire, a Nixon speechwriter in 1969, prepared a rather somber message for
his boss to deliver in case things went tragic for Apollo, it was recently revealed.
This speech would have been for the widows of astronauts who might have died on the moon.
Instead, the moonship JFK famously uttered into existence traveled millions of miles
with scarcely a hitch. Rather, it was Teddy Kennedys midnight ramble of a few miles that
turned to tragedy--a tragedy which resonates still in the lines on his aging face.
Few ironies have been greater than those of the past two weeks, however, for
they compound and magnify all the others.
During the thirtieth anniversary of that first trip to the moon--even as
JFKs name was again being hailed for sending us there--yet another Kennedy landed in a
dark drink of water. John Kennedy, Jr., who saluted his fathers passing casket so
memorably--courageously it seemed--and who was heir apparent to the Kennedy
legacy, robbed the world of his own potential. Yet he was an heir indeed. An heir to
death and heartbreak. After a respectful hiatus, during which the Kennedys tastefully
buried their own at sea--to their undying credit--a debate has been joined.
Was John Jr.s decision to fly into a cloud-shrouded night an act of Kennedy
bravado or was it arrogance?
His meager experience, his two passengers, and his ailing leg--injured in a
para-sailing accident--all weigh in against his decision to fly. He never
should have taken the helm of that high-performance plane, with its unforgiving engine. Not on
Thats the opinion of experts.
But you decide. Was it arrogance, or was it life-affirming courage in the
face of danger? Either way, it was at least akin to the optimism and bravado that
took us to the moon, initiated the Peace Corps, turned back the Russians during the Cuban
Missile Crisis and helped roll back segregation. History and Greek tragedy show that vivid
virtues, which shine so bold in certain settings, darken to fatal flaws in others. So
it ever was with Kennedys.
So it remains.