“Robert Kennedy’s been shot.” In an abrupt wake-up phone call. I don’t know what I replied rolling off the bed from a pre-work nap but I do remember a fogbound realization that this could be the end, and not the start, of a new beginning. In 1968 we knew little of the political games that unfold behind the news that was filtered in and out of the television and radios available to us. If we were lucky some rumor or gossip was gleaned from patients, one of whom was mine at the Hollywood Presbyterian Hospital. In gratitude for her care, the floor nurses were given free tickets to an auction that was happening at the Ambassador Hotel in downtown Los Angles. We could bid on, if not afford, donated items by the rich and famous, along with the not-so, all to raise money for the Democratic party. This is how things were done then. A nurse pal and I went to the sale, and I did successfully get a chest of drawers for the baby and a gorgeous full-length evening coat-dress that was totally over-the-top madness and yet, exquisite.
But now Robert Kennedy was dead, assassinated in that same Ambassador Hotel, and the dreams of the Democratic party at that time died with him. Hubert Humphrey became the Democratic presidential candidate but lost to the Republican, Richard Nixon.
Sirhan Sirhan was tried and convicted of his assassination and has remained in San Quentin prison for the past 50-plus years. Now, aged 77, he is facing his 16th attempt for parole.
In 1998 Maxwell Taylor Kennedy published a slim volume ‘Make Gentle the Life of This World’ in which he had gathered quotes and sayings that his father Robert, and uncles Jack and Edward, would write in a note-book left on a lectern for each other in the White House. It is a sweet and tender book and speaks of a more innocent age. I was still gathering author interviews at KPFA and for some KPFA-specific reason, there was no studio available for us and so we set up a makeshift recording session in the music room. It was clear to see that Max Kennedy was a nervous, high-strung young man still looking for his way through the life he had been given. And so, as I often have done, I prefaced our conversation with the words, “If you feel I am going somewhere too personal or for any reason you would rather not answer, let me know and we will pause.” It was an interesting gentle conversation about the literature, education and political direction of his father and uncles. As our time together came to an end I asked one more question.
“We are close to San Quentin where Sirhan Sirhan is held. The prisoners often can listen to this radio station. If you had something to say to him what would it be?” And it was here that Max asked me to pause the recording. He sat for a long minute, troubled maybe by the concept of the question and, in the end, not really able to come up with an answer. To this day I am not sure how fair a question it was.
Jack Newfield, a young reporter on that fateful 1968 campaign, wrote ‘RFK: a Memoir’ in 1969. He ended this book saying,
“We are the first generation that learned from experience, in our innocent twenties, that things were not really getting better, that we shall not overcome. We felt, by the time we reached thirty, that we had already glimpsed the most compassionate leaders our nation could produce, and they had all been assassinated. And from this time forward, things would get worse: our best political leaders were part of memory now, not hope. The stone was at the bottom of the hill and we were all alone.”
And here, now, in England, the stone sits so solidly at the bottom of the hill. There is no Atlas among our politicians to roll the stone of the world’s troubles back up to a more compassionate civilization.
A letter to the Guardian reminded columnist Paul Faupel of a colleague who had a post-it message – for himself and others –
“te absente stercus flabellum tanguit” and he assured us that it was Latin for “while you were out, the shit ***** hit the fan”.
Faupel writes this could be an appropriate note for Dominic Raab and Boris Johnson after the Taliban took Kabul while the British boys were on their holidays. The Observer reported on Sunday that up to 5,000 emails to the Foreign Office detailing urgent cases of Afghans seeking to escape Kabul remained unread, including those sent by MPs and charities. Now Raab admits it may be hard for people who wish to leave to find a way out. The British and American evacuation from Kabul has ended.
The Bank Holiday weekend is over. Children will return to school, workers to work and maybe even politicians to Westminster, though the Right Honorable Michael Gove (of southern Surrey) has been seen dancing the night away, in a tieless suit, in Scotland’s Aberdeen. Gove like Hancock is now conspicuously absent from the front benches of Parliament. Only Dominic Raab, still oiling his Cretan suntan, stands and sits not two meters away from Boris.
Curzio Malaparte wrote in The Skin in 1949, “It is certainly harder to lose a war than to win one. Everyone wants to win a war, but not everyone is capable of losing one.” As empires crumble America and England have both had some practice. It is time to put that practice to good use.
This has been A letter from A. Broad
Written and read for you by Muriel Murch
First Aired on Swimming Upstream KWMR.org
Web support by murchstudio.com