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City Sierran, Winter 1993, page 5

Valedictory: Line of Fire From the Grassy Knoll to the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

by John Klotz

For in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.
John F. Kennedy

Thirty years ago, a unique articulate voice was stilled by gunfire in Dallas Texas. That volley echoes still.  History changed that day, and  three decades later, a sense of enormous loss still  pervades the nation, particularly each November as the 22nd approaches.

President Kennedy’s June 1963 speech at the American University commencement was his valedictory. Its wisdom was the culmination of the first two and half years of his Presidency. While Kennedy’s principal thrust was the call for a nuclear test ban treaty, his soaring rhetoric expressed the underlying rationale of the environmental movement yet in its infancy. Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring had been published the year before. Today, the issue Kennedy addressed directly at American University — a permanent moratorium on atomic testing  — is part of Sierra Club policy. The President who spoke so eloquently on our common humanity and mortality, would certainly have held great 

President John F. Kennedy
(1917 — 1963)

promise for the environmental cause. We will never know what kind of environmental President he could have been. On November 22, 1963, that promise ended. Just as Kennedy’s life held such great promise for the environment,  the events since Dallas hold   important lessons for the environmental movement. 

In New York, the  local equivalent of the military-industrial complex seeks to foist on the City, the largest program of incineration in the history of world. Our schools are crumbling, our streets are littered with the homeless and the City’s infrastructure of roads, bridges, sewers and water supply spirals towards collapse. We have no funds for elemental necessities of sustainable urban life. In the meantime, the media elite, particularly the New York Times, bombards us with spurious science, seeking to prove that pouring tons of pollutants into the atmosphere is the only practical method of solid waste management. 

So too, it was with the Kennedy assassination. In a mad rush to judgment, the Warren Commission concluded that Kennedy had been the victim of a lone gunman and that there was no evidence of any conspiracy. The Report’s most popular form was a cut-rate edition published by the Times. The introduction written by Assistant Managing Editor Harrison Salisbury pronounced the historical verdict of the Times: No material question now remains unresolved as far as the death of President Kennedy is concerned.” To critics of the Warren Commission, Salisbury flashed a contemptuous warning: those who spread irresponsible rumors about the assassination were either self serving, seeking to sow distrust and confusion among the public, or intent on conveying to foreign countries the image of a violent America, helpless in the face of dangerous forces.”

Thus the Times forewarned critics that any attacks on the Holy Writ of the Warren Report would be dealt with as subversive assaults on the sanctity of the state itself.

It didn’t work. Although badgered 

and embarrassed by derision from the mainstream media, critics did emerge and eventually the public came to reject the conclusions of the Warren Report. Nonetheless, dissenters from the official story were constantly badgered and belittled by  media giants such as the Times.

This November, both the Washington Post and its sister publication, Newsweek, confirmed what critics had claimed for years: the Commission conducted not an honest search for the truth but rather a carefully contrived effort to forge a soothing official story of the assassination, covering-up, by both inadvertence and design, damning evidence of governmental misconduct. 

The September-October issue of Sierra, the Club’s national magazine, contained a detailed and incisive account of the Times reportage on the environment and its obeisance to the reactionary elements that still seek to plunder the environment under the guise of “wise use.” It also notes the continuing prestige of the Times and the extent to which so many other newspapers and media outlets rely on the Times to set the tone of their news coverage. 

There is no question that when it is so moved, the Times can be an extraordinary, even courageous, force for good. The publication of the “Pentagon Papers” is but one example. But for whatever reason, when it comes to the environment — as with the events at Dealey Plaza — the Times recoils from the horror that it confronts. It makes the search for truth an enormously more difficult task.

But that search must continue. If we are to succeed in our quest for a healthy, sane environment, we can not let the spokesmen of established truth deter. At stake is our common humanity and the future of our children that we cherish.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the editor and do not necessarily express the official policy of the Sierra Club. 

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