“More Than A Man Has Died”: Serling on Kennedy’s Death
Those of us who weren’t alive when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963 know what a horrendous and brutal crime it was. But it can be hard for us to grasp just how deeply this tragic event shocked the nation.
Leave it to Rod Serling to put it into perspective for us. As his daughter Anne once noted on her blog:
“After President Kennedy’s assassination, my father wrote something perhaps intended as a letter to a newspaper or magazine editor. It was written on his letterhead and clearly typed by him, not his secretary.” It read:
More than a man has died. More than a gallant young President has been put to death. More than a high office of a land has been assaulted. What is to be mourned now is an ideal. What has been assassinated is a faith in ourselves. What has been murdered is a belief in our own decency, our capacity to love, our sense of order and logic and civilized decorum.
To the Leftists and the Rightists, to the Absolutists, to the men of little faith but strong hate, and to all of us who have helped plant this ugly and loathsome seed that blossomed forth on a street in Dallas on last Friday — this is the only dictum we can heed now. For civilization to survive, it must remain civilized.
And if there is to be any hope for our children and theirs, we must never again allow violence to offer itself as an excuse for our own insecurities, our weaknesses and our own fears. This is not an arguable doctrine for simply a better life. It is a condition for our continued existence.
Small wonder that Serling was moved to write “I Am The Night — Color Me Black” in the aftermath of that dark day.
Fans of The Twilight Zone will likely recognize the line “For civilization to survive, it must remain civilized.” It occurs, in slightly different form, in the closing narration to “The Shelter” (which aired two years earlier).
In that episode, mankind appears on the brink of annihilation, only to get a last-second reprieve. How telling that Serling would resurrect that line to express his anguish in the wake of Kennedy’s death, at a time when it must have felt that the world had ended.
In a sense, of course, it had. An age of relative innocence gave way to an age of skepticism and doubt that echoes even to the present day.
The remedy, I think, is found in the quote above. We need more faith and less hate, and in that order. And the sooner we start — even if it’s just in our little corner of the world, regardless of what others are doing — the better off we’ll be.
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Hope to see you in some corner of the fifth dimension soon!