Monday, November 24, 2003

What Might Have Been

It's hard to imagine such things nowadays, in our cynical, security-conscious world. It's also hard to imagine how fragile is history, that world-shaking events can turn on a single, conscience-stricken decision. After watching John Hinckley's long journey since trying to kill President Ronald Reagan, it's hard to imagine any presidential assassin being released into the world, especially one as dangerous as Richard Pavlick:
On a bright Sunday morning nearly 43 years ago, a ramshackle Buick crept through the posh streets of Palm Beach, Fla., toward a sprawling, Mediterranean-style mansion.

At the wheel was a disheveled, silver-haired madman. His aged right hand rested near a switch wired to seven sticks of dynamite.

Inside the two-story stucco home was his target - president-elect John F. Kennedy - readying for morning Mass.

Richard Pavlick stopped a short distance from the house and waited, unnoticed by U.S. Secret Service agents outside.

It was decades before today’s proliferation of suicide bombers, but Pavlick’s plan on Dec. 11, 1960, was as simple: ram the president-elect’s car and detonate the dynamite.

Pavlick’s suicide note had been written to the people of the United States, reading in part: "it is hoped by my actions that a better country ... has resulted."

The mansion’s door opened. Mr. Kennedy emerged.
Pavlick, it turns out, was motivated by anti-Catholicism and rabid anti-Kennedy anger, believing Joe had bought his son's election in 1960.

Pavlick's story is only starting in the short bit above. There's much, much more and it only gets odder.

Imagine no Kennedy mystique, no Camelot, no One Hundred Days, no New Frontier, no vigah. What would Lyndon Johnson, not inheriting Kennedy's escalations in Vietnam and his Bay of Pigs embarrassments, have done in Vietnam? With Krushchev? Johnson was no friend of blacks, despite the Civil Rights Act. How would he have dealt with segregation, in a different climate? Would his dark, controlling side have come to the fore? Would such a heinous assassination have hastened this country's slide down the road of Sixties disillusion?

It all turned on one man's compassion for a wife and two kids.

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