The Dallas Rejoinder
(Editorial from The Nation, 25 May 1964, page 519)
On April 27, Congressman Bruce Alger of Dallas, Tex., spent almost 19
pages of the Congressional Record (pp. 8916–8935) in “Setting the
Record Straight on Dallas.” By so doing, he joined the stream of “don’t
blame it on Texas” stories and demands that have been welling out of the Lone
Star State for the past several months. That this chorus should be coming from
an area as “image-conscious” as Texas is hardly surprising; that Texans
should seek to assuage their apparently deep-seated feelings of guilt about the
awful event of last November is entirely understandable (and, surely, the state is
protesting too much for the rest of us to take seriously its remonstrances that
“it could have happened anywhere”). It would be tragic, however, if the
near-unanimous assurances of Texas newspapers and public figures should come to
be believed by the proud citizens of that great commonwealth. For there is
something rotten in the state of Texas.
It is, of course, entirely true that President Kennedy could have been assassinated anywhere; but he wasn’t. The terror was not loosed upon us all from Tulsa or Albuquerque or Shreveport; it happened in Dallas. A brave and superlative personality was killed there. When his plans for the trip to Texas were announced, President Kennedy had been warned by friends in Washington (and, allegedly, in Texas itself) that it would be dangerous for him to visit Dallas. For pressing reasons of his own he chose to ignore those warnings, went to Dallas, and was shot down in the streets of that city. It happened there, not “anywhere.”
And the lash-back also happened there: the President’s alleged assassin himself was shot down in the very basement of the Dallas police station, while surrounded by policemen. A minister reporting of his own knowledge that children cheered the news of the President’s death was hounded from his home; a schoolteacher who wrote a letter to the editor of Time criticizing Dallas was fired from her job; an advertisement written by a theological faculty and calling for a moral reassessment was refused by every Dallas newspaper; the vice president of a Dallas oil firm did suddenly resign his job after writing an article in Look which suggested that maybe the citizens of Dallas, and Texas, bore some responsibility for the political atmosphere there; another vice president, this time of the towering Dallas institution, Neiman-Marcus, did resign his job in order to write a fair and balanced treatment of the city; a university professor who wrote of the cultural predispositions to violence in the state was abused by a former governor and a score of newspapers. These things, too, did not occur “anywhere,” but in Texas.
We do not, of course, hold Texans or Dallas responsible personally or collectively for instigating the assassination. With Jean-Paul Sartre we “do not believe in the degradation of a people,” but also with him, we “do believe in stagnation and stupor.” We think it characterizes the politics and, to some extent, the culture of Texas.
There are some signs of reassessment and reawakening. The renaissance in Dallas of the normal politics of the Democratic Party in a grass-roots organization free of extreme Right influence can only be applauded; we hope the ripples of that act broaden. For while November 22 was a day of black tragedy for the national life, it will have been doubly tragic, in futility, if out of that terrible event Texans learn nothing of Texas; if they succumb to the multitudinous voices now wooing them and do not perceive what the rest of the nation has long known: that they are not what they think—that their image of themselves does them little credit—and that they are citizens of a greater commonwealth than Texas, the United States of America.
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