Last week was the 50th anniversary of the tragic assassination of John F. Kennedy. Being from Dallas, that day was traumatic for many reasons. At the time, it seemed a young prince had been cut down by a deranged villain. It seemed we had been robbed of Camelot.
This week as I listened to all the talk about the Kennedy assassination, I had a very disturbing thought. I remembered that Kennedy was trying to assassinate Fidel Castro, which would have been a similar tragedy to many in Cuba. I asked myself what was the difference, in principle, between those two assassinations, besides the fact that one was completed and the other only attempted?
I could not reach a clear answer. Both believed that someone they deemed to be evil could be struck down without due process. Kennedy, certainly one would guess, had more advisors but does assassination become less evil if attempted by a group?
Like most people in the United States I was taught to think of ethics in terms of heroes and villains. We in the States never think of holding our heroes to the same ethical standards as our villains because “good” and “evil” are more defined by our dramatic narrative than by any fixed principle. Secret bombings, invasions and assassination attempts never counted against Kennedy even if he were to kill many more innocent people than Oswald, a Cuban sympathizer. If I had been born in Cuba, might my interpretation of events been quite the opposite?
So this week I thought about two assassinations, one attempted and one completed, and I asked myself what is the difference, in principle, between them. But when history is a dramatic narrative told from one viewpoint, we may never grasp the ironic possibility that our heroes and our villains may actually live and die by the same principles.