Sunday, December 03, 2006

Bobby and the Ambassador

Back in the early 90s, I traveled regularly to Los Angeles, and usually stayed at a Hyatt on Wilshire Boulevard. Just down the block was a massive old building, closed and surrounded by chain link fence. I didn't know what the building was, but it fascinated me. I'm not a new-age person who believes in auras or similar psychic phenomena, but something about the strange building seemed to emanate an historic energy. If I believed in ghosts, that would have been where I would search for one.

After a few times staying across from the building, I asked about it in the Hyatt's cocktail lounge.

"That's the Ambassador."

"Where Kennedy got shot?"

"Yeah, and where the Cocoanut Grove rocked."

I walked around it one night, though the neighborhood was seedy and the walk was long. The thought that Bobby Kennedy had been assassinated in the big, glorious, abandoned building was mind-boggling.

My first political awareness was cheering for Bobby Kennedy in his march toward the White House. Growing up Catholic in St. Louis, attending a Catholic grade school, from a union family - Bobby was the second coming of his martyred brother. He was attractive, charismatic, and, to an 8 year-old boy, he personified destiny. As our school began to "change", in the euphemism of white flight, Bobbie Kennedy offered hope of peaceful, positive change, and a better future.

And then he was dead. Shot down by a crazy man. And we were robbed of our high hopes of a truly good man in the White House, making our way more righteous.

Instead we got Nixon, and all that entailed.

A few years later I met Rosie Grier, the man who grabbed Sirhan Sirhan and protected him from the crowd that would have torn him into pieces of hate. He jammed his thumb behind the trigger to prevent further shots from being fired. I shook that hand.

Yesterday, I saw the movie "Bobby". Don't trust my review - it has no critical distance. I was enthralled. The Ambassador Hotel was the focal point of the film, and it is presented unflinchingly as a grand relic beginning its downward spiral - as is American culture, as we see marriages and manners beginning their slow crumble.

In the end, when Bobby is shot and the characters onscreen are dealing with the aftermath and their reaction, we see the action, but hear the inspiring and still-relevant words of Bobby Kennedy's speech, "On The Mindless Menace of Violence", delivered at the City Club of Cleveland on the day after Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated:
This is a time of shame and sorrow. It is not a day for politics. I have saved this one opportunity, my only event of today, to speak briefly to you about the mindless menace of violence in America which again stains our land and every one of our lives.

It is not the concern of any one race. The victims of the violence are black and white, rich and poor, young and old, famous and unknown. They are, most important of all, human beings whom other human beings loved and needed. No one - no matter where he lives or what he does - can be certain who will suffer from some senseless act of bloodshed. And yet it goes on and on and on in this country of ours.

Why? What has violence ever accomplished? What has it ever created? No martyr's cause has ever been stilled by an assassin's bullet.

No wrongs have ever been righted by riots and civil disorders. A sniper is only a coward, not a hero; and an uncontrolled, uncontrollable mob is only the voice of madness, not the voice of reason.

Whenever any American's life is taken by another American unnecessarily - whether it is done in the name of the law or in the defiance of the law, by one man or a gang, in cold blood or in passion, in an attack of violence or in response to violence - whenever we tear at the fabric of the life which another man has painfully and clumsily woven for himself and his children, the whole nation is degraded.

"Among free men," said Abraham Lincoln, "there can be no successful appeal from the ballot to the bullet; and those who take such appeal are sure to lose their cause and pay the costs."

Yet we seemingly tolerate a rising level of violence that ignores our common humanity and our claims to civilization alike. We calmly accept newspaper reports of civilian slaughter in far-off lands. We glorify killing on movie and television screens and call it entertainment. We make it easy for men of all shades of sanity to acquire whatever weapons and ammunition they desire.

Too often we honor swagger and bluster and wielders of force; too often we excuse those who are willing to build their own lives on the shattered dreams of others. Some Americans who preach non-violence abroad fail to practice it here at home. Some who accuse others of inciting riots have by their own conduct invited them.

Some look for scapegoats, others look for conspiracies, but this much is clear: violence breeds violence, repression brings retaliation, and only a cleansing of our whole society can remove this sickness from our soul.

For there is another kind of violence, slower but just as deadly destructive as the shot or the bomb in the night. This is the violence of institutions; indifference and inaction and slow decay. This is the violence that afflicts the poor, that poisons relations between men because their skin has different colors. This is the slow destruction of a child by hunger, and schools without books and homes without heat in the winter.

This is the breaking of a man's spirit by denying him the chance to stand as a father and as a man among other men. And this too afflicts us all.

I have not come here to propose a set of specific remedies nor is there a single set. For a broad and adequate outline we know what must be done. When you teach a man to hate and fear his brother, when you teach that he is a lesser man because of his color or his beliefs or the policies he pursues, when you teach that those who differ from you threaten your freedom or your job or your family, then you also learn to confront others not as fellow citizens but as enemies, to be met not with cooperation but with conquest; to be subjugated and mastered.

We learn, at the last, to look at our brothers as aliens, men with whom we share a city, but not a community; men bound to us in common dwelling, but not in common effort. We learn to share only a common fear, only a common desire to retreat from each other, only a common impulse to meet disagreement with force. For all this, there are no final answers.

Yet we know what we must do. It is to achieve true justice among our fellow citizens. The question is not what programs we should seek to enact. The question is whether we can find in our own midst and in our own hearts that leadership of humane purpose that will recognize the terrible truths of our existence.

We must admit the vanity of our false distinctions among men and learn to find our own advancement in the search for the advancement of others. We must admit in ourselves that our own children's future cannot be built on the misfortunes of others. We must recognize that this short life can neither be ennobled or enriched by hatred or revenge.

Our lives on this planet are too short and the work to be done too great to let this spirit flourish any longer in our land. Of course we cannot vanquish it with a program, nor with a resolution.

But we can perhaps remember, if only for a time, that those who live with us are our brothers, that they share with us the same short moment of life; that they seek, as do we, nothing but the chance to live out their lives in purpose and in happiness, winning what satisfaction and fulfillment they can.

Surely, this bond of common faith, this bond of common goal, can begin to teach us something. Surely, we can learn, at least, to look at those around us as fellow men, and surely we can begin to work a little harder to bind up the wounds among us and to become in our own hearts brothers and countrymen once again.
Don't go see this movie if you are going to be unable to embrace it. Don't see it if you read the above speech and believe that Bobby Kennedy would have made an exception for "Islamofascists" or whatever boogeyman hides underneath your fears.

"Bobby" is a movie about what was lost on the floor of that faded, grand, alluring hotel I walked around one evening in LA. If it doesn't haunt you, the movie will mean nothing.


Anonymous travelingal said...

The Kennedy family has got to be one of the most fascinating families of all time. I plan to see this movie no matter what preconceived ideas I might have about them. I don't, except I don't agree that Bobby Kennedy would have supported islamofascism..

Anyhow, I have also been hearing rave reviews (from women) about the new movie, Queen. Isn't it curious how royalty, and I include the Kennedy's in this) always seem to have some many tragedies in their lives. I've watched so many movies on the Kennedy's and they are heartbreaking. I really don't know how Jackie kept her sanity.

12/04/2006 3:23 PM  
Anonymous Andrea said...

Thanks for the review. I'm going to have to check out the movie now. You've intrigued me...

12/04/2006 4:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

travel - I hate to speak for Dan. He does a fine enough job on his own.

But when he said "Don't see it if you read the above speech and believe that Bobby Kennedy would have made an exception for "Islamofascists" or whatever boogeyman hides underneath your fears." I don't think he is, in any way, suggesting that Bobby would have supported the so-called "islamofascists".

I'm pretty sure he means that Boby would have included terrorists in his statement "But we can perhaps remember, if only for a time, that those who live with us are our brothers, that they share with us the same short moment of life; that they seek, as do we, nothing but the chance to live out their lives in purpose and in happiness, winning what satisfaction and fulfillment they can."

We are all human. We all share this planet. The geopolitical, ethnic, religious and philosophical lines that divide us are of our own making.

I've said it before, but it bears repeating. There will never, ever be a VT (Victory over Terrorism) Day. There won't be any big celebrations over the killing of the last terrorist or their surrender and acceptance of their military defeat.

I won't happen. Ever.

Us declaring war against terrorism is like if after Pearl Harbor, Roosevelt had declared war on airplanes.

To anthropomorphize this analogy, if I were a kid and noticed that the only people who seemed to like me were my parents (Great Britain) and that all the other kids hated me, talked bad about me and did everything they could to hurt me...I'd start thinking, "Maybe it's me. Maybe there is a reason everyone hates my guts."

Maybe The U.S. should throttle it back a couple of notches and quit telling other countries what they "must" do, start being more honest and less hypocritical, and start giving Justice and Fairness a higher priority than the interests of corporations and lobbyists.

12/04/2006 7:14 PM  
Blogger Cardozo said...

Travel and Xavier...

Man, that is the question of the day, isn't it? How can we finally fashion a serious debate about America's global leadership (or lack thereof), when many conservatives and even a lot of liberals refuse to focus on anything but terrorist atrocities?

That, though, is the strategic brilliance of the Bush strategy, right? Framing the debate so that the bloody shirt of 9/11 provides cover their wildest ambitions. Only incompetance has stood in their way.

12/04/2006 10:33 PM  
Anonymous travelingal said...

XO..Poor choice of sentence construction on my part. Strike the sentence. It's not exactly what I meant. I didn't mean to imply Dan thought Bobby would support islamofacism and I certainly don't think so either.

Bobby Kennedy was a great man and a great leader. His assassination was a true tragedy. In fact, I think he may have been a better leader than either of his brothers, the President or Edward.

I wish we lived in a peaceful world, but saying it doesn't make it so.

12/05/2006 11:09 AM  
Blogger Captain Spaulding said...

Excellent post Dan- thanx.

12/06/2006 3:49 AM  
Anonymous Old enough to know better. said...

You wouldn't remember Bobby before 1963, but oldsters know him as the ruthless opportunits he was.

If Jack hadn't been shot, Bobby would have left office after his brother term was over as a despised angry little man.

His brother was willing to push the button in the October crisis with Cuba...we all remember that. And Bobby was with him all the way.

God only knows what he would have done as President, but it most assuredly would have little to do with the BLANK CHECK campaign promises he was handing out to everyone.

12/07/2006 5:50 AM  
Blogger Dan said...

Old one -

It's kind of pointless to argue about Bobby Kennedy's success or failure as a president, isn't it?

12/07/2006 6:27 AM  
Anonymous Old enough to know better said...

No more pointless that glorifying him.

He is an urban legend.

12/08/2006 6:08 AM  
Anonymous Old enough to know better said...

No more pointless that glorifying him.

He is an urban legend.

12/08/2006 6:08 AM  
Anonymous Municipal Court Scumbag Lawywer said...

Its not pointless.

Its important to point out that the Kennedy family is as corrupt as any other major player.

Quit idolizing an angry little opportunits who would just as likely gotten us into another war as not.

Who ya kiddin?

12/13/2006 10:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I rented the movie and I loved it! I am from another country and I have never heard the Bobby Kennedy speech until I saw the movie. I could not believe that someone that came from a privileged background had written something so inspiring and futuristic. He addressed the same issues that presently, forty years later, still among us. Whatever this movie was part fictional it did not matter. At the end, I came to wonder if Bobby Kennedy would have become the president of the United Sates we will be dealing with the anti immigration issues against the blue collar workers that come from Mexico and Central America in search of a better future by working the jobs nobody really wants. As he stated:
“But we can perhaps remember, if only for a time, that those who live with us are our brothers, that they share with us the same short moment of life; that they seek, as do we, nothing but the chance to live out their lives in purpose and in happiness, winning what satisfaction and fulfillment they can.”

4/26/2007 2:49 AM  

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