Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Support Our Annual Fund Drive! We only shake you down once a year, but when we do we really mean it. It costs a lot to keep the site afloat, and our growing audience, well over TWO million unique viewers a month, eats up a lot of bandwidth — and bandwidth isn’t free. We aren’t supported by corporate donors, advertisers or big foundations. We survive solely on your support.
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Day JFK Made Me a Socialist

by GARY ENGLER

Fifty years ago today President Kennedy shook my faith in church, school, the USA — and pretty much every other form of authority.

On Oct. 22, 1962, in our living room in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, I watched JFK on TV announce that the Soviet Union had put missiles in Cuba, so he was going to blockade that country. Right afterward my brother Jerome proclaimed to my parents sitting on the couch and his two younger siblings on the floor: “The world is going to end.” Because he was old and wise and a socialist at 14, I was deeply impressed by everything Jerome said.

The world is going to end, I thought. Why?

Looking back, it was a critical moment in becoming an anti-capitalist activist, an atheist, a believer in non-violence and an internationalist.

Why, I wondered, was it okay for the United States to invade at the Bay of Pigs, but not for Cuba to defend itself by accepting Soviet missiles? What right did the U.S. have to interfere at all in another country? Why did Americans pick on Castro anyway? He just wanted to make things better for poor people and the Negros, that’s what my second oldest brother Al said and he’d been to university.

I remember thinking the USA was acting like Mike, the big Grade 8er who was always bossing us around and taking stuff during recess and after school. I hated bullies.

Because the USA always wanted to get its way, the world was going to end.

Then there was Father Athol Murray, the priest from Wilcox just a few miles from Moose Jaw, who was always on the radio. This time he was talking about how everyone should pray for President Kennedy to be strong and stop the godless communists. While he was a priest, and we were Catholics who said the rosary every night as we knelt around the couch, my family disagreed with almost everything Father Murray said. He hated the CCF, the political party that had run Saskatchewan’s socialist government since 1944 and who my parents had always voted for. Just a few months earlier Father Murray had even sided with the doctors in their strike to stop Medicare, which made it free to see a doctor or go to a hospital. Al and Jerome and my parents said Medicare was the best thing ever.

It suddenly occurred to me that even though Father Murray was a priest, and President Kennedy was a Catholic, they were both wrong.

Worse, they sided with rich people against poor people and rich countries against poor ones, even though Sister Veronica told us in Catechism that Jesus Christ loved poor people and that it was harder for a rich person to go to heaven than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle.

Did Father Murray and the president pretend to believe in one thing and then say and do another? Mrs. Downing, my Grade 5 teacher, said that was bad and called hypocrisy.

Hypocrisy was going to cause a nuclear war and the end of world.

And what about Mrs. Downing? She was a pretty good teacher, but how could I trust her? She said we had to support John F. Kennedy because he was the first Catholic president. Was that more important than being a bully and a hypocrite?

Not even our newspaper could be believed. Jerome delivered the Times Herald and every day it had stories that made it seem like Cuba and Russia were the bad guys. That just wasn’t fair. No one liked Russia very much, but why was it such a big deal that it put missiles close to the United States? The Americans had their missiles right next to the Soviet Union for years. And, just like Father Murray, the newspaper had also been against Medicare. It too was on the side of the rich and powerful, not ordinary people like us.

The world was going to end and it just didn’t seem right. It was the first time I remember choosing sides. The memories of that time have stuck with me to this day.

How do we become who we are? What shapes our beliefs? These are questions for historians and, perhaps, novelists to answer.

Gary Engler is an elected fulltime union officer of the B.C. Media Union and author of the The Year We Became Us, a new novel about 1962, available on paper in Canada and around the world as an ebook (currently half price to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis).

 

Gary Engler is a Canadian journalist, novelist (The Year We Became Us) and co-author of the recently released New Commune-ist Manifesto — Workers of the World It Really is Time to Unite (www.newcommuneist.com).  He is currently working on the first great hockey novel tentatively titled Puck Hog.

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

September 28, 2016
Eric Draitser
Stop Trump! Stop Clinton!! Stop the Madness (and Let Me Get Off)!
Ted Rall
The Thrilla at Hofstra: How Trump Won the Debate
Robert Fisk
Cliché and Banality at the Debates: Trump and Clinton on the Middle East
Patrick Cockburn
Cracks in the Kingdom: Saudi Arabia Rocked by Financial Strains
Lowell Flanders
Donald Trump, Islamophobia and Immigrants
Shane Burley
Defining the Alt Right and the New American Fascism
Jan Oberg
Ukraine as the Border of NATO Expansion
Ramzy Baroud
Ban Ki-Moon’s Legacy in Palestine: Failure in Words and Deeds
David Swanson
How We Could End the Permanent War State
Sam Husseini
Debate Night’s Biggest Lie Was Told by Lester Holt
Laura Carlsen
Ayotzinapa’s Message to the World: Organize!
Binoy Kampmark
The Triumph of Momentum: Re-Electing Jeremy Corbyn
David Macaray
When the Saints Go Marching In
Seth Oelbaum
All Black Lives Will Never Matter for Clinton and Trump
Adam Parsons
Standing in Solidarity for a Humanity Without Borders
Cesar Chelala
The Trump Bubble
September 27, 2016
Louisa Willcox
The Tribal Fight for Nature: From the Grizzly to the Black Snake of the Dakota Pipeline
Paul Street
The Roots are in the System: Charlotte and Beyond
Jeffrey St. Clair
Idiot Winds at Hofstra: Notes on the Not-So-Great Debate
Mark Harris
Clinton, Trump, and the Death of Idealism
Mike Whitney
Putin Ups the Ante: Ceasefire Sabotage Triggers Major Offensive in Aleppo
Anthony DiMaggio
The Debates as Democratic Façade: Voter “Rationality” in American Elections
Binoy Kampmark
Punishing the Punished: the Torments of Chelsea Manning
Paul Buhle
Why “Snowden” is Important (or How Kafka Foresaw the Juggernaut State)
Jack Rasmus
Hillary’s Ghosts
Brian Cloughley
Billions Down the Afghan Drain
Lawrence Davidson
True Believers and the U.S. Election
Matt Peppe
Taking a Knee: Resisting Enforced Patriotism
James McEnteer
Eugene, Oregon and the Rising Cost of Cool
Norman Pollack
The Great Debate: Proto-Fascism vs. the Real Thing
Michael Winship
The Tracks of John Boehner’s Tears
John Steppling
Fear Level Trump
Lawrence Wittner
Where Is That Wasteful Government Spending?
James Russell
Beyond Debate: Interview Styles of the Rich and Famous
September 26, 2016
Diana Johnstone
The Hillary Clinton Presidency has Already Begun as Lame Ducks Promote Her War
Gary Leupp
Hillary Clinton’s Campaign Against Russia
Dave Lindorff
Parking While Black: When Police Shoot as First Resort
Robert Crawford
The Political Rhetoric of Perpetual War
Howard Lisnoff
The Case of One Homeless Person
Michael Howard
The New York Times Endorses Hillary, Scorns the World
Russell Mokhiber
Wells Fargo and the Library of Congress’ National Book Festival
Chad Nelson
The Crime of Going Vegan: the Latest Attack on Angela Davis
Colin Todhunter
A System of Food Production for Human Need, Not Corporate Greed
Brian Cloughley
The United States Wants to Put Russia in a Corner
Guillermo R. Gil
The Clevenger Effect: Exposing Racism in Pro Sports
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail