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:
Weekend Edition
July 01, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
Hillary: Ordinarily Awful or Uncommonly Awful?
Rob Urie
Liberal Pragmatism and the End of Political Possibility
Pam Martens
Clinton Says Wall Street Banks Aren’t the Threat, But Her Platform Writers Think They are
Michael Hudson
The Silence of the Left: Brexit, Euro-Austerity and the T-TIP
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
Marx on Financial Bubbles: Much Keener Insights Than Contemporary Economists
Evan Jones
Ancillary Lessons from Brexit
Jason Hirthler
Washington’s Not-So-Invisible Hand: It’s Not Economics, It’s Empire
Mike Whitney
Another Fed Fiasco: U.S. Bond Yields Fall to Record Lows
Aidan O'Brien
Brexit: the English and Welsh Enlightenment
Jeremy R. Hammond
How Turkey’s Reconciliation Deal with Israel Harms the Palestinians
Margaret Kimberley
Beneficial Chaos: the Good News About Brexit
Phyllis Bennis
From Paris to Istanbul, More ‘War on Terror’ Means More Terrorist Attacks
Dan Bacher
Ventura Oil Spill Highlights Big Oil Regulatory Capture
Ishmael Reed
OJ and Jeffrey Toobin: Black Bogeyman Auctioneer
Ron Jacobs
Let There Be Rock
Ajamu Baraka
Paris, Orlando and Turkey: Displacing the Narrative of Western Innocence
Pete Dolack
Brexit Will Only Count If Everybody Leaves the EU
Robert Fantina
The First Amendment, BDS and Third-Party Candidates
Julian Vigo
Xenophobia in the UK
David Rosen
Whatever Happened to Utopia?
Andre Vltchek
Brexit – Let the UK Screw Itself!
Jonathan Latham
107 Nobel Laureate Attack on Greenpeace Traced Back to Biotech PR Operators
Steve Horn
Fracked Gas LNG Exports Were Centerpiece In Promotion of Panama Canal Expansion, Documents Reveal
Robert Koehler
The Right to Bear Courage
Colin Todhunter
Pro-GMO Spin Masquerading as Science Courtesy of “Shameful White Men of Privilege”
Eoin Higgins
Running on Empty: Sanders’s Influence on the Democratic Party Platform
Binoy Kampmark
Who is Special Now? The Mythology Behind the US-British Relationship
Mark B. Baldwin
Russia to the Grexit?
Andrew Wimmer
Killer Grief
Manuel E. Yepe
Sanders, Socialism and the New Times
Franklin Lamb
ISIS is Gone, But Its Barbarity Still Haunts Palmyra
Mark Weisbrot
A Policy of Non-Intervention in Venezuela Would be a Welcome Change
Matthew Stevenson
Larry Cameron Explains Brexit
Cesar Chelala
How Tobacco Became the Opium War of the 21st Century
Joseph Natoli
How We Reached the Point Where We Can’t Hear Each Other
Andrew Stewart
Skip “Hamilton” and Read Gore Vidal’s “Burr”
George Wuerthner
Ranching and the Future of the Sage Grouse
Thomas Knapp
Yes, a GOP Delegate Revolt is Possible
Gilbert Mercier
Democracy Is Dead
Missy Comley Beattie
A Big F#*K You to Voters
Charles R. Larson
Mychal Denzel Smith’s “Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching: a Young Black Man’s Education”
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Four Morning Ducks
David Yearsley
Where the Sidewalk Ends: Walking the Bad Streets of Houston’s Super-Elites
Christopher Brauchli
Educating Kansas
Andy Piascik
The Hills of Connecticut: Where Theatre and Life Became One
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail