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THE HOYOS FILE: Days that will ‘live in infamy’

Pat Hoyos

THE HOYOS FILE: Days that will ‘live in infamy’

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Before there was 9/11 there was 11/22. Before the terrible sight of two planes crashing into the World Trade Centre forever sowed unfathomable terror into our minds and etched unalterable images of human agony into our hearts, there were the shots that rang out on a sunny afternoon in Dallas as a president’s motorcade went by.
In the same way we now see September 11, 2001 as our “day of infamy” – to quote President’s Roosevelt’s description of the bombing of Pearl Harbour on December 7, 1941 – we grew up in the 1960s with November 22, 1963 as the day which changed the world for us.
Ironically, the days which really could have changed things for the world had occurred the previous October, when the Soviet Union’s effort to set up a nuclear warhead launch base in Cuba led to a confrontation between the two then superpowers, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and the United States of America.
But the emotion, the tangible feeling of great loss, the tragedy that seemed to affect every household in every country in the world that was felt when John F. Kennedy was killed in Dallas, influenced my generation like no other previous event.
Today we pay the price of 9/11 by living lives that are almost non-private, whether we voluntarily publicize aspects of them via Facebook and other social media, or whether our participation in those outlets and our simple use of the telephone place our activities and the chronology of our lives in storage for the retelling anytime the American and other spy agencies want to do so.
After JFK was killed we continued to live in fear of nuclear war, a pervasive terror of a different kind, but equally as debilitating from a psychological point of view as anything al-Qaeda could foist on us.
Kennedy’s assassination led to the youthful president’s being eulogized in song by the Mighty Sparrow (the only line of which I remember being “His salary went to charity”. Even then, it seems, I was concerned about money or the lack of it).
JFK’s loss was especially felt in our house, perhaps because he was Roman Catholic like we were; a framed black and white newspaper portrait of him hung in our parent’s bedroom for over 40 years. It became part of the wall.
Where were you when Kennedy was killed? was the familiar question, just as it is today with 9/11 (Where were you when the towers went down?)
I was an 11-year-old schoolboy and that fateful afternoon I was playing cricket on the Small Field at Harrison College, and then walked home to Belleville through Queen’s Park. Along the way it rained and I sheltered for a few minutes in the bandstand. I don’t know why I always remembered that, because we didn’t know about the killing until later on in the day.
We lived in those days in a much, much smaller economy. We were still a colony of Britain and sugar was still our main export, Barbados Shipping & Trading the biggest company, whose interests were beginning to shift out of sugar. By the end of the 1960s it had opened its first Super Centre store at Sunset Crest, which was to become the harbinger of future expansion into the island’s biggest supermarket chain.
Mortgages were still something you got if you knew the bank manager well enough to walk and have a chat; otherwise too bad for you. Hire purchase, a mortgage in microcosm, was only just coming into its own. It would pave the way for the long boom in consumer goods, motor vehicles and then property, creating the credit upon which our newly independent country was built.
Fifty years ago this past week, when JFK fell to an assassin’s bullets, the Barbados economic structure we came to take for granted for decades was just being born.
The emotional vacuum created by the shocking death in Dallas not only shook us up but left us so bereft that we began to look around more, be open to more, and this aided the British invasion of music, led by the Beatles into America, and then the world.
The loss of certainty led to the questioning of our leaders and opposition to the Vietnam War, hippies and Flower Power. It placed in a new light the long struggle for civil rights that had been going on since the 1950s but gained increased momentum after JFK’s death, when the otherwise maligned President Lyndon B. Johnson got the historic Civil Rights Act passed.
Barbados went on to its Independence amidst the machinations of a world embroiled in an increasingly frigid Cold War, declaring ourselves “friends of all, satellites of none,” and embracing Cuba to the chagrin of the United States.
We watched the comic book version of the Cold War played out at the movies in the increasingly campy yet highly entertaining adventures of 007 James Bond, which suggested that you could rank your secret agents by the number of girls they attracted and the number of secret weapons Q (the weapons guy at MI5) could attach to their cars. We knew there would come a moment in every movie when each device would play a key role in saving our hero.
If Bond movies provided the rose-coloured glasses for viewing our Cold War predicament – we might all go up in a mushroom cloud but at least we knew a martini should be shaken, not stirred – then the post 9/11 spy era might be best summed up in the Bourne movie trilogy, in which the hero only becomes “good” after he has completely lost his memory of the years he spent as a cold-blooded killer for the Americans, whose own politicians know nothing of the monsters they have created in the murky world of spycraft.
We watched Bourne before we learned of “black ops” and “rendition”, before Edward Snowden blew the whistle on the level of spying that goes on unknown to the lawmakers that created the agencies carrying it out.
Looking back, it seems that despite the conspiracy theories that would torment us for a generation, and the emotional loss we would suffer at the death of John. F. Kennedy, it seemed, as I suppose it always does, that we lived in a much simpler time.
• Pat Hoyos is a long-standing journalist and publisher of the?Broad Street Journal.