It was 1968, and Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated. I saw the funeral on television, at age six. There was a casket, and a long line of soldiers or National Guardsmen (?), standing motionless with tight chinstraps and very serious expressions, or so I seem to recall.
I knew what death was, but otherwise I struggled to understand. Suddenly my grandmother blurted out something like: “If one of those guys moves an inch, they’ll line him up and shoot him!”
An early instance of fake news you might say, but since that time I have sought to place that comment in a broader framework. I have thought of a few options:
1. She thought this was the case.
2. She wished this was the case.
3. She felt the need to express the gravity of the situation to me and my sister, and this was the first thing that came to her mind. Since I had not much of a framework for processing the comment, she didn’t regard it as a lie or falsehood, rather a dab of added meaning.
4. She had just read Franz Kafka’s “In the Penal Colony.”
5. She sought to instill discipline in me, and was reaffirming her own role at the center of this process, and here was a didactic example to be cited. A smaller penalty, such as a decrease in shore leave, I might not have understood.
6. She enjoyed lying.
7. I enjoy lying.
Of these, #3 seems the most likely, with a bit of #5 and maybe #2.
How much of our political discourse fits the general pattern of this exchange?
My second political memory is the evening of the Nixon-Humphrey election.
I still have fairly good political memories of the early 1970s, including (especially) Watergate, and now this knowledge is worth more than it used to be.