On the anniversary of the death of John F. Kennedy, this is an excerpt from an account I wrote abuot the time I visited East Berlin in my youth.
...we strolled along the Kaiserdamm Boulevard (named after Kaiser Wilhelm II) to the site of a metallic vessel monument that housed an “eternal flame,” burning in tribute to Germanic peoples expelled from eastern Europe during and after World War II. For some reason, of which I am to this day unsure, I mistakenly thought it was a memorial honoring former American president, John F. Kennedy. I feel like Onkel Rudi had told me that, though I’m not sure why he would have, unless he had also been mistaken. (Perhaps I’d been thinking about the similar eternal flame at Kennedy’s gravesite at Arlington National Cemetery, and I simply got my fact circuits crossed.) I knew about the Kennedy visit to Berlin in 1963, just months before his death, during which he delivered his famous, “Ich bin ein Berliner!” speech. (Turns out that a “Berliner” also happens to be a popular marmalade-filled pastry, so it’s possible that Kennedy’s words could have been understood by the city’s inhabitants as, “I am a jelly donut!”)
Kennedy had actually been one of my childhood heroes. Maybe it was the whole cult of personality thing combined with the fact that he had been the only Catholic president up to that point. (Another guy many years later would become the second Catholic U.S. president, though only nominally so.) I even had a framed print of the Kennedy portrait by Norman Rockwell hanging on my bedroom wall. Looking back, it’s funny to think that I actually entertained aspirations of one day becoming a politician. (I also recall that the ambition had little to do with serving and everything to do with being served. I’m not sure whether that says more about me or American politics in general.)
I would come to understand years later that Kennedy actually did a great disservice to American Catholics. While campaigning, he gave a speech before a group of Protestant ministers, many of whom were concerned that his role as leader of the free world would be influenced by his Catholicism. Rather than defend the one true faith, he instead pandered to the audience by claiming that his private religious views would be kept cleanly cleaved from his public life, thereby giving American Catholics from that day forth a reassurance in the false belief that such a thing could actually be possible. [Specifically, in that speech he declared, “I believe in a president whose religious views are his own private affair, neither imposed by him upon the nation, or imposed by the nation upon him as a condition of holding that office.” Ironically, he may have failed to recognize that the very position he was professing had been imposed upon him by the nation as a condition of holding that office.]
The full-length story can be found here: