08 November 2009


the movie "Bobby" portrays robert f. kennedy's final day alive, before he was assassinated during the presidential campaign of 1968, the year i was in vietnam . the film, directed by emilio estevez, presents multiple viewpoints, with an ensemble cast portraying characters both central to, and at the periphery of, kennedy's appearances. there is also archival footage of kennedy himself during the hours leading up to his death. we all know how it will end, yet the film grips our attention throughout.

just before the credits start to roll, the audience hears kennedy speaking on behalf of those who were most affected by the racial discord and intolerance of the times. following is my transcript of that prophetic speech:

"it is not a day for politics. i've saved this one opportunity ... to speak to you about the mindless menace of violence in america, which again stains our land, and every one of our lives. it is not the concern of any one race. the victims of the violence are black and white, rich and poor, young and old, famous and unknown. they are, most important of all, human beings whom other human beings loved and needed.

"no one, no matter where he lives or what he does, can be certain who next will suffer from some senseless act of bloodshed. and yet it goes on, and on, and on, in this country of ours. why? what has violence ever accomplished? what has it ever created? whenever any american's life is taken by another american unnecessarily, whether it is done in the name of the law, or defiance of the law, by one man or a gang, in cold blood or in passion, in an attack of violence or in response to violence, whenever we tear at the fabric of our lives, which another man has painfully and clumsily woven for himself and his children, whenever we do this, then the whole nation is degraded.

"yet we seemingly tolerate a rising level of violence that ignores our common humanity, and our claims to civilization alike. too often we honor swagger, and bluster, and the wielders of force. too often we excuse those who are willing to build their own lives on the shattered dreams of other human beings. but this much is clear: violence breeds violence, repression breeds retaliation, and only in cleansing our whole society can we remove this sickness from our souls. for when you teach a man to hate, and to fear his brother, when you teach that he is a lesser man because of his color, or his beliefs, or the policies that he pursues, when you teach that those who are different from you threaten your freedom, or your job, or your home, or your family, then you also learn to confront others, not as fellow citizens, but as enemies to be met not with cooperation, but with conquest, to be subjegated, and to be mastered.

"we learn at the last to look upon our brothers as aliens, with whom we share a city, but not a community, men bound to us in a common dwelling, but not in a common effort. we learn to share only a common fear, only a common desire to retreat from each other, only a common impulse to meet disagreement with force.

"our lives on this planet are too short, the work to be done is too great, to let this spirit flourish any longer in this land of ours. of course we cannot banish it with a program, nor with a resolution. but we can perhaps remember, if only for a time, that those who live with us are our brothers; that they share with us the same short moment of life; that they seek, as do we, nothing but the chance to live out their lives in purpose and in happiness, winning what satisfaction and fulfillment that they can. surely this bond of common fate, surely this bond of common goals can begin to teach us something. surely we can learn, at the least, to look around at our fellow men, and surely we can begin to work a little harder to bind up the wounds among us, and to become in our hearts brothers and countrymen once again."

robert francis kennedy died on the morning of june 6, 1968. his wife ethel was by his side.

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