Nov. 22 marks an unpleasant historical milestone — an event too impactful and sobering to be forgotten. For good or evil, U.S. President John F. Kennedy’s assassination continues to haunt us and capture our imaginations. The 50th anniversary of this tragic event casts a shadow over the path to closure on that day’s dark events.
Although we might question the relevance of a dead president, Kennedy represented a paradigm shift in U.S. politics worthy of remembrance.
Kennedy came to the presidency as a fresh face. His election heralded a new kind of America, famously requesting that her citizens ask not what their country could do for them, but rather what they could do for their country.
Kennedy had a moderately progressive, non-partisan mindset and fought for societal equality, civil rights and healthy collectivism. He crusaded against corruption and dishonesty in the federal government, went after organized crime, clashed with the military on war policy and did his best to keep the Central Intelligence Agency’s power in order.
Then on Nov. 22, 1963, the President’s motorcade passed through Dallas’s Dealey Plaza at noon. Moments later, shots rang out.
Dealing with the senseless death of a charismatic, influential and inspirational leader is never an easy task. As time goes on, investigators continue to uncover alleged evidence of a cover-up and conspiracy within the American government that haunts the public’s attempts to move on. According to an October poll by the Associated Press, 59 per cent of Americans believe that Lee Harvey Oswald, the shooter, acted with external assistance.
The assassination of Kennedy still captures the imaginations of people across generations, including myself. I saw his presidency as a bright light that shone briefly but beautifully but never reached its potential. Although Kennedy’s presence represented far more than his individual actions — he epitomized the American dream, and his assassination scarred its image.
If Kennedy’s plans to completely withdraw from Vietnam by 1965 had succeeded, the world would have experienced a very different political climate throughout the 1960s. American and Soviet fears following the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis led to new levels of backchannel communication both during and after the crisis. While many military and intelligence leaders advocated that America strike first against the Soviets, Kennedy’s inclination towards diplomacy ensured that the world never had to experience a nuclear holocaust. As little as three weeks before Kennedy’s assassination, Soviet President Nikita Khrushchev had agreed to Kennedy’s proposal for a dual American-Soviet mission to the moon. But Kennedy’s succesor Lyndon Johnson’s political decisions, such as ramping up the Vietnam war, created a more skeptical and cautious relationship with the Russians.
The tragedy of President Kennedy’s assassination did not end with the man alone. His death marked a clear beginning to the cultural era of the 1960s and the optimism that stretched back to the end of World War II came to an end. As Kennedy’s successors employed détente less and less, the biggest influence on the emerging counterculture could no longer be stopped. American cultural atmosphere became increasingly strained as other prominent figures fell to assassination — Martin Luther King Jr, Malcolm X and Kennedy’s brother Robert “Bobby” Kennedy, who was President Kennedy’s Attorney General. The successes of his administration, endearingly referred to as Camelot, fell with them.
We can only glimpse what a continuation of Kennedy’s policies would have brought, should he have lived beyond that fateful Friday afternoon in Texas. We can be as optimistic or pessimistic as we please, but I suspect based on what he has done and all he had hoped to do, that the world would have continued to change for the better.