It is said that everybody over a certain age knows exactly where they were when they heard the news that President John F. Kennedy had been shot. 

I was twelve at the time and attending a meeting of the Boys’ Brigade (the Methodist equivalent of the Boy Scouts) in my hometown in the north of England.  One of the men in charge arrived late and informed us that the president had been shot.  It was about 7.30 British time (1.30 Central time).  I did not learn until I got home that he had died.

At the time we had two television channels.  Both dropped every scheduled program and talked of nothing else that day and most of the following day, Saturday.   On the Sunday I was at my grandparents’ home watching a movie on TV when the film was interrupted to tell us that Lee Harvey Oswald had been shot.

Monday, if I remember correctly, was JFK’s funeral, which we saw live from almost 4,000 miles away, something new at the time.

Even though I did not grow up in the United States, and never dreamed that I one day would live here and become a citizen, I was well aware of what had happened on this side of the Atlantic.

Almost fifty years later, on a visit to Ireland, Irish people still talk about the Kennedy’s visit to their country.  One Irishman informed me that for decades most homes had two pictures on the wall – one of the pope and the other of Kennedy.

Why is it that we remember the event so well?

Since Kennedy’s assassination, there have been other assassinations.  Lord Mountbatten, the queen’s uncle, was blown up by IRA terrorists in Ireland in 1979.  I actually do remember where I was when I heard that news, but I can’t recall the exact date.  I remember, too, where I was when I heard the news that Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards but, again, I don’t remember the exact date.  I remember too where I was when I heard that Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin had been assassinated, but would have to look it up on Wikipedia to get the date!

Kennedy’s assassination stands out.  I remember the day (Friday), the date (November 22nd) and the time (his death was announced at 1pm Central time).

America was never to be the same again.

Why is that?

Kennedy’s accomplishments in office were not that great. He started the Peace Corps and set NASA on the path to the moon.  His liberal agenda was not realized until his successor, Lyndon Johnson, took over as president.  He is most famous for averting World War III over the Cuban missile crisis, but accounts vary on his role.

His self-deprecating humor remains endearing.  He even joked about his own economic policies.  He told the story of an invite to the White House for some prominent businessmen, at which he tried to encourage them to invest and grow to create more jobs.  He added:  “Why, if I weren’t president, I would be out there investing and growing my business myself.”  At which point one of the businessmen said:  “If you weren’t president, so would we!”

So, again, why is Kennedy remembered so well and with so much devotion?  The majority of people in a recent poll said that JFK is their number one choice to be added to Mt Rushmore, alongside Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt.

Part of the answer lies in the fact that Kennedy’s was the first presidency of the television age.  The 1960 election was close, unlike Richard Nixon’s shave!  It was said that Nixon’s five o’clock shadow cost him the election.  It was a turn-off to the female vote.  Losing the female vote cost Nixon the election.

Eleanor Roosevelt commented in a 1951 radio program that “all the great social reforms have taken place since women got the vote” (paraphrased from memory).  This is not strictly true.  Slavery was abolished by men.  But she had a good point.  It would also be correct to add that all those social reforms, fifty years later, are bankrupting the country.  But she didn’t live to see it.

Kennedy changed the direction of America, from the conservative administration of Eisenhower, to the liberal-socialist reforms of LBJ.  Big government got a lot bigger during the decade of the sixties.

Kennedy’s presidency was made by television.  Until Fox News the networks were all very liberal – and those liberals idolized JFK and his attractive wife and family.  They were young and glamorous, from America’s aristocracy, financially successful before they embarked on a political career.  They were a stark contrast to the previous two occupants of the White House.  Not since FDR had an aristocrat been in the presidential mansion.

I’ve watched a few programs in the last few days on the anniversary of the assassination and I’m struck by how nothing negative has been said about the man and his period in office.  I doubt that any other politician would receive the same treatment.  Certainly, no conservative politician would.

His successor came from the other end of the social spectrum.  Johnson took over Kennedy’s agenda.  Following the assassination, he had a lot of goodwill, easily winning the election less than a year later.   200 programs were approved in a very short period of time, programs that have contributed to the mess we are in today.

He continued to pursue the Vietnam War that had started under Eisenhower and Kennedy.  This was his undoing.  After all the chaos, confusion and upheaval of the sixties, America at the end of the decade was a very different country.  Its traditional values were eroding fast.  The country’s innocence was lost, never to return.

JFK gave people hope – hope that government could solve all the problems.  Five decades later, many feel that government itself is the problem!   But people remember that hope, the positive feelings they had inside and the awful impact on the collective and individual mindset when it all suddenly and tragically ended.

The years following the assassination are a blur – memories of race riots, Vietnam, more assassinations (Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy), changing morals, hippies, druggies, the list goes on and on.  It’s no wonder that people look back on JFK’s period in office as a golden age.

The assassination left such powerful images in our collective consciousness, it’s difficult for there to be an impartial and honest assessment of the Kennedy administration.  Instead, people are left with the idea that his was the greatest presidency and everything he stood for was good and proper for America and the rest of the world.

One final thought – in a few months it will be the centenary of the most significant assassination in history, that of the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand on June 28th, 1914, the event that triggered World War One, the greatest conflict in history, the repercussions of which are still being felt.  Will our TV stations give it any attention?


2 thoughts on “KENNEDY’S LEGACY 50 YEARS ON”

  1. The Kennedy legacy reaches into many aspects of the American psyche. The British have the royal family, the Kennedys are the American royal family. The murder of Kennedy, and several people after, caused most in the US to lose their “innocence.” A better word in this context is ignorance, rather than innocence.

    People want to trust. To be able to really trust is a wonderful thing. Trust is, perhaps, the foundational plank to all relationships and to life itself. Honesty, truth,
    is what creates trust. Of course, if the relationship is to be a good one then honesty and truth must be coupled with real concern. In other words, a person can be honest, but if there is no love/concern, then one can trust that person to be a real jerk.

    Most Americans (I really don’t know why it is not all Americans) don’t trust their government. There is abundant evidence to support this lack of trust. Many organizations; corporate, military, religious, etc. are not trusted. Again, much evidence to support this lack of trust.

    The killing of Kennedy, and the subsequent Warren Commission, was the beginning of that lack of trust. At their CORE people are not stupid. It might take a while to get past the innocence and ignorance but, eventually, people will. Most leaders, at their core, believe most people, their followers, ARE stupid. Leaders will deny this, publicy at least. To clarify some, man’s leadership is based on a sense of superiority on the part of the leaders. This will work in this world since this is the Adversary’s world. It eventually will lead to revolution and/or the decline and fall of the government. Historically, it always has.

    People want to respect their leaders. They also want their leaders to respect them. This is rare. I suppose there will aways be people that, no matter what the leader(s) does, they will fawn over him or her. That’s pathetic and I’m sure a person like that will some day learn how pathetic that is.

    From my perspective, some time, a long, long time ago, God concluded that he needed his created beings to learn this lesson of trust. Apparently and paradoxically, he wanted us to begin to learn this by giving us exactly the opposite of what would build this trust, both in the angelic and the human realm. It seems he also concluded he would need leaders that had learned this lesson—DEEPLY. He needed leaders that people would be able to trust completely. Just as God can be trusted completely, although almost know one knows that yet.

    God will have leaders that respect and really love the people. Leaders that interact with the people, develop meaningful relationships with the people, not feel they have to be “above” the people or keep their distance from them. Man’s way is almost always the opposite of God’s way. God understood this was to be– down through history.

    JFK was a real jerk for most of his adult life. He was a womanizer and part of an aristocracy (not good in case you were wondering). The last few years of his life he began to grown out of that mindset and grew in maturity.

    It’s always good to end well.

  2. Hinges of History: The Legacy of JFK, based on Louisiana Attorney General Jim Garrison’s investigative volumes, is not about what he accomplished, but what was on his docket to be accomplished. He was about to dismantle the military-industrial complex, dismantle and divide up the CIA amongst the various branches of the military, he along with Nikita Kruschev was about to end the Cold War (together, joint effort), and he was going to simultaneous to this pull the United States out of Vietnam, probably with Nikita’s aid, bringing that conflict to some sort of joint resolution. It wasn’t about what JFK did, it was about what he was about to do, and that, most who are informed on the subject, feel is what got him killed. He would have been one of those “hinges of history”, where history would have taken a turn in another direction. When Reilly ‘ace of spies’ had arranged for 10,000 British troops to come to the aid of the White Russians at Archangel in the Bolshevik revolution at the end of WWI, and British Parliament voted instead to ‘bring the boys home,’ leaving both Reilly and the White Russians swinging in the breeze (Reilly was subsequently caught and shot by the Bolsheviks, the rest is history), this was another “hinge of history”, where history swung in the opposite direction and gave the world Communism, instead of an expanded British Empire.

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