Can you believe that it has been more than 50 years since J.F.K was assassinated?
There have been only a handful of moments in history in which everyone will remember exactly where they were and what they were doing at the time. Only a few historic events will ever make it on to this list, which already includes things like the lunar landing; England winning the football world cup; first hearing about 9/11 and the assassination of President Kennedy.
A day that will always be remembered
It has now been over 50 years since Kennedy was shot, but I can guarantee that those old enough to understand what had happened at the time, will always remember where and when they first heard the news. In 2013, a book was published called ‘Seven Seconds’ by Holly Millea. It is full of excerpts from celebrities answering the question ‘Where were you when you heard the news that JFK had been shot?’. Robert Redford was in a restaurant in New York; Meryl Streep was just 14 and was in a French lesson at school; Diane Keaton was at home in Santa Ana, California when a news broadcast interrupted scheduled viewing. The most mundane of moments, things we would probably never have remembered doing otherwise, have been cemented onto the minds of everyone for one simple reason.
At his memorial in Dallas, Texas, just metres from the very spot on which he was killed, there is a plaque which states:
“The joy and excitement of John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s life belonged to all men. So did the pain and sorrow of his death. When he died on November 22, 1963, shock and agony touched human conscience throughout the world.”
It is not often that the death of one person can have such dramatic consequences and evoke such strong feelings in people all over the world. His life and his death have been used as iconic symbols for the American presidency even though he served as president for less than a full term. He will no doubt continue to be used as an icon well into the future, even though very soon the majority of the voting population of America will have no collective memory of where they were when they heard of his death. His assassination will carry on meaning something to a new generation, but one with less of a personal attachment to the story.
President Barrack Obama was just 2 years old when JFK was assassinated and yet during his presidential campaign in 2008 there were a huge number of comparisons drawn between him and the late John F. Kennedy. Once Obama won the endorsement of Kennedy’s brother and the rest of his family, it seemed that his campaign was completely unbeatable.
Cuban Missile Crisis
Kennedy has gone down in history for his management of situations like the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Bay of Pigs. His presidency came at a very turbulent time but he managed to hold the favour of the people. No one will ever be able to say for sure whether he would have continued to be as popular into the rest of his period in office, but his speeches were respected by all who heard them and they continue to be quoted and re-quoted over 50 years later. Phrases from his inaugural speech such as ‘ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country’ will never cease to be cited in public addresses. ‘Our problems are manmade—therefore, they can be solved by man’ can always be relied upon as a logical and rational response to times of crisis.
Kennedy was not the first president to be assassinated
Today, there are ‘celebrity’ deaths much more regularly, simply because of the staggering number of people who are seen to be famous. 50 years ago, this was not the case. There was less of a competition for fame and the President of the United States of America was among a far lower number of household names. He wasn’t the first president to be assassinated, and it is much easier to list the presidents who haven’t been the target of an attempted assassination as it is far fewer than the ones who have. But something about JFK’s shooting struck a chord with the people and it will never be forgotten.
In 2003 a survey found that 80% of Americans today still feel that there was some sort of cover up following the assassination and that around 60% of the US population still thought that there was more than one person responsible for the murder. There are still polls being carried out today which show that more than half of the American population believe that there was some sort of conspiracy surrounding JFK’s death and it remains a hugely controversial topic even 50 years on. A good number of questions are still left unanswered, and for many, this is why the event continues to live on in the hearts of the people, despite it being before a great number of the population were even born.
It is not just the fact that the president looked so happy in the moments leading up to the shooting, nor the fact that he seemed to be doing great things for the country, but the fact that the public never truly believed the final outcome of Lee Harvey Oswald’s trial and that it was seen as being ‘too easy’ to blame a dead man for such a monumental crime.
So, whether you were waiting to pay for an item in a shop; relaxing with your family in front of the television; in school or at work, you will no doubt remember the exact moment you found out about President Kennedy’s assassination with a detail which is not present in many other memories. You will never be able to accurately describe those first few moments of shock and disbelief but you will remember who you were with, where you were and what you were doing, and that in itself is rare enough to pass on to the next generation.