Why the Kennedy Assassination — by itself — Created the 1960s, such as Vietnam and Bobby’s and Martin’s Copycat Assassinations — and Changed the World Forever

The Boston Globe has been reprinting its front pages of the Kennedy Assassination 50 years ago today. Yesterday it published the Friday morning front page of November 22nd. Full of innocence and trivia.  A piece near the bottom on the President’s “nonpolitical trip to Dallas.”

But this morning it published the Nov. 23 front page. One small story notes that around noon, an hour before the end, Jackie Kennedy playfully said to the president, “See, Dallas loves you, honey!”

It may not be fashionable to say it, but individuals do have the power to change the atmosphere of a place or era –for better or worse. Hitler and Napoleon for worse.  Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt for better.

Single individuals or acts can in fact change the world and even the subsequent decades to come.

Kennedy’s combination of positive charisma and infectious optimism, his keeping intact the FDR intellectual-working class coalition together for responsible liberalism and the honoring of both intellectualism and honoring working class values, and his captivation rather than alienation of young people, can’t help causing us to  imagine what would the 60s have been like with his continued captivation of young people and the nation as a whole– rather than instead the alienation produced by the assassination itself, on top of the traumatizing copycat crimes of the assassinations of King and Bobby Kennedy, and Lyndon Johnson’s drastically escalated Vietnam War.

Since these were pure copycat assassinations; they almost surely wouldn’t have otherwise happened. Further, LBJ’s Vietnam War itself  tore to shreds and pieces the whole country, tore apart FDR’s intellectuals-working class liberal coalition, created the broad intense –including, crucially, youthful — alienation in a reversal from the early 60’s Kennedy intense captivation of the young — and so the epidemic of drugs, infinitely intensified profanity, crime, cynicism, race riots, conspiratorialism, and on and on.

These all seem to have been brought on by a cascade of both the cynicism and stunned despair and disorientation and lostness from the assassination itself, the Vietnam War with 540,000 soldiers over there and a more than 100 US soldiers dying *weekly*, the student-hardhat polarization from it (again, the breakup of the FDR coalition), again the copycat assassinations of RFK and Martin Luther King and the African-American fury and despair, this made worse by black alienation by the original assassination of Kennedy and the pervasive and catastrophic War as well, in which, despite the draft, black people were dying in huge and disproportionate numbers, and simply the national diversion from Kennedy’s positive focus and tasks and goals… on urban issues, and engagement with the captivated young and so on that Kennedy would have continued to generate and have the nation set its sights on.

Instead of the positive feedback loop of the Kennedy Administration and enthrallment of the young (and really the four strong positive presidencies in a row of FDR, Ike, Truman and Kennedy) and positivity, there was the endless cascade effect of the negative feedback loop generated by assassination and the 100-American-young-dying-weekly Vietnam War, and the infection by this negative loop into all the pores of our culture…

This is why we think of it as the day that changed world history—or at any rate American history, and America is huge and its impact on the West huge, just as Western culture’s on the world.

…For want of a nail a shoe was lost, for want of a shoe a horse was lost, for want of a horse a rider was lost., for want of a rider the battle was lost, for want of the battle the…

This seems to have been the broad cultural negative cascade feedback loop of simple Tsunami proportions. The shoe lost the nail on Nov. 22, 1963, and — to mix metaphors  – our cultural center “failed to hold.”

It was shot straight out from underneath it 50 years ago today in ways that even our parents could never have conceived or imagined–on that long dreary nightmare day and weekend that lasted forever back in 1963.

About the Author
James Adler was born in Kentucky, now works in university libraries, and feels especially and intensely bound up with the fate of the Jewish people in the last hundred years, especially the Shoah, the rise of Israel "out of the ashes," and the accidental and mutually tragic collision with the Palestinians in the early and middle of the 20th century, continuing through today. He is happily married and the father of two teenagers.