Given the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963, address the following:
- Why is it a turning point and not just another event?
- Why were the events immediately preceding the turning point necessary and essential in preparing for the turning point?
- What subsequent event or events were dependent on the action of the turning point; also, what possible event or events became impossible because the turning point occurred?
The assassination of President Kennedy was one of but a small handful of moments that literally stopped the nation in its tracks. It was a turning point because of the seismic impact that it carried throughout American society. President Kennedy's assassination can be seen as a turning point because of the impact that it had in the short term and its long term implications.
In terms of its effect in the immediate, the Kennedy Assassination took the nation by complete surprise. No one saw it coming. The force of it is what caused to be a singular turning point. It was not "just another event" because the profound force of its impact. Consider how some of the narratives of "that fateful day in Dallas" spread. Traffic stopped, reflecting how people went from car to car to relay the news of what happened. Schools released children early, further conveying the immediate sense of the event's impact. CBS News Correspondent Roger Mudd captured the individual and subjective impact of the event:
It was a death that touched everyone instantly and directly; rare was the person who did not cry that long weekend. In our home, as my wife (E.J.) watched the television, her tears caused our five-year-old son, Daniel, to go quietly and switch off of what he thought was the cause of his mother's weeping.
In offices and workplaces around the nation, phones went unanswered as nearly everyone gathered around a television set, trying to figure out what happened and if the President survived. When the viewers saw Walter Cronkite choke up and take his glasses off to announce that the President had died, it was a critical instant in American History that became etched in national consciousness with the familiar question, "Where were you when you heard about Kennedy's assassination?" It is the force of this event on the national consciousness at that instant which makes it a turning point and not just another event.
Nothing was going to be the same after the Kennedy Assassination. While little else was clear, that much was evident. Part of the reason for this resided in how people began to take on the sense of mourning after the President's death. The assassination of President Kennedy was seen in large part as the ending of "Camelot," or the basic idea that all which was previously revered would come to an end. In its place would be a setting of mistrust, apprehension, and fear, realities that were not immediately associated with President Kennedy's time in office. Over time, these became the reasons why the turning point of his death helped to make it a turning point and not just another event.
Nostalgia for that which had passed ended up mythologizing President Kennedy and clearly demonstrated how events immediately preceding it as a turning power were necessary and essential in preparation for it being a turning point. Some of this translated into how President Kennedy was the first President to articulate a vision on Civil Rights, evident in his last year in office when he defined equal opportunity as part of the American Dream. Another event that helped to make his assassination a turning point was seen in his Commencement Address at the American University, when he suggested that there was a universality between the Americans and the Russians, making it necessary to decrease the tensions in the Cold War. Further evidence of this was seen in his allegedly stated desire to decrease American involvement in the Vietnam War, suggesting that it is not a global battle for Communism as much as it is a civil war which is more "their war" than anything else. Over time, events such as these came to represent how President Kennedy was a leader of change. Such transformation was perceived to have come to an abrupt end in Dallas of November 1963.
Over time, "everything changed." The perception of how life was seen before and after the Kennedy Assassination became part of the national narrative. For many, the seeming disillusion with government that became part of the landscape of the 1960s was one event that was dependent on the action of the turning point. In contrast to President Kennedy's youthful vigor that captured the imagination of the nation, Vice President Johnson was seen as a career politician, one who lived in the backrooms of Congressional chambers and was always able to "broker a deal." The perception of President Johnson as "not President Kennedy" was an event that was dependent on the action of the turning point.
Accurate or not, Americans associated the escalation of the war in Vietnam is another event that was dependent on the action of the turning point. For many Americans, the death of President Kennedy was immediately linked in their consciousness as one of the reasons that the war escalated and spiraled out of control. This made the possibility of peace with both the Vietnamese and the Russians impossible, and also made unlimited faith in America impossible, given the amount of death and despair the Vietnam War exacted on America.
Rightly or wrongly, President Kennedy's death ended up becoming the first in a series of assassinations that would mar the nation's collective consciousness. The deaths of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr, and Bobby Kennedy were all seen as rooted in the killing of President Kennedy. The perceived sense of comfort that became a part of the Kennedy legacy after his death would not be evident in the nation after his killing, making his assassination a turning point in American History.