How did John F. Kennedy's death change America?

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John F. Kennedy (JFK) was an enigmatic President, with future focused ideals, in an age of television.  His death left a legacy that cannot be undervalued.

His assassination:

JFK was assassinated in an age of film and television, and it was the first time the world could watch a horrific event unfold. Between the quick way the Warren Commission had to deal with investigating the assassination and the gathering of such a wide array of film footage, it has to be said that no one of such a high position had ever been killed with so many cameras pointed at the event. From this, we see the world being affected. News reports covered the assassination worldwide. Newspapers across the globe covered the death of a foreign leader with unprecedented coverage.

All of this coverage led to a rise in conspiracy theorists.  Even in far off New Zealand, American journalists sought a paper they believed held the secrets to the assassination plot.

The Christchurch Star connection

Preoccupation with The Christchurch Star connection had existed since 1963 but intensified with the release in 1992 of Oliver Stone’s movie JFK, which put forward a conspiracy view of the assassination. It used, as part of its evidence, the front page of The Christchurch Star of 23 November 1963.

There were claims that The Christchurch Star coverage contained information which was pre-packaged by conspirators prior to the assassination taking place, and distributed in the United States and then sent out to New Zealand very soon after the event. They say Oswald’s background was reported far too quickly and it must have been a CIA-planted cover story.

Whilst conspiracy theorists did not effect massive change to America, they led to a rise in the number of popular conspiracies (particularly the moon landing later in the decade).

After his Death:

Following the death of JFK, there was a rise in support of his policies, and changes made to how America operated.

Civil Rights:

JFK had promised to improve civil rights.

Kennedy promised during his election campaign to wipe out "with the stroke of a pen" discrimination in public housing by issuing executive orders. After two years of delay, civil rights activists began sending pens to the White House to prod Kennedy to act. He eventually signed an order banning racial discrimination in wages by federal contractors

Shortly after his assassination, and the successful March on Washington, Congress passed the Civil Rights Bill.  The new President, L.B. Johnson, used the Bill as a way of honoring the death of JFK.

The Space Race:

JFK had promoted early in his reign about going to the moon.  He began with the speech, "We chose to go to the moon..." which included a timeline: "We choose to go to the Moon in this decade..."

By framing a timeline, Kennedy put the goal squarely in the eyes of the American people. The USA was behind the Soviet Union in the Space Race but ultimately caught up and won by landing a man on the moon first. This small step for man came down to Kennedy's speech fueling the nation and instilling the value that a moon landing was important for national security. After his death, these words are still echoed in relation to the moon landing itself.

Vietnam War:

Kennedy held the idea that the "Domino Theory" could spread communism throughout the Pacific, and that this should be stopped. During his reign he had troops and support for the South Vietnamese government for the war.  However, as JFK died, Johnson inherited a war that was scaling out of control. Johnson bears history's burden of having sent more troops to Vietnam, an incredibly unpopular war. Because he died when he did, Kennedy managed to maintain a reputation of fairness for the common people, as well as being peaceful, whereas Johnson, aware that Vietnam had cost him dearly, did not even run for re-election.

Other changes:

JFK brought about many changes to America during his reign, but these were not necessarily changed by his death.  His use of diplomacy during the Cuban Missile Crisis marked his strength as a leader. He also began organizations such as the Peace Corps, leaving a legacy of making the world better in the face of adversity.

More than anything else, Kennedy died with a mystique surrounding him and this, coupled with his charismatic charm and good looks, cemented his memory as a hero of the people, even though the facts of history do not always support this same glossy image. Ultimately, his legacy is one of triumph more than defeat, and he will always be the President attributed with the Civil Rights Bill, marking a massive change in America.

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