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My Essay for Writer's Digest Personal Essay Awards 2023

The Assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy

How would the world have been different if he was never assassinated?

By Jason Calhoun

Courtesy of Wikimedia

Back when I was twenty during my summer before returning to college, I remember taking a trip to Dallas and visiting the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza. I was intrigued by what I saw at this museum. I had learned so much about the Kennedy Assassination that I did not know before. I remember briefly learning about his assassination in history classes during grade school, yet I did not know how controversial his death was and all the conspiracy theories existed surrounding his death. I was fascinated by this information and did more research myself after visiting the museum.

The big questions that come to mind for most people after hearing about the Kennedy Assassination are: Was there more than one shooter? And did Lee Harvey Oswald act alone that day? The answer to those two questions is…we’ll never know. We’ll never know if Oswald acted alone or if there was more than one shooter there that day. While there are many theories and evidence out there that exists suggesting there was more than one shooter in Dealey Plaza that day, we still don’t have enough evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that there were more shooters besides Oswald who shot Kennedy that day. And chances are, we’ll never know…we’ll never know what really happened that day, November 22, 1963 in Dealey Plaza.

The big question I like to ask myself is, how would the United States, and the world on a larger scale, have been different if John Fitzgerald Kennedy was never assassinated or survived his assassination attempt? How would that have changed the course of history? Many historians believe the Civil Rights Act of 1964 would not have passed had Kennedy survived his assassination attempt. While Kennedy was a strong supporter of civil rights, the civil rights bill was languishing in Congress at the time of his death. He admitted to many of his advisors that he expected a tough reelection campaign due to his support of civil rights. Would the Civil Rights Act of 1964 be passed in 1964? Or would Kennedy have parked the issue until after his reelection and hoped for more leverage from Congress? It is widely believed that Kennedy would have had to have made a lot more concessions to Congress to get the bill passed than his successor Lyndon Baines Johnson did, and highly unlikely that the Civil Rights Act would have been passed in 1964 which would have led to many more years of civil unrest in the United States.

What about the Cold War? A global conflict that spanned decades from March 12, 1947 to December 26, 1991, 44 years and 9 months. It took until the 1970s for the world to witness any détente in the matter. Considering Kennedy’s charisma, charm, and “verbal judo,” could Kennedy have deescalated tensions between the United States and Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) earlier on? Chances are…yes. Considering Kennedy’s ability to successfully negotiate with First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union Nikita Khrushchev during the Cuban Missile Crisis for the USSR to dismantle their nuclear weapons in Cuba and return them to the Soviet Union leaves many to believe he many have been able to deescalate tensions earlier on and possibly establish a Nuclear Arms Treaty with the USSR.

That being said, Kennedy was a staunch anti-communist who had rallied against communism throughout his campaigns and time in office. During his 1960 presidential campaign he argued that the Republicans had been weak in their response to communism. However, many had seen a shift in Kennedy’s attitude after the Cuban Missile Crisis. At one of his speeches delivered in Washington in 1963, Kennedy spoke for peace between the two nations and pushed for a limited ban on nuclear weapons. At another speech he made later that year to the United Nations General Assembly, Kennedy proposed a joint manned lunar program with the Soviet Union. “Why, therefore, should man’s first flight to the moon be a matter of national competition?” Kennedy said. “The Soviet Union and the United States, together with their allies, can achieve further agreements—agreements which spring from our mutual interest in avoiding mutual destruction.”

Had Kennedy survived his assassination attempt, chances are relations could have improved between both the USSR and Cuba considering his ability to negotiate and deescalate tension. In the 1960s, who knows? We might have seen both a US astronaut and Soviet astronaut walking the moon together!

What about the Vietnam War? A war that claimed more than 58,000 American and millions of Vietnamese lives. A war that sparked a multitude of anti-war protests throughout the United States and tons of civil unrest. Upon taking office, Johnson escalated the war to new heights, sending more US troops into combat and conducting mass air raids throughout Vietnam.

What would John F. Kennedy have done differently? Would he have done anything differently? Or would he have used his charisma, charm, and “sweet-talk” to deescalate the war? When it came to communism, Kennedy was a believer in the “domino theory” that if one country fell to communism then other surrounding countries would follow suit. To prevent communism, Kennedy didn’t want to let Vietnam turn red. Kennedy mentioned to his advisors how enraged he would be if Vietnam fell to communism.

Other historians argue that Kennedy never wanted to get involved in Vietnam to begin with and was beginning a military withdrawal shortly before his death. Many believed Kennedy preferred the diplomatic solution to global conflict rather than military intervention and believed he would have been able to negotiate a diplomatic solution to the conflict rather than utilizing military force.

Some historians think Kennedy’s response to Vietnam may have lied somewhere in the middle of diplomacy and military intervention. Not wanting to be weak on communism but still looking for a diplomatic solution, he might have kept the United States’ military presence in Vietnam but wouldn’t have escalated the Vietnam War to the same heights his successor Lyndon B. Johnson had. He probably would have brainstormed and negotiated a military withdrawal strategy sooner. While South Vietnam would have still been conquered by North Vietnam, Kennedy’s response would have saved much more American lives and there would have been much less civil unrest within the United States.

While these are some theories and hypotheses as to how history may have been different had Kennedy not been assassinated, the answer to how history would have been different if he survived is the same one as to what really happened in Dealey Plaza on November 22 1963…we’ll never know. One thing is certain, though, and that is that the assassination of the thirty-fifth President of the United States John Fitzgerald Kennedy changed the course of history forever.

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