The assassination of John F. Kennedy was the defining moment of my generation. When he was killed in Dallas, I was 20 years old and a junior in college. During a time of stress in our nation—the Cold War and civil rights, among other things—Kennedy embodied hope and a promise for a better future. In hindsight, we now know about his flaws including his reluctance to act on crucial issues, his physical illnesses, and his personal indiscretions. In 1963, however, Kennedy seemed to embody all that was good about America.
I have been reading a book entitled What If? in which leading military historians imagine what might have been if certain military conquests had ended differently. It is tempting to play the “what if” game with the assassination of John Kennedy.
If Kennedy had lived, would we have entered in the quagmire of Vietnam that resulted in the deaths of 60,000 Americans and hundreds of thousands who lived in Southeast Asia? Many young men (and women) would not have lived broken lives upon their return to the States. Perhaps I would have spent my active duty time on an Army base in Georgia rather than spending a year in Vietnam.
If Kennedy had lived, would the US government have negotiated a rapprochement with Cuban leader Fidel Castro? There are indications that the Kennedy Administration was working on such a deal when he died.
If the Kennedy had lived, would the youth revolution of the late sixties have been as radical and reforming? The anger might have been defused by a young, optimistic President.
If Kennedy had lived, would the Cold War have ended sooner or would it have continued to drag on? Would the absence of the failure of American policy in Southeast Asia have emboldened American military efforts in other areas?
So many questions and possibilities, but they are all speculation. The only thing we know for sure is that the shots that rang out in Dealey Plaza on Friday, November 22, 1963, changed our lives.