Fifty Years since Dallas

Posted: November 22, 2013 in USA

Up to nineteen sixty-three it was still possible for thinking men to believe in progress. A just war had been fought and won, and this time the result would be, if not a land fit for heroes, at least a society fit for humans.

 Recalled to Life: Reginald Hill 1992  

I heard the shocking news of the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy in the communal television room at Churchill Hall student accommodation just outside Bristol. In those days we did not have televisions in our own rooms. I was 19 years old and in my first term of what was to prove a difficult five years.

ttoacmI knew very little about the machinations of American politics, and like most of my generation regarded Jack Kennedy as an heroic figure, who had saved the world during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and challenged the Soviets at the Berlin Wall. There was a glamour about the youngest man to be elected* President, a man who had overcome the perceived and real handicap of being a Roman Catholic to win the most powerful position in the Western world. The fact that he had a beautiful wife in Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, helped his image among the young and made us believe the future was bound to bright. A new golden age was just around the corner.

 But the assassination of JFK on 22 November 1963, in Dallas, Texas, was only the beginning of a series of  events that stripped away our youthful optimism, and altered the close relationship forged during the war between the USA and the UK.

I don’t think young Britons would ever feel quite the same about the United States as they did in the summer of 1963, and that is one tragic legacy of Kennedy’s premature death.

There have been numerous books about the Kennedy Assassination and possible conspiracies, but one of the best fiction books is The Tears of Autumn by Charles McCarry. This 1974 novel by an former CIA operative was good enough to be plagiarised in 2011, so it is highly recommended.

[* Jack Kennedy was 43 years and 236 days when he became the youngest elected president. The youngest president Teddy Roosevelt, who was only 42 years and 322 days, when he assumed office after the assassination of William McKinley.]  

  1. Margot Kinberg says:

    Norman – What a thoughtful and well-written post. We lost our innocence that day…

  2. Norman Price says:

    Thanks very much Margot. You must have been very very young at the time.

  3. TracyK says:

    Norman, I was just a bit younger than you at the time (in high school) and was in the US South and remember what changed for me. Where I was, Kennedy was not popular, but I considered him a hero. Regardless of what I thought of him, I was shocked to have close friends cheering when they heard he had died. I remember that vividly.

    And I second your appreciation of The Tears of Autumn. A wonderful book, part of one of my favorite series of books.

  4. Norman Price says:

    TracyK- That must have been very distressing and sickening.
    The image we had on UK TV of the South during the 1950s and 1960s was not good. Even in 1979, my first trip to the USA, in Virginia people spoke of the “during the Federal occupation”. I had to explain to fellow Brits that the guides were talking about the Civil War. On subsequent visits over the next 24 years I noticed that the divisions in society seemed a bit more on income grounds than on race.

    • TracyK says:

      Yes, it was distressing. Being a teenager at the time, I think I was more preoccupied with the worries of that period of life than what was going on politically. I do know my college years were better because the university had much more tolerance of diversity, but at 22 I was glad to leave the South behind and I have never moved back.

  5. kathy d. says:

    Norman, if you only knew what still goes on. The Tea Party people in front of the White House during the government shutdown waving Confederate flags. A few years ago, while they were mad at the administration, they actually spit at Rep. John Lewis, a veteran of the Civil Rights Movement, who was beaten almost to death twice, a wonderful, giving, kind man who even forgave the man who beat him in 1961 Birmingham, during an attempt to integrate the bus station there.
    When Sarah Palin campaigned in Florida, and she brought out the real extremists, someone yelled racist statements at a CNN camerawoman who is African American.
    There are still racist killings in the South, some so disturbing I don’t want to repeat them.
    I do remember when JFK was assassinated. I was in high school. We all went into the auditorium, and then were allowed to go home. It was sad.

  6. Norman Price says:

    Kathy, very sad we seem to go forward a little bit and then slip backwards into old prejudices.

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