November 22, 1963. For those alive then, this is a day never to be forgotten. For those who were not, it’s a day we read about and know as a defining moment in the history of the United States and possibly the world.
The assassination of President John F. Kennedy on that fateful day in Dallas, Texas, brought the nation to its knees, but the tragic nature of the day is perhaps the only thing we know for certain.
Countless questions have arisen about the assassination. Who was Lee Harvey Oswald, and was he working alone? Was there a second shooter?
What happened to Kennedy’s body between the shooting and the autopsy?
How can we explain the motion of his head after being shot if Oswald was responsible?
The list goes on, but whether you believe in conspiracies or if you believe what the Warren Commission found, in some ways, it doesn’t matter;
President Kennedy was shot that day, and the world was left to pick up the pieces.
So if we look back, now that we are armed with almost over 50 years of historical perspective, can we uncover anything about the shooting? What does it tell us about the way the world works? Well, quite a lot actually.
This makes sense, as the killing of one of the world’s most well-known leaders is likely to send shockwaves throughout the world. So let’s take a look at what this pivotal moment in history means for the world order.
Power to the People? Not So Fast
To understand how the Kennedy assassination affected the world, we need to first back up a bit in time to the end of the World War II. After the Axis powers surrendered, the world was in shambles.
Much of Europe needed to be entirely rebuilt, both physically and also mentally. One of the ways this manifested itself was through the development of social welfare programs. The devastation of the war was so great, people saw the need to band together, work as one and help to rebuild a nation.
The most prominent development from this was the emergence of the National Health Service in the United Kingdom, but this would serve as just a starting point for the politics of solidarity that would come to define European living over the rest of the century.
In the United States, the devastation from the war was not felt as intensely firsthand, since outside of Pearl Harbor, no fighting took place on U.S. soil.
To find this sensation of solidarity, you need to fast-forward a few years to the beginning of the 1960s when the baby boomer population began to come of age. This generation, which is defined as those born between 1946-1964, was, at the time, the largest age group in the country.
This generation is famous for the U.S. counterculture that sprung up in the 1960s that rallied around diverse factors such as civil rights, women’s liberation, rock and roll (the voice of the antiestablishment) and antiwar protests, among others.
This presented a unique opportunity for American politics to take a sharp turn to the left in favor of widespread solidarity as this group throughout the 1960s would come to be the largest voting segment in the country.
But hold that thought. The powers that be could not allow such a dramatic shift and were not as eager as younger Americans to usher in the age of “power to the people.” So, what happened?
You guessed it—there was a systematic effort to knock out the movement’s most influential leaders, starting with President Kennedy, moving on to Martin Luther King Jr., Senator Bobby Kennedy and much later on, John Lennon.
Whether you define these powers that be as evil members of the deep state or just plain old bigots not prepared to relinquish the status of wealthy white Americans (something we can still see even today), the reality is someone was not happy with the way America was heading in 1963, and they set out to change its course.
But what would be the new course? For this, we need to zoom out once again and analyze the greater implications of President Kennedy’s assassination.
Establishing the World Order
To fully appreciate the dramatic effects of the Kennedy assassination, we need to look at how American politics have developed since it happened. After Kennedy’s death, Lyndon Johnson took over.
This might not seem like a big deal, but the two men did not see eye to eye on many issues. While Johnson is credited with his progressive Great Society policies that helped reduce poverty and turned civil rights into law, it was not the same.
Johnson was a poster child of traditional American politics and was the epitome of the democratic machine that many thought they were voting against with Kennedy.
Though poverty declined under his presidency, it is generally understood these effects were the result of a culmination of factors dating back to well before Johnson assumed the presidency.
However, perhaps the most important thing to remember about Johnson’s presidency is how he escalated U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War.
This act reminds us how the spread of U.S. ideology to the rest of the world is almost always at the top of any president’s agenda.
The idea of the domino effect of communism forced millions of young men to fight a war the country never really ever had a chance of winning. But Vietnam is the most well-known of many conflicts the U.S. fought throughout the 1960s and 1970s across Asia, Africa and Latin America in the name of democracy and the free market.
This escalation continued throughout the 1960s, and Johnson did not seek reelection in 1968, leading to the election of Richard Nixon, who eventually presided over the U.S.’ exit from the conflict as the North Vietnamese took Saigon in April 1975.
While one could argue Kennedy started the Vietnam conflict and this escalation was not the result of his death, he was more in tune with the baby boomer generation and perhaps would have been more responsive to the widespread protests that dominated the country throughout the 1960s and 1970s.
With his death, people disengaged from politics and began a slow shift of American politics to the right, which manifested itself fully in 1980 with the election of Ronald Reagan and the rise neoliberalism.
The Rise of Neoliberalism
Neoliberalism is the ideology of the world’s politics today. It focuses on free markets, individual action, minimal governments and heavy support of the private sector. Some of us might be more familiar with the term trickle-down economics—translation: strip regulation, support the rich, and watch as everything turns out okay.
Reagan’s policies helped to deregulate Wall Street, which gave way to booming profits in the 1980s and 1990s but also set the stage for the irresponsible behavior we saw in the 2000s that lead to the 2008 financial crisis.
But neoliberalism didn’t just apply to the U.S.; it was also embraced by U.K. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and found its way into U.S.-dominated institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, whose structural adjustment policies in the 1990s helped to reshape the world economy in the name of profit.
This is why paradoxes exist, such as resource-rich countries in Latin America suffering from immense poverty.
The reforms brought on by neoliberalism helped foreign bodies gain access to these resources and sell them abroad without reinvesting in the country where they were extracted. Understanding this chain of events that started with the JFK assassination helps us answer an important question about today’s world order.
So, Who’s in Charge?
If the assassination of JFK tells us one key thing, it’s that for all our efforts, we are not in charge. We vote, we protest, we petition and do all that we can, and while this has an impact, it is not what decides the law of the land. So, who’s in charge? It’s quite simple: the banks.
Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century, the world has slowly been consolidating into a business, more interested in the movement of goods and services in the name of profit rather than the well-being of people.
This is a sad truth, but if we look around, we can see it quite clearly. It is why we can see continued environmental abuse despite the existence of technology to avoid it, massive crises such as the financial crisis of 2008 and the denial of billions of people around the world access to basic things such as food and health care.
These are things we can avoid, but it isn’t profitable to do so, and so they persist.
The JFK assassination by itself is a tragic event that touched the hearts of millions, but placed into a larger context, it is a defining moment in world history that affects the lives of billions.
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