Prior to the assassination of President Kennedy on November 22, 1963, life in the United States still seemed to border on naivety in so many ways. But the series of shots that rang out in Dealey Plaza that afternoon was the beginning of the end of this innocence.
John F. Kennedy was a popular president with the American people. His wife Jackie, the First Lady, was the picture of sophisticated beauty. The Kennedy clan was large and appeared close-knit. JFK appointed Robert, 'Bobby', to be Attorney General. His other brother, Edward, 'Ted', won the election for John's old Senate seat in 1962.
Within the U.S., Kennedy had recently made it a public resolve to back the Civil Rights movement by passing historic legislation that would bring about major change. The Beatles were still clean-cut young men who wore matching suits when they performed. There wasn't a drug counterculture among the youth of America. Long hair, Black Power, and burning draft cards just did not exist.
At the height of the Cold War, President Kennedy had made the powerful Premier of the Soviet Union, Nikita Khrushchev, back down during the Cuban Missile Crisis. In the fall of 1963, there were U.S. military advisers and other personnel, but no U.S. combat troops in Vietnam. In October 1963, Kennedy had decided to withdraw one thousand military advisers from the region by end of the year.
Kennedy Calls for the Withdrawal of US Military Advisers
The day before Kennedy was assassinated, he had approved National Security Action Memorandum (NSAM) 263 which expressly called for the withdrawal of these U.S. military advisers. However, with the succession of Lyndon B. Johnson to the presidency, the final version of this bill was changed. The version officially approved by President Johnson, NSAM 273, left out the withdrawal of advisers by the end of 1963. By the end of 1965, over 200,000 U.S. combat troops were in Vietnam.
Furthermore, by the time the Vietnam Conflict ended, there were over 500,000 troops deployed with more than 58,000 casualties. There are some conspiracy theorists that solely look to the difference in policy towards U.S. military presence in Vietnam between Kennedy and President Johnson as the reason for Kennedy's assassination. However, there is little evidence to support this theory. In fact, during an April 1964 interview, Bobby Kennedy answered a number of questions about his brother and Vietnam. He stopped short of saying that President Kennedy would not have used combat troops in Vietnam.
Camelot and Kennedy
The term Camelot evokes thoughts of the mythical King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. However, this name has also become associated with the time that Kennedy was president. The play, 'Camelot' was popular at the time. It, like Kennedy's presidency, ended with the death of the 'king'. Interestingly, this association was created soon after his death by Jackie Kennedy herself. When the former First Lady was interviewed by Theodore White for a Life magazine piece that appeared in a December 3, 1963, special edition of the publication, she was quoted as saying that, “There will be great presidents again, but there will never be another Camelot.” Although it has been written that White and his editors did not agree with Jackie Kennedy's characterization of Kennedy's presidency, they ran the story with the quote. Jackie Kennedy's words encapsulated and immortalized John F. Kennedy's few short years in the White House.
The 1960's after Kennedy's assassination saw major changes in the United States. There was a growing degradation of trust in our government. The way that the older generation viewed the youth of America was changed, and the limits of our Constitutional freedom of expression were severely tested. America was in a period of upheaval that would not end until the 1980s.