Fri, Nov 21, 2003 - Page 9 News List

Killing of Kennedy started era


At the moment when America's handsome, young president John Kennedy was shot dead in the arms of his beautiful wife on national TV 40 years ago, the US was changed instantly and forever.

Many people say that it was in that split second that the still-youthful country lost its innocence. But America had lost its innocence many times before -- in the Civil War, World Wars I and II and the Great Depression.

"Every generation loses its innocence," historian Sherry Paris says. "We lost ours on September 11, and the world changed forever.

For Americans in 1963, the Kennedy killing was just as profound.

"There was a sense that nothing would ever be the same, and this opened up a Pandora's box of ideas, actions and earthquakes."

In other words, what made the assassination on Nov. 22, 1963, such a watermark event, was that it was the first and most vivid in a series of cataclysmic shocks and revolutionary forces that came together to transform America in the period now simply called the '60s.

"The shot that killed the president is the shot that starts the whole period," popular culture professor Robert Thompson notes.

In the years to follow, America was rocked and changed by the civil rights movement, the ecological movement, the Vietnam War, the protest movement and the sexual revolution. There was also the spread of mind-altering drugs, the rise of the Beatles and the landing of men on the moon. Together, these events brought America from the straightjacket of traditional 1950s society to the turbulence of the modern era.

Most if not all of these dramatic events would have occurred irrespective of Kennedy's fate. But tied with the rise of live TV that came into its own in the immediate aftermath of the shooting, American society would never be the same.

"For four days, everyone was glued to their sets," Thompson recalls. "It was the flashpoint of modern TV journalism. The impact was huge, uniting the entire country in a sense of grief and immediacy to the national trauma."

The shooting of the young leader also cracked America's veneer of a robust, post-World War II self-confidence.

Uncertainty reigned because there was never any satisfactory explanation for the mysteries of the Kennedy killing. To this day, conspiracy theories abound as to whether the womanizing, drug-dependent president was killed by a lone gunman, by someone acting for the CIA, the Mafia or the communists.

"When a country can't satisfactorily explain who killed its president, of course, there is going to be a loss of faith in the power of government," explains UCLA political scientist Paul Scuderi.

"It has never returned since."

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