For a certain people of a certain age, the date of November 22 will always carry a unique impact. No matter how many years pass or how many opinions are shared, it still affects them. It acts as a yearly reminder of a powerful moment in history that they experienced first-hand. From their perspective, the entire course of history changed on that day.
On November 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas in broad daylight in front of hundreds of civilians. To say the event was historic, as well as traumatic, would be an understatement of immense proportions. There are few dates in world history that many can single out as a turning point. This is one of them.
Now, since this was such a monumental moment in history, this event has been the subject of a lot of conspiracy theories, some more absurd than others. I’m not going to delve into those rabbit holes. All I’ll say is that pretty much all of them fall apart with the slightest bit of scrutiny. They also degrade and detract from the full impact of that day.
I know this because my father has frequently told me about this day. He was still a kid in 1963. He still remembers it vividly, so much so that I can sense it still affects him to this day. He frequently recounts how they all got this dire announcement in school the afternoon it happened. He also tells me about how schools were closed the next day and how much people dreaded what might come next.
Keep in mind, this was the middle of the Cold War. For everyone alive at the time, including my dad, nuclear war could’ve broken out at any moment. For all they knew, the death of JFK was just the first shot of World War III. All they could do at this point was brace themselves.
It’s hard for anyone who didn’t live through that to appreciate that kind of dread. I know many will cite September 11, 2001 as a date of similar importance to the current generation and while I do think that too was a major turning point in history, the JFK assassination was still bigger in terms of impact.
That’s a sentiment my father has also conveyed to me. He and plenty others who remember that day said that nothing was ever the same afterwards. Before November 22, 1963, there was still this sense that everything was getting better. We, as both a country and a world, were on the right track.
We defeated the fascists in World War II.
We were making social progress with the Civil Rights Movement.
The war in Vietnam hadn’t yet become the tragedy it ultimately became.
We were even venturing into space.
Then, this happens. The President of the United States is gunned down in broad daylight. Everything action, choice, and sentiment is suddenly fueled by fear rather than hope. This notion of looking forward to the future gives way to anxiously agonizing over the present. Fear becomes distress and distress becomes anger and from anger comes chaos.
The way the 1960s played out after JFK’s death certainly took a turn. My dad also had plenty of stories to tell me about that. However, he could tie a lot of what happened back to that fateful date of November 22, 1963.
Naturally, the notion of what might have happened had JFK never been assassinated has been pondered many times and inspired many elaborate alternate history scenarios. While they may make for great stories, they still don’t change how much real people and real history is affected.
In many respects, we’re still reeling from the impact of that day. I’m no history, but I still believe that November 22, 1963 changed history for the worse. Losing the President of the United States in such a public way didn’t just shake the world. It filled everyone with dread and anxiety, which has affected us on so many levels for years to come.
We’re still dealing with many of those effects. The turmoil and chaos from that date affected geopolitics, major wars, and social trends. Since few good decisions are made in the midst of such chaos, I honestly don’t believe we as a country or a society made the best decisions we could’ve after that day. The consequences of those decisions are still being felt by many, even by those who weren’t alive that day.
It’s impossible to grasp all the ways that the JFK assassination affected history. It’s just as impossible to appreciate how it still affects our lives to this day. With each passing year, more and more of those who were alive that day either pass away or bury away those memories. As a result, many younger people don’t realize just how impactful it was.
I may not have been alive on that day, but the world I live in was shaped significantly by the events of November 22, 1963. If you’re reading this, regardless of your age, there’s a good chance that applies to you too. Our world and our history took a dark, tragic turn that day.
We can’t change it.
We can’t forget it, either.
We can only appreciate its impact, learn from it, and try to move forward.