Feature Writer Terri Winaught – What if?

For a young child, “what if” lends itself to a number of possibilities like, “What if I didn’t even have to go to school? I hate it and don’t want to go.” An adult scenario might be: “What if my husband and I had never married because I married his best friend?”

The “What If” statement I will be focusing on in this article is one which historians have considered and written alternate histories accordingly: what if President Kennedy had never been shot on Friday, November 22, 1963? An extension of that scenario is, “what if the 35th President of the United States had still been shot, but had survived his wounds?”

Probably anyone who was alive on that fateful Friday knows where he/she was when getting that news and what he/she was doing when American and World History changed forever. Because the Overbrook School for the Blind had a Reading Readiness grade which followed Kindergarten, I was a ten-year-old third-grader. That Friday afternoon I was in a class which bored me to tears when my principal announced over the Personal Address System that everyone was to report to the auditorium. As I quietly entered, the organ was softly playing “Jesus Savior, Pilot Me.”

“Oh, my,” I murmured, not wishing to be heard and chastised. Once we were all quietly seated, the organist stopped playing, and the Principal, Mr. Kauffmann said, “at one this afternoon in Dallas, Texas, the President was shot and pronounced dead.” While my reaction was to be both numbed and stunned, many of the older girls began to cry. We prayed the Our Father and school was dismissed for the weekend.

In an E-mail a friend recently forwarded, I was given five historical perspectives on how various events might have played out had Kennedy lived.

A Japanese documentarian posits that Vietnam would never have escalated into the war being so vividly portrayed on American televisions as the 1960s progressed. Just two weeks before his death, J.F.K. had plans in place to remove military advisors by 1965.

Jeff Greenfield, a political analyst who authored a book and wrote in the Dallas Morning News about that troubled time suggest that we would have moved closer to meaningful dialogue with Cuban ruler Fidel Castro. This possibility was based on Kennedy’s handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis and “Bay of Pigs.” Furthermore, Kennedy is alleged to have stated that one should not trust that just because someone is a military man that he knows a “damn” about what he is doing.

On a more personal level, many who were closest to Kennedy were well aware of his extramarital affairs. Not only were these being prepared to be revealed two weeks prior to the Presidential assassination, but also some unsettling allegations about Lyndon Johnson having taken kickbacks and having obtained money in ways less than stellar. None of this was readily reported, however, given how shaken and traumatized America already was. Speculation is that the President and his brother Bobby, then U.S. Attorney-General, would have used all of the power at their disposal to keep that information from getting out.

Two final history revisions are that George Wallace would have become President in 1968, in part at least because the Civil Rights Act would not have passed, and that the second President Bush would have lost his bid for office in 2000. It motivates one to wonder how history would have been impacted 50 years later. It’s a given, however, that such a question can never be answered. Few, if any, would debate that what happened on that clear Dallas day 50 years ago this Friday forever changed the course of history both in America and in the world.

Sources: Jeff Greenfield who wrote about this topic in the Dallas Morning News, and Koji Matsutani: Virtual J.F.K.: If J.F.K. Had Lived: a 2008 documentary about the President’s planned withdrawal from Vietnam.

Tell us in the Reader’s Forum how you might envision an America in which J.F.K. was either never shot or had survived his wounds.

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