Alternative history is a genre of fiction in which the author hypothesizes how the course of history might be altered if a certain historical event had had a different outcome.
It presents the unknown, as no one can precisely predict how events could have gone if it did not happen, one can only assume backed up with logical facts and assumptions, “In counterfactual history, nothing is certain” (Robert Dallek). Many authors have written novels on what they speculate could have happened if one small change in history was made, some notable are Stephen Baxter, Robert Dyke, and Stephen King. One alternate history that has intrigued many people, including many famous authors and directors is; what would have happened if John Fitzgerald Kennedy had miraculously survived November 22nd, 1963? As Kennedy was assassinated whilst he was in Dallas as a part of his run-up to the 1964 presidential campaign, the outcome of his death caused many changes to what could have been the election. In audio tapes Kennedy voices his concern of the crisis in Vietnam, his statement being that Vietnam couldn’t fall to the communists. Kennedy expected a tough re-election campaign because of his support of Civil Rights, which he made an act in 1963 and was installed by Lyndon Baines Johnson later after his passing.
President Johnson told the nation that passing the act would honour Kennedy’s legacy, but if he did not die it would not have been as easy to pass it and the voting rights. But all of this may not have potentially have happened if Kennedy did not win his second term as president.The election of 1964On November 3rd, 1964, just short of a year since the death of Kennedy, was the national presidential election for America. Lyndon B. Johnson, as part of the Democratic party went up against the Republican counterpart, Barry Goldwater in the National election.
Johnson had beat Goldwater in one of the greatest landslides in American History, he won by more than 15 million votes. Johnson won 44 states racking in a total of 486 electoral votes, whilst Goldwater only got 6 states and 52 electoral votes. LBJ’s campaign was based on following through on the former martyr president’s plans, starting with the Civil Rights act. This gave him the edge over Goldwater as many people wanted to honor Kennedy. He states “A President’s hardest task is not to do what is right, but to know what is right” (LBJ). It shows in the polls that a bit less than 50% of people voted for JFK in 1960 but after his death over 70% claimed they voted for him.
Johnson knew that if he became president, he would have to initialise Kennedy’s goals. It would have been much harder for Kennedy to pass bills, but multiple historians believe that it would be quite similar to the early years of Johnson’s great society. During his presidency, despite Johnson’s relationship with the Soviets being misrepresented by the Vietnam War, the President had indeed made more of less some progress on arms control.
In January 1967, Johnson and Soviet Premier Aleksei Kosygin, signed the Outer Space Treaty. It banned nuclear weapons in the earth’s orbit, on the moon, other planets, or in deep space. Johnson was able to defuse one potential nuclear crisis: In 1967, after the Arab-Israeli War, the President met with Soviet Premier Kosygin to sort out conflicting U.S.
and Russian interests in the Middle East. The two sides agreed to defuse tensions in the area. Johnson identified his aspiring domestic agenda “The Great Society.” The most striking parts of it surrounded bringing aid to underprivileged Americans, protecting American consumers, and regulating natural resources.
It was stated by many theorists that Kennedy would have won the election of 1964 had he been alive Johnson would have remained his vice president. He tend to say things that many Americans enjoyed hearing, such as; “My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” (JFK). Kennedy’s main reason for his trip to Texas in 1963 was to restore unity in the local democrats. JFK desperately needed their support to capture the Texas Election College votes.
That alone was the tipping point in the election prior against Richard Nixon, the margin was 0.17 percent. As shown in reports the polls before his death looked encouraging. To appeal to the south Kennedy made Johnson his vice president as to get Johnson’s support to carry Texas. Kennedy does not have the particular skills possessed by his vice president when pertained to pushing legislation through congress. So it is theorised that the south would have gone against an elitist catholic chief executive. JFK may not have been able to win the election as investigations would be made and they would reveal his ties to the mob and his affairs. If Kennedy’s affairs would have been revealed when he was alive then the public would be appalled, so much that is may have led to an impeachment battle.
Kennedy surviving would have had many ramifications for LBJ as well, as Kennedy many extramarital affairs covered Johnson’s. Even without a Jonson scandal, JFK might have chosen his younger brother for the vice president in 1968, to continue the family dynasty. This alternate reality could have happened as he had expressed doubts about keeping Johnson on the ticket in 1964.The election could have gone either way based on the actions and speeches never given by Kennedy. But he would have done everything in his power to win and do the right things as he says, “Pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend… to assure the survival and success of liberty” (JFK). Thinking in the sense that he had succeeded in acquiring a second term, Kennedy would then have many challenges to face in the coming years, many domestic, and many international. One of these includes a potential war.
The Vietnam WarThe Vietnam War was a conflict between a democratic south and communist north. However, as it was apart of the Cold War, it contained global complications as well. It lasted a span of eleven years (1962 – 1973), and was the only war that the Americans had been involved in where they were on the losing side. Close too 58,220 Americans lost their lives and near 304,000 were injured. By 1968, there were 548,000 american troops in Vietnam, and the casualty count was at 30,000. Lyndon B. Johnson’s approval rating went from 70% in 1965 to 40% in 1967, and his mastery of Congress was coming to an end. LBJ asks Lady Bird Johnson, “I can’t get out, I can’t finish it with what I have got.
So what the hell do I do?” (Johnson). Unfortunately, he never quite got a answer on what to do with the situation. Johnson’s handle on the Vietnam crisis and his commitment to continue, was to follow the path of his predecessors. As it was Truman and Eisenhower to commence the involvement, and Kennedy also following in their footsteps.
LBJ was nervous about the how he would be perceived in history, as he did not want to be known as the only president who lost to communism. Though many thought it would have been the right thing to do, “I said that, all things being equal, maybe it would be better if we just left with honor. I really did think that, and I thought it more as the years went on” (Paul Kattenberg, the State Department’s leading Vietnam watcher at the time).
When the counterinsurgency had failed, Johnson quickly started to heighten United States commitments, and after more failed operations he called for a greater use of American force, including airforce and navy. Johnson continued to consol the public that he “Was not about to send American boys nine or ten thousand miles away from home to do what Asian boys ought to be doing for themselves. We don’t want to get . . . tied down to a land war in Asia.
” (LBJ) Sadly those were his exact plans if the situation got worse, which indeed it did. On February 13, 1965, operation rolling thunder commenced, this was the beginning of the end. Johnson’s choices were based on intricate military and political deliberation. He attempted to stay in some sort of middle between the two sides as some people in congress and the military wanted him to employ massive bombing of enemy cities, threaten to use nuclear weapons, and threaten to invade North Vietnam.
Others in Congress, the State Department, and even Vice President Hubert Humphrey wanted negotiations with Hanoi for neutrality in South Vietnam, and ultimately to bring Vietnam together as one again. Between the opposite sides on the issue, no matter what had been decided, the North Vietnamese beat them with political strategy and the advantage of experienced soldiers and many traps as they continued to escalate the war. Johnson’s attempts in handling the war was heavily based on the work of the presidents before him, as well as those in congress and his colleges in this stressful time. LBJ’s strategies had failed and he did not run for a second term. A move civil approach to the vietnam crisis is what it would have been with a Kennedy 2nd term. As shown in audio tapes taken at the White House, Kennedy delivers his concern on the Vietnam crisis, his proclamation being that the country could not fall to the communists. As the domino theory represents, the rest of Southeast Asia would fall as well if the war was lost.
Just three weeks prior to his death, South Vietnamese president Ngo Dinh Diem was assassinated. If Kennedy had been alive, he would have attempted more of a diplomatic approach than Johnson, who committed more troops.John F.
Kennedy believed in the containment of communism and in his very first speech for presidency, he pledged the preservation of Eisenhower’s policies and a continuation of support for the south. However Kennedy also was a firm believer of the domino theory, inquiring that if Vietnam became communist then the other surrounding countries would as well as part of a side effect. He was conflicted on the subject of Vietnam as Charles De Gaulle declared that an additional war would encapture America in a “bottomless military and political swamp”. Although others in Washington D.
C. stated that America was better qualified and prepared then France had been, and that with only a minuscule increase of American support it would promise a victory. But as stated by JFK’s brother, “Almost everything Kennedy did was designed to avoid war” (Robert F. Kennedy Jr.). In 1961, Kennedy allowed an increase in the budget for the South Vietnam Army (Army of the Republic of Vietnam or ARVN) from 150,000 soldiers to 170,000. As well as another thousand military advisers to assist in training. But these accords were not made public as it broke the 1954 Geneva Agreement which stated: neither zone is to join any military alliance or seek military reinforcement.
Kennedy was also using propaganda strategies to win. But in his second visit to Vietnam he observed that as a result of American troops training and practicing equipment, it had led to very poor living conditions and low chances of survival for the citizens in Vietnam. In his own words, “The U.S. has been destroying the very land and people it set out to save” (JFK). This trip led to the motivation of stopping this war and attempting to aid the refugees.
In theory, Kennedy would have pulled out before it was too late, he would have stopped the Vietnamese war from happening.In turn, without a war, there would have been no use for an anti-war movement. No protests, no hippies, no peace symbols, bell bottoms or music being inspired by war. No flag burning, no weather underground, and no lurching towards violence.
As well as the democratic party not being torn apart in 1968. The work that JFK had done prior to his death shows the strong sense of leadership and motivation of doing what he thought was best for his country, even if many others were against him. His plans with Vietnam are altogether much different than the way that it played out with Johnson. One quote of Kennedy’s that best represents his thoughts on the situation is this, “If one thing was borne into me as a result of my experiences in the Middle as well as the far East, it is that communism cannot be met effectively by merely the force of arms” (JFK said after a trip as a congressman in 1951). Kennedy showed empathy and sturdiness with handling the situation, and unfortunately Johnson put to much trust in others which led to the loss of a war.
Therefor the assassination of Kennedy ultimately led to the assassination of around 58,220 Americans, whereas if it had failed, there would have been a chance of most of them surviving the 1960s. The difference between the two is greatly explained here, “Kennedy wouldn’t have matched Johnson’s domestic reforms, but he would have escaped the Vietnam quagmire” (Hugh Brogan). Even if Kennedy’s actions would have led to a decrease in his popularity, theorists believe that it was in Kennedy to want to do what he thought was best, even if it opposed the opinions of the ones around him, like his commitment to civil rights. The Civil Rights ActThe civil rights act of 1964 changed American history, as during the 1960’s segregation was still happening in the southern states. It stopped segregation in public places and banned employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. It is considered one of the ultimate legislative achievements of the civil rights movement, “It’s really the law that created modern America” (Todd S. Purdum). In June 1963 Kennedy proposed by far the most all-inclusive civil rights legislation to date, stating the United States “will not be fully free until all of its citizens are free.
“Johnson gets the credit for pushing through the landmark of civil rights and poverty, busting through legislation of the 1960’s as he had the right qualities and birth place to win. “A southerner who could speak to southerners in their own language, and a legislator in chief par excellence” (H. W. Brands, a university of Texas professor and JFK author). The Senate voted 73-27 in favor of the bill, and Johnson signed it into law on July 2, 1964.The signing of this bill ignited a badly needed awakening to the racial injustices African-Americans had dealt with throughout the country and a beginning to the world of politics. This was an important step as, “It totally changed America, before the Civil Rights Act, employers were free to advertise positions saying ‘No Negroes need apply’ or ‘Whites only’ and the prospect of having interracial gatherings in many of the states in the South was impossible. Hotels and restaurants were free to discriminate with impunity.
There was no way they could be forced to desegregate, and there were still signs up that said colored bathrooms, white bathrooms, colored fountains, white fountains.” (Ralph D. Fertig, a USC social work professor).
The act also had a big impact on schools, even though the Supreme Court had ruled in the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case that segregation in schools was inherently unequal. There had been only miniscule attempts to desegregate public schools and universities in the decade prior. But the act that Johnson put forth, forced school to actually take action and put an end to discrimination.The act also paved the way for the voting act in 1965, as it outlawed unequal voter registration requirements.
This was very important as many states in the south would do most everything they could to stop African Americans from voting, which would include very hard to meet voting requirements. Also it allowed many to vote freely without being harrassed. But if Kennedy had survived, the story would have been quite different. Because of the Democratic south, and no empathy of any deaths, the passing of the act to have been tremendously more difficult. As without the Vietnam war, the battle over civil rights would become the main issue.
Just before his death, JFK told advisers he expected a tough re-election campaign as his plans for reform, backed up by civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. – stalled in the face of fierce opposition. If Kennedy had lived, the debate over the Civil Rights Act would not have occurred during the election year.
A certain theory speculates that Kennedy would have waited until after the 1964 election, with the aspiration of having more leverage in Congress to pass the act. Another theory states that they believe that JFK would have used black military veterans as a political tool against his opponents who were mostly southern Democrats. Both Kennedy and Johnson working together would have tackled the bill, which would have been a drawn-out battle.
“Kennedy shared Johnson’s ideals, but would have struggled to make the same progress on civil rights” (Sylvia Ellis). The Civil Rights legislation could have been more graduate, as Kennedy was progressive, but he was very cautious with the things he did. With all the facts and history up against him, there is a big chance that he would have been unsuccessful in passing the bill.
The partnership of Kennedy and Johnson’s on civil rights would still have been an enormous, uphill battle and, may not have succeeded. Kennedy’s sudden death sped up the implementation of American civil rights which spread throughout the world. Therefor without the boost of JFK assassination, sadly it may not have had the same outcome. African Americans would have attained some advancement since the middle of the 1960s but not as immediately and as completely. The evolution might have been even much more vicious. But no matter the event changed, or the outcome of what if’s, Kennedy was still an outstanding president, and his death was a great tragedy for the nation.
ConclusionNothing is for certain about what could have happened if John F. Kennedy had survived his assassination attempt in Dallas, Texas. Except that American history would have been exceptionally different in comparison with what it is today. John F. Kennedy was the youngest man ever elected into office, served only a thousand days, and was a great and beloved leader. During his term he is remembered for his Ich bin ein Berliner speech, the naval blockade around Cuba, persuading the Soviet Union, the creation of Peace Corps, his backing of the space program, the advancement of the civil rights movements, and the very incident that ended his life. With the election of 1964, the Vietnam War, and the Civil Rights Act, many assumptions have been made that he would not have been viewed as warmly by the public.
But aside from the if and buts, one thing to ponder are the many quotes of his that changed many lives; “And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country” (JFK). So yes, the history of America would have been greatly reformed if the 35th president had not been killed on November 22nd 1963, but how it would have changed, is only counterfactual.