The Sunday Question: Assassination Aftermaths

During the past several weeks people have been reflecting about the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy. As has always been the case, there is much speculation about “what might have been.” The same holds true for the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, where people like to wonder what would have happened had Lincoln lived.

These counterfactual exercises have much in common. People assume that things might have been better (and certainly could not have been worse) had the president in question not been assassinated. In both instances there reflections tell us as much about how we view their successors (both southerners named Johnson, who had an impact on civil rights for African Americans). In both cases, there’s an assumption that two major events–Reconstruction and Vietnam–might well have turned out differently. In the case of Reconstruction, so the argument goes, Lincoln would have balanced reconciliation with justice and fairness for all; in the case of Vietnam, according to some people, American intervention in Vietnam would not have escalated under Kennedy.


Such speculation usually tells us more about us (or the person speculating) than it does about what might have happened. For today, I think we my want to consider something else. Which assassination had a greater impact on the course of American history? Why?

The floor is open.