JFK assassination as premise for war with Soviets?
June 19, 2011 1:30 PM   Subscribe

Watching a JFK assassination documentary on cable has gotten me thinking. Given the extreme state of the Cold War in 1963 and Lee Harvey Oswald having lived in the Soviet Union and being connected to Communism, was there any kneejerk reaction among the American public/political hawks calling for direct retribution against the Soviet Union? Or efforts to sell the assassination to the public as a reason to do so. How did that national tragedy differ from/align with 9/11 in that respect?
posted by punkfloyd to Society & Culture (8 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
As I recall as a young person living through the time, the 1961 Cuban missile crisis was still fresh enough in every U.S. citizen's memory that no one really wanted to find Soviet conspirators at the bottom of the JFK assassination, and have to think about nuclear war all over again. Hell, people were still finishing and outfitting home bomb shelters they started after the '61 crisis...
posted by paulsc at 1:45 PM on June 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

What paulsc said. Perhaps my mind has become dim with age and abuse, but there was both a "realistic" and "irrational" fear in the 1960s. On the one hand, there was this irrational fear of communism/socialism/those guys on the left as the WORST THING EVER, but at the same time there was this realistic fear that the WORST THING EVER had some pretty impressive war making ability and one should generally avoid shooting at them. You see this played out in the game of confrontation and proxy war that defines so much of the Cold War.

In other words, the threat of a smoking gun over Manhattan being a mushroom cloud was believed by pretty much every American to be a real and present danger.

Today, that same level of fear is created by 19 guys with boxcutters - which is something I still can't get my head around.
posted by three blind mice at 2:04 PM on June 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

I was twelve at the time but pretty politically aware (my family discussed the news a lot, and my dad worked for the government) and I don't remember anything like that. There was a lot of confusion and outrage and grief, but nobody seemed to blame it directly on the USSR.
posted by languagehat at 4:25 PM on June 19, 2011

As someone who was a speck in my pre-pubescent mom's underdeveloped ovaries in 1963, I'll add that I definitely remember the way 9/11 played out as being an aberration. The idea that terrorist attack by international neer-do-wells = act of war requiring us to fight back against an only nominally related* nation is a very new one, and unique to that particular situation as far as I can tell.

I, for one, would be curious about the level of propaganda/media involvement in making that rather tenuous and unique connection. I was aware that the attacks meant we were "at war with" the Taliban and/or Al Qaeda within 24 hours of the attacks, and yet I don't remember at all who put that idea in my pacifist 20 year old head.

*Note, for instance, that the attacks were not seen as a reason to go to war with our ally Saudi Arabia, which is the country of origin of most of the participants in the 9/11 attack.
posted by Sara C. at 4:47 PM on June 19, 2011

I was only eight years old in 1963, but much more recently I've quizzed my parents about the assassination's immediate aftermath, and according to my father talk around the water cooler was almost completely "What a tragedy; but we've gotta move on."
posted by Rash at 5:27 PM on June 19, 2011

The Soviets reportedly feared such a reaction.
posted by Knappster at 5:52 PM on June 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Remember that part of the rationale for attacking Afghanistan and Iraq was that it would be easy -- "over in six months", "it'll pay for itself","shock and awe" it would be as casualty-free as the First Gulf War was (for our side), even without the six month buildup of the First Gulf War.

After 9/11 made us piss our pants, left us humiliated and in fear, the visceral attraction of sucker-punching brown "towel-heads" impotent to strike back against screaming death from the air was part of what made that policy so emotionally satisfying.

Nobody thought that about the atomic-bomb armed Soviets and their massive Red Army in 1963.
posted by orthogonality at 8:23 PM on June 19, 2011

It's a little hard to remember now that in the U.S. in 1963 we pretty much believed what we were told by CBS, ABC, and NBC. Conspiracy theories were not widely circulated. We figured Jack Ruby got our retribution for the crime. In 1964 the Warren Commission report was pretty much the final say in the public's mind. It wasn't until the mid-70's that the various conspiracy theories could be considered widespread. It would be another 30 years before the Internet radically changed news distribution and communities of thought.
posted by Snerd at 8:30 PM on June 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

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