JFK - hero for our time? Fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of JFK (22 November)
Reflects on the legacy of John F. Kennedy.
by James Lamont
Suitable for Whole School (Sec) - Comment Assembly
To reflect on the legacy of John F. Kennedy.
Preparation and materials
- You might like to show the film of the assassination, if you feel it would be beneficial.
- You could ask students to read the main parts of the assembly to add interest, but this is not essential.
- Download the song and video ‘Abraham, Martin and John’ by Marvin Gaye at: www.youtube.com/watch?v=8roidAxzNzU, which shows images of the three men, and have the means to play it at the end of the assembly.
- Friday 22 November 1963 remains a tragic day for millions of people across the world. On that day, the thirty-fifth president of the USA, John F. Kennedy, was shot and killed.
- Kennedy remains a hero for many people. His youthful appearance and relaxed style made him an ideal president for the 1960s – a time of changing attitudes and new freedoms.
During the Second World War, he commanded a torpedo boat in the South Pacific. The boat was attacked and crippled by a Japanese destroyer and Kennedy was instrumental in gathering his men together in the water. One of the men was injured and Kennedy pulled him to a nearby island by holding the man’s lifejacket strap between his teeth. For this he was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal.
- After then spending the 1950s fighting for political power, he was elected president of the USA in 1960. He was the first Catholic to hold the position. His politics were summed up in his inaugural speech when he said, ‘Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.’
Thus, Kennedy was a believer in public service and in the combined potential of the United States, yet, he was not afraid to make executive decisions. In 1962, a spy plane photographed nuclear missiles being shipped to Cuba by the USA’s great rival, the then Soviet Union. There being nuclear weapons in Cuba posed a direct threat to millions of Americans. Despite great anger on both sides, Kennedy and his Soviet counterpart, Nikita Kruschev, were able to negotiate a peaceful resolution to the crisis, preventing a nuclear war that could have cost billions of lives.
- Kennedy’s most striking legacy remains the 1969 Apollo 11 mission to the Moon, which was ordered by him. The 100-metre tall Saturn 5 rocket remains a powerful symbol of his belief in the power of public service and the national interest. Also, Kennedy was the president who created the Civil Rights Act, which protected African-Americans from discrimination. Despite opposition from some, this law was passed in 1964 and today equality between races is considered a natural thing.
It is a tragedy that Kennedy himself did not live to see the passing of the Civil Rights Act, nor the landing of men on the Moon, but he remains one of the USA’s most dynamic presidents. Kennedy was unafraid to stand up to injustice and fight for what he knew was right. Even 50 years after his assassination, he serves to inspire millions of people around the world today.
Time for reflection
Kennedy was a glamorous and charismatic leader. He was a flawed person, though, just like you and me. He had his highs as well as his lows, but he found what he could do and made it happen and, in so doing, changed the world.
I wonder, as we remember this president from 50 years ago, what you could do, however small, to change the world – even if it’s just the small world that you and I live in?
‘Abraham, Martin and John’ by Marvin Gaye