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An Alternative History

30 Nov An Alternative History

It is Friday 22nd November 2013, I ask my year 9 students, who are currently studying the struggle for female suffrage in the UK at the start of the 20th century, the significance of this day in history.  Eager hands shoot up to share their obvious knowledge: “The 50th anniversary of Doctor Who!” Not quite the answer I was hoping for. After all these years in teaching perhaps I should have known better!  However, we soon got back on track and those that were unaware of the significance of the date were asked to do some additional reading and research for homework. I asked them to follow the newspaper coverage of events and sent them the link to this interesting article in the New Statesman  What if Kennedy had lived? by James G Blight and Janet M Lang. Beautifully written, but open to obvious criticism, the article comments,

On the one hand, something fundamental is missing from histories that lack reference to paths not taken, decisions not made, or histories that seem almost, but not quite, to have happened……..Most of us believe intuitively that things could have been different and, in addition, we instinctively search for lessons we might draw from history. On the other hand, there are risks in what if history. As often practised, it is little more than a literary parlour game, in which the objective is principally to showcase the cleverness of whomever is spinning the counterfactual tale. The storyline is composed mostly of fictitious events, made seemingly out of thin air.

The authors of the article present a substantiated set of alternatives in terms of JFK’s role in international politics and foreign policy. In their alternative world:

Vietnam: JFK would have continued to resist a US war in Vietnam. Cold War: He would have resisted calls for confrontation with the Soviet Union. Nuclear Weapons: JFK would have resisted those calling for the continued build-up of US nuclear arsenals, and worked with Khrushchev to reverse the nuclear arms race, limiting and eliminating redundant warheads and delivery vehicles. Cuba: The president would have resisted sustained and urgent calls for the US to liquidate the Cuban Revolution… He might have succeeded in working with Fidel Castro’s government to normalise relations between Washington and Havana.’

They conclude with the thought-provoking paragraph: ‘If JFK had survived Dallas and served as US president until January 1969, the world would probably have become a safer, more peaceful place. It is even possible that the cold war would have been rolled back and headed for an amicable end by 1969. This conclusion has nothing to do with the myth of a Kennedy Camelot and everything to do with respect for the historical facts, as they have become available over the past quarter-century.

Not convinced with the persuasive arguments above? Then watch the film below for a very different assessment of the world and US politics had Kennedy survived the assassin’s bullet on 22nd November 1963.

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