Why was President Kennedy assassinated

Background current

On November 22, 1963, US President John F. Kennedy died in an assassination attempt in Dallas. The death of the 35th President of the United States becomes a myth.

First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy and Secret Service agent Clint Hill bend down seconds after being shot over US President John F. Kennedy (& copy picture-alliance / AP)

November 22, 1963: US President John Fitzgerald Kennedy visits Dallas, Texas on his election campaign tour. The state is considered important in the battle for donations and votes for Kennedy's second presidency. Contrary to the advice of his security officers, the president waives security precautions and drives through the city in an open limousine. In addition to him are his wife Jacqueline, the governor of Texas, John Connally, his wife Nellie and two bodyguards. From the convertible, Kennedy and his wife waves to the people on the roadside.

The assassination

At around 12:30 p.m., gunfire rang out on Elm Street in Dallas. The US President's car slows down. Hit by two bullets in the neck and head, John F. Kennedy collapses. Governor Connally is also hit. The driver accelerates and drives to the nearest hospital, Parkland Memorial Hospital. Half an hour after the shooting, the clinic's doctors can only determine the death of the 35th US President. Connally survived the assassination attempt.

Immediately after the attack, observers put on record that they saw a gun on the fifth floor of a brick building. A rifle and three empty cartridge cases were found in the school book warehouse a short time later.

An hour and a half after the attack, Lee Harvey Oswald is arrested in a movie theater near the crime scene. He is accused of having shot the president and a patrol officer while on the run. Six weeks before the attack, the 24-year-old suspect took a job in the textbook warehouse where the rifle was found. Oswald's fingerprints were on the seized rifle.

The alleged assassin will never be charged: two days after his arrest, Jack Ruby, a nightclub owner, shot and killed Oswald in front of the cameras and dozens of eyewitnesses when police officers led him into the underground car park at Dallas Police Headquarters.

Dismay and dismay

The news of the assassination of the American president causes international consternation. People at home and abroad react in shock and sadness. Politicians around the world express their deep dismay.

Large funeral ceremonies also take place in Germany. These reached a climax on the evening of November 25th in Berlin, at the same time as Kennedy was buried with a state funeral at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington. More than 250,000 people gather in front of Schöneberg Town Hall to commemorate the murdered president. A few months earlier, on June 26, 1963, Kennedy won the sympathy of Berliners and Germans here with his famous "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech.

Investigation of the assassination

Kennedy's successor, President Lyndon B. Johnson, calls the Warren Commission into being a week after the attack on November 29, 1963 to investigate the background to the attack. It is named after its chairman, Earl Warren, who was then Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, the US Supreme Court. Ten months later, the commission presented its report in which it came to the conclusion that Oswald fired three shots at Kennedy and acted alone. The Warren Commission's findings are controversial.

The background to the attack is therefore still considered to be unequivocally clarified. Contradictory investigation results repeatedly give rise to speculation and innumerable conspiracy theories: within 50 years the list of possible suspects and their motives has grown longer, including numerous domestic and foreign secret services, political friends and opponents or the communist states.

Kennedy as President and Myth

John Fitzgerald Kennedy was sworn in almost three years earlier on January 20, 1961 as the 35th President of the United States. At only 43 years of age, he is still the youngest US president ever elected and the first to be a Catholic. After the presidency of the then 70-year-old Dwight D. Eisenhowers, many Americans hoped for a political renewal from the young president. Its political program included reforms to the education and health systems and strengthening the civil rights of the Afro-American population.

John F. Kennedy at his famous speech ("Ich bin ein Berliner") on June 26, 1963 in Berlin. (& copy picture-alliance / akg)
Kennedy was considered charismatic and popular among the citizens. Together with his wife Jacqueline, he presented himself as a statesman and family man at the same time. For this purpose, Kennedy, as US President, made massive use of the stage that television offered him as a mass medium for self-expression. He is considered the first political pop star of the 1960s. To this day, Kennedy is highly regarded as President by many Americans.

Contrary to the image of the young innovator in the media, Kennedy was already a seriously ill man and highly dependent on medication when he took office. In contrast to the media portrayal of a loving husband, countless Kennedy's affairs are also considered historically secure.

Kennedy's political legacy is also assessed differently: the president was only able to initiate his domestic political reform program during his three-year term in office. It was only largely implemented by his successor Johnson. The abolition of racial segregation between the white and Afro-American populations, on the other hand, is considered to be his merit.

The foreign policy role that Kennedy played during the Cold War was most memorable. The construction of the Berlin Wall, the Cuban Missile Crisis and the beginning of the Vietnam War fell during his term of office. He was responsible for the 1961 failed invasion of the Bay of Pigs in Cuba, with which Fidel Castro was to be overthrown, increased the number of military advisors in South Vietnam in 1962 and had the dangerous leaf killer napalm used there for the first time. The peaceful solution to the Cuba crisis and the subsequent policy of détente towards the Soviet Union, on the other hand, is still highly valued as a foreign policy achievement to this day.

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