50 years ago marked the end of a golden age

The death of President John F.Kennedy marked a turning point from an era of growth and optimism to something more sombre and troubling.

Friday marked the 50th anniversary of the death of U.S. President John F. Kennedy. For all of us who are old enough to remember that occasion, it was the end of a golden age.

It was not an age of innocence, but it was an age of simplicity, at least in comparison to the past 50 years. In the U.S. and Canada, things had been pretty good most of the time since the end of the Second World War, 18 years earlier. The economy was strong. Interest rates were low, and inflation was non-existent. Government services were expanding, but taxes were still low and anyone who really wanted to work could find a job.

When JFK was elected president in 1960, in a very close race over Richard Nixon, it was the first time that the candidates for president were both Second World War veterans. Both were born in the 20th century. Both were much closer in age to the majority of voters than outgoing president Dwight Eisenhower.

By 1963, there were plenty of signs that changes were on the way, and some of them would not be simple. The U.S. was already involved in the Vietnam War, although on a much smaller scale than later in the decade.

The British rock music invasion was just getting underway, with The Beatles starting to become well-known. Their first mass exposure to North Americans came in February, 1964, when they appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show.

The oldest of the baby boomers  were in their late teens, and some of them were finding that the world wasn’t quite as simple as it had seemed a few short years earlier. The civil rights movement in the U.S., which was demanding that non-Caucasians be treated equally throughout the country, was well underway.

The Cold War was still in full flower, with the Cuban missile crisis just concluded. Kennedy did a masterful job in staring down the Soviet Union, and that may have been his finest hour as president.

But all of those issues were on the back burner, given the intense interest in Kennedy and his wife and family. They were photogenic, personable and fascinating.

That’s why the assassination was such a shock. It put such an abrupt end to that era. The fact that the president was shot while riding in a convertible in front of a huge crowd in Dallas, and fell into the arms of his wife, made it even more horrible.

A letter from Catfish Potesta in today’s issue sums up many of the intense feelings and emotions of that era. For those who remember it, the 50th anniversary brings back some strong memories.

As a nine-year-old, I remember the wall-to-wall television coverage on the four television channels we received. I remember how the assassination was the main subject people talked about for weeks, and how conversation intensified when suspected assassin Lee Harvey Oswald was shot two days later by Jack Ruby.

The only comparable incident since then was the terrorism of Sept. 11, 2001, which in terms of horror was far, far worse. Yet one wonders if the world would ever have got to that state, had Kennedy lived? We’ll  never know.

On another note, I was saddened to hear of the death of longtime reader and inveterate letter to the editor writer Harvey Schultz. His handwritten letters were gems, and contained many kernels of wisdom. He strongly believed that a lot of the problems we confront could be solved with the application of some common sense.

A memorial service takes place at 1 p.m. Friday at the Aldergrove Legion.