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Datum objave: 06.06.2020
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How Robert F. Kennedy's Death Shattered the Nation

IN THE TRAUMATIC YEAR of 1968, the United States suffered a national nervous breakdown. And one of the most shocking events during those tempestuous 12 months

RFK

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How Robert F. Kennedy's Death Shattered the Nation

https://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2015/06/04/how-robert-f-kennedys-death-shattered-the-nation

On June 5, 1968, Bobby Kennedy's assassination left the country in turmoil.

In the traumatic year of 1968, the United States suffered a national nervous breakdown. And one of the most shocking events during those tempestuous 12 months was the assassination of presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy just as he was gaining momentum in his bid to follow his martyred brother, John, into the White House.

"Bobby," as his family and friends called him, had just won a crucial victory in the California Democratic primary when the assassin struck on June 5 – 47 years ago today. At 12:50 a.m., as a jubilant but weary Kennedy made his way from a stage at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, where he had claimed victory in a room filled with cheering supporters, he was gunned down by a 22-year-old Palestinian sympathizer named Sirhan Sirhan. The killer later said he murdered Kennedy because he believed the senator played a key role in oppressing the Palestinian people.

Sirhan was carrying a .22-caliber handgun rolled up in a campaign poster. As the candidate made a last-moment detour through a kitchen, Sirhan shot Kennedy three times, with one sending a lethal bullet to his head. The senator lay immobile for several agonizing minutes, his blood staining the floor, in a horrendous image captured by news photographers and transmitted around the world. Five bystanders were also wounded. Kennedy died the next day. He was 42, even younger than his brother when John F. Kennedy, 46, was slain in November 1963.

The killing, which followed the assassination of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. by only two months, deepened America's self-doubt. Many concluded that violence had become a toxic and permanent virus infecting American society, that something had gone profoundly wrong in the country and that the road to peaceful change had become blocked by madmen, evildoers and fanatics. Optimism, that most American of virtues, plummeted.

Perhaps if Robert Kennedy's murder hadn't occurred so hard on the heels of Dr. King, the sense of national desperation would not have been so acute," says Rutgers University political scientist Ross Baker. "Here were two men committed to change within the system and who were killed for their effort. The two killings seemed to make a compelling argument to many that the peaceful path was a dead end and that the resort to violence was now acceptable. I trace the most violent phase of this turbulent period in our history to Kennedy's assassination. The hopefulness of the early 1960s was replaced by a pervasive cynicism and a conviction that change was impossible within the bounds of normal politics."

Adds historian Robert Dallek: "RFK's killing was a terrible blow to America's self-image. The idea of American immunity to political assassinations took a terrible blow from the killings of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy." And the absence of Robert Kennedy from the presidential campaign had serious consequences. "If RFK had lived, I think he would have won the presidency and we would have seen an earlier exit from Vietnam than occurred in 1975," saving many lives and perhaps reducing the rancor in American life, Dallek says.

Many Americans bemoan the polarization in politics and culture today, but as the Kennedy assassination showed, things were much worse in the late 1960s. "It felt like American society was coming apart at the seams," says political scientist Bill Galston of the Brookings Institution, a former White House adviser to President Bill Clinton.

Bobby Kennedy's assassination was part of a broader picture of a nation unhinged, with ever-worsening divisions based on race, wealth, age, culture, gender, values and ideology. Throughout 1968, the U.S. lurched from one crisis to another. Pivotal events included:


https://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2015/06/04/how-robert-f-kennedys-death-shattered-the-nation


Jan. 23: North Korea captured the USS Pueblo, a U.S. Navy intelligence-gathering vessel, and its crew. The sailors weren't released for 11 months, deeply embarrassing the U.S. administration.


Jan. 31: Tens of thousands of North Vietnamese troops began a series of surprise attacks across Vietnam. What became known as the "Tet Offensive" turned many Americans against a war they saw as unwinnable.

Feb. 1: The chief of the South Vietnamese National Police was photographed executing a Viet Cong prisoner with a shot to the head on a Saigon street. Anti-war protesters were outraged.

Feb. 18: The U.S. State Department announced the highest level of U.S. casualties in a single week of the Vietnam war – 543 Americans killed in action and 2,547 wounded.

March 12: Anti-war Sen. Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota nearly defeated President Lyndon Johnson in the New Hampshire Democratic presidential primary, which showed the extent of opposition to the Vietnam war.

March 16: U.S. troops killed more than 500 Vietnamese civilians, including children, in a village. The incident became known as the My Lai Massacre when it was revealed in 1969, and it came to symbolize all that had gone wrong in the war.

March 31: President Johnson announced that he would not seek another term.

April 4: The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was shot to death in Memphis. Riots erupted in Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Kansas City, Newark, the nation's capital and elsewhere.


April 11: The administration authorized U.S. military strength in Vietnam to increase to 549,500 troops, unsettling war-weary Americans.

April 26-28: Rampant civil disobedience and violence, including many cases of police overreaction, marred the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, with much of it covered on television.

Dec. 21: In a rare positive development, Apollo 8 began a successful mission to orbit the moon.

But it was the death of Bobby Kennedy that struck Americans emotionally and personally, comparable in impact to the death of Dr. King. One reason was that his brother had been assassinated only five years earlier and there was enormous sympathy for the family. Many Americans began wondering if the Kennedys were somehow cursed, as a second member of the clan was cut down in his prime before he could realize his potential. (The theory that the Kennedys were jinxed re-emerged in 1969 when a third brother, Sen. Edward Kennedy, was involved in a traffic accident on Chappaquiddick Island, Massachusetts, in which a young woman was killed. The questions returned in 1999 when John F. Kennedy Jr. was killed in a plane crash near Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts.)

The death of Bobby Kennedy seemed part of a larger and very troubling narrative. "This was a moment of incredible turmoil," says Princeton University historian Julian Zelizer. "Democrats were dividing over the war in Vietnam, coming to feel that the different factions in the party could no longer unite, while conservatives were energized and mobilized around issues like race relations and the deficit. Lyndon Johnson was struggling to maintain his support as he watched Democrats aggressively challenge his administration's record on just about everything. Social movements were looking for new leadership. For a moment, it seemed like RFK would fill the void – the Democrat firmly committed to the party establishment but who was sensitive to the demands coming from the left on war, on social justice and race relations."


By 1968, Bobby Kennedy was well on the way to a brilliant political career. He had served as his brother's attorney general and then won election to the U.S. Senate from New York. He had gained favor among African-Americans for his commitment to civil rights. He was becoming popular among young people for his opposition to the Vietnam War. He was showing a willingness to identify America's faults and take action to correct them, which impressed liberal activists. He seemed to be, above all, an agent of change.

Kennedy said "the national soul of the United States" was at stake in the 1968 presidential election, and he preached conciliation and tolerance. "We confront our fellow citizens across impossible barriers of hostility and mistrust," he said, and argued that this was no longer acceptable. He called for massive efforts to end poverty, racial prejudice, hatred, violence and the Vietnam War. His mantra was, "We can do better."

In what became his signature comment, during a speech at the University of Kansas on March 18, 1968, he paraphrased George Bernard Shaw by declaring, "Some people see things as they are and say, 'Why?' I dream things that never were and say, 'Why not?'"

He never lived to see his dreams fulfilled. Less than three months later, the nation was mourning his death. 

Robert Kennedy Speaks His Mind in 1963

https://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2015/06/05/robert-kennedy-speaks-his-mind-in-1963


The Years of Robert Kennedy

https://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2015/06/05/the-years-of-robert-kennedy 


Bobby Kennedy: Is He the 'Assistant President'?

https://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2015/06/05/bobby-kennedy-is-he-the-assistant-president


Why Doctors Couldn't Save RFK

https://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2015/06/05/why-doctors-couldnt-save-rfk


The Cloud Over the Kennedys

https://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2015/06/05/the-cloud-over-the-kennedys

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