Larry Sabato, Professor of Politics at the University of Virginia, examines the assassination of President John F. Kennedy as one of those events. It was one of events where most people remember exactly where there were or what they were doing. (I know I do. I heard the announcement during my sixth grade art period.) President Lyndon Johnson was able to craftily tap into the sympathy generated by the assassination to not only push through legislation otherwise stalled in Congress but to push beyond that to create the Great Society. The flip side of that momentum was Johnson’s escalation of support for the South Vietnamese government began by Kennedy. Johnson lacked the self-confidence to halt or de-escalate resulting in a disaster. That laid the groundwork for the return of Richard Nixon followed by Watergate, et cetera, et cetera. You get the picture.
Sabato calls these “mega-moments” and explains,
…the Kennedy assassination was just one of the mega-moments that changed the
face of American politics in modern times. How does one distinguish a
mega-moment from other important developments? There is a singular aspect to a mega-moment: Every American alive then, even children, can recall exactly where
they were and what they were doing when they heard the dreadful news. These
events imprint themselves irrevocably upon the mind, and they stir such deep
emotions that the slightest reference to them evokes an intense reaction years
He cites other such mega-moments such as the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the 9-11 attacks. As to the latter, it is well to keep in mind as we are flooded with reminders of the fifth anniversary of the attacks that despite the very significan impact of these events we are still in control of our fates. Nothing is pre-determined. Terrible things happen and we are in real danger so it is easy to be paniced by the fear-mongers. But it is important to remember that if we are to prevail we must keep cool heads, if we sincerely believe in the democracy we brag about then we must trust the democratic process, and if war is called for then we must fight smart but remember wars become their own mega-moments if not for us then for others.