The United States of America has experienced many pivotal moments in its history over the last 237 years, moments that radically changed the future of this country both in peace and in wartime. The battle of Ft. Sumter, the attack on Pearl Harbor, the terrorist attacks of September 11th, and of course, the assassination of President Kennedy are just a few examples.
But when we look back at these moments, which ones were the most pivotal? Which moments changed American history to the greatest degree?
It’s a debate that certainly can’t be resolved in one blog entry, but as we commemorate the 50th year since the death of John F. Kennedy, it should serve as an interesting test of how much that event has affected our country.
Looking back at 1963, it’s safe to say that the murder of President Kennedy changed the American psyche, both destroying the innocence of the 1950’s and creating the distrust of the government that pervades through today. Most historians agree that American participation in the Vietnam War would have looked different under President Kennedy’s second term. And some political scientists even say American liberalism was dealt a lethal blow with JFK’s death. Clearly, there is a strong case to be made for the impact of events of November 22, 1963.
When comparing to other events in American history, the case becomes even stronger.
December 7th 1941 will certainly live in infamy and it’s undeniable that entering World War II dramatically changed the history of the United States and the world. But, was the attack on Pearl Harbor really needed to get the United States involved in the war? Some claim that isolationist tendencies would have kept America on the sidelines. But could that truly have lasted very long with Japan making the moves it did, even without a surprise attack?
Perhaps the timing of Pearl Harbor ensured that we would enter the war with enough time to come to the aid of Europe and help stop a potential invasion of Britain. That’s a decent argument to make, but again doesn’t necessarily point to December 7th 1941 changing everything, just setting in motion actions that could have likely still happened.
September 11th definitely changed the way we look at terrorism and how we travel. I think it is also safe to say that the Patriot Act helped to usher in an era of NSA surveillance and an overall breakdown of personal privacy. But was the America of 2000 totally different than the America of 2002? The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been devastating, but have not affected Americans to the extent the Vietnam War did.
The battle at Ft. Sumter, like the attack on Pearl Harbor, certainly set forth events that changed the world. The American Civil War will likely go down in the history books as the most influential event in American history. There is little to deny that. However, were the shots fired at Ft. Sumter merely the first shots of the war, or the cause? If nothing happened at that moment in time, would something else have instigated the war, moving America down a timeline with or without a particular pivotal moment?
So while the debate is far from over, and I’m sure my claims can be refuted by both professional and armchair historians alike, the assassination of John F. Kennedy may very well go down in the history books as the most pivotal moment in American history.
I’m intrigued to hear your ideas. What moment, if not November 22, 1963, changed the United States so dramatically, so quickly? Leave us a comment and join the conversation.
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– Dominic Dezzutti, producer of the Colorado Decides debate series, a co-production of CBS4 and Colorado Public Television, looks at the local and national political scene in his CBSDenver.com blog. Read new entries here usually every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Dezzutti writes about federal, state and local matters and how our elected leaders are handling the issues important to Colorado. Dezzutti is also the host and producer of the Emmy award winning Colorado Inside Out on Colorado Public Television.