Unraveling the special relationship: British responses to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy

Cook, Robert and Webb, Clive (2015) Unraveling the special relationship: British responses to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Sixties, 8 (2). pp. 179-194. ISSN 1754-1328

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Abstract

This article contributes to the scholarly literature on Anglo-American relations in the 1960s by investigating elite and grassroots British responses to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas, Texas, on 22 November 1963. Most historians working on this topic regard the early years of the decade as a high point in the evolution of the so-called “special relationship” between the two countries – an association epitomized by the broadly productive working relationship between Kennedy and Prime Minister Harold Macmillan. They also tend to assume that ordinary Britons’ stunned reaction to the slaying betokened broad popular support for the youthful president as well as the cold war superpower to which their country shared close elite ties. While there was certainly much admiration for Kennedy among politicians, reporters, entertainers, and ordinary members of the public, many Britons were by no means enamored of either the president or the United States. As this article reveals, elements on the left and right of the political continuum in Britain were openly critical of Kennedy’s foreign and domestic policies. The president’s faltering response to the African American civil rights movement, for example, was widely criticized by members of the UK’s own nascent Afro-Caribbean community as well as progressive whites. When the British government sought to mark Kennedy’s passing by creating a national memorial (in part to demonstrate the strength of the special relationship), the underwhelming popular response to its ambitious fund-raising campaign uncovered a wide seam of grassroots opposition to the late president, his family and the United States. There is, to date, a troubling absence of scholarship on anti-Americanism in postwar Britain. This essay highlights the need for further research in this area.

Item Type: Article
Additional Information: Special Issue on John F. Kennedy
Keywords: Kennedy, assassination, Britain, anti-Americanism, 'special relationship', commemoration, memory
Schools and Departments: School of History, Art History and Philosophy > History
Depositing User: Clive Webb
Date Deposited: 14 Dec 2015 08:38
Last Modified: 14 Dec 2015 08:38
URI: http://sro.sussex.ac.uk/id/eprint/58062
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