Why they murdered Robert Kennedy and what would have happened in the United States if he had not died


The death of Robert Kennedy, which occurred 50 years ago, is still involved in numerous conspiracy theories.

However, so far none has managed to exonerate the Palestinian immigrant Sirhan Sirhan, who was sentenced to life imprisonment as the perpetrator of the murder of the then presidential candidate for the Democratic Party, killed on June 6, 1968.

Some assure that Sirhan, of Jordanian nationality, could have acted under the effects of a hypnotism and even that there could have been another attacker, but these are unfounded theories.

The Kennedy assassination occurred in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles , full of witnesses, some of whom were wounded by gunshots, while others struggled with Sirhan to throw him to the ground.


Why they murdered Robert Kennedy and what would have happened in the United States if he had not died

The weapon he used was recovered in the same place and could be traced by the authorities, who also found in his house a notebook in which he had expressed his desire to kill the former attorney general and younger brother of the also murdered President John F. Kennedy .

For that reason, although Sirhan maintains that his confession during the trial was the product of pressure from his defense lawyer and that he can not remember the moment of the shooting, there is no doubt about his participation in the events.

But what led him to attack who was then one of the most popular politicians in the United States and that polls indicated could become the new president of the country?

Patriotism
"RFK (Robert Fitzgerald Kennedy) must be killed" is a phrase that appears repeated numerous times in a notebook found by the police authorities in Sirhan's house.

Robert Kennedy was killed at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles (Getty Images)
Robert Kennedy was killed at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles (Getty Images)

The motivations that led him to execute the attack were expressed just after he was arrested at the scene of the attack. "Let me explain, I can explain it, I did it for my country, I love my country," he shouted then.

Sirhan was born in 1944 in the bosom of a Palestinian Christian family in Jerusalem. Four years later, after the first Arab-Israeli war, that city was under the control of Jordan, which offered its citizens citizenship rights.

Then, in the 1950s, his family moved to the United States, finally settling in Pasadena, California, where Sirhan studied high school and college.

He worked in various trades, including one at the Santa Anita racetrack, where it is said that he fantasized about the possibility of becoming a rider.


In the latter part of the 1960s, Sirhan became increasingly critical of Israel, especially after the Six Day War, in June 1967, during which that country defeated the armies of Egypt, Syria and Jordan, and went on to occupy the Sinai Peninsula, the Golan Heights, Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

And what does this have to do with Robert Kennedy?

In 1968, during the campaign for the primaries for the presidential candidacy of the Democratic Party, Kennedy advocated giving military support to Israel to help it protect itself from its Arab neighbors.

That idea angered Sirhan.

Sirhan Sirhan was sentenced to death for the murder of Robert Kennedy but the sentence was later changed to life imprisonment
Sirhan Sirhan was sentenced to death for the murder of Robert Kennedy but the sentence was later changed to life imprisonment
"For me, he was my hero, he was my champion, he was the defender of the oppressed and I felt he was one of them, and to see him say he was going to sell 50 Phantom fighters to Israel that would only lead to death and destruction. For my country, that seemed like a betrayal to me, it was hard for me to accept, all my hopes were on Robert Kennedy, "Sirhan said in explaining his anger in an interview with journalist Robert Frost in 1989.

The last hope
Sirhan's description of the Democratic candidate coincided with his view of an important part of American society that, after the assassination of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. - which had taken place two months earlier -, saw the minor from the Kennedys to the person capable of keeping the reformist agenda alive.

The historian Jeremi Suri believes that the loss of these two important figures who defended the liberal policies meant that there was no one left to face criticism from conservative leaders like Richard Nixon and, later, Ronald Reagan.

"Undoubtedly, the United States would be different today if Kennedy had been alive, we would not have had such a strong turn to the right and political partisanship in our society would now look different," Suri told the BBC .

"He was the last politician with roots in social welfare policies influenced by Franklin Roosevelt who could connect with rural voters."


"What ended in the late 1960s and early 1970s was a group of policies that tended to expand rights, expand government services and help those in need, and the backlash against those measures was facilitated by the absence of effective figures like Robert Kennedy. ", added the expert.

Kennedy was very popular with African-American voters (Getty Images)
Kennedy was very popular with African-American voters (Getty Images)
Jules Witcover, a journalist who worked on the coverage of the Kennedy campaign, believes he was an inspiring figure who embodied "an almost desperate desire to restore the things that were being taken from the country with the death of his brother and the War of Vietnam".

"Before Robert Kennedy, no one in the white community had been able to establish a rapport with the African-American community," he said.

Obstacles
Other experts, however, highlight the great political and social difficulties facing Kennedy's political career.

"At the end of the 1960s, the forces that were accumulating against the Great Society - which was an extension of the New Deal of the 1930s - were going to defeat any candidate the Democrats would run," he told the BBC. the historian HW Brands.

"The Americans were disillusioned and upset by the violence of the 1960s and the failure of the Democratic governments of John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson to bring the Vietnam War to a successful end," he added.

Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy were killed in a span of two months (Getty Images)
Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy were killed in a span of two months (Getty Images)
Ben Wright, from the American History Center Dolph Briscoe, highlighted the difficulty and the courage to consider what would have happened in the United States if Robert Kennedy had not died.

"The historical conjecture is a difficult issue full of uncertainty, but in the end the story has to do with causality and we value the historical causes differently because of the 'what would have happened if' involved," he said.

"Events like the murders of Martin Luther King Jr. and Senator Kennedy matter precisely because we intuit so many significant possibilities for the trajectory of American history if things had turned out differently," he concluded. 

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