It’s been said that everything in history hinges on the length of Cleopatra’s nose; had it been bigger, Marc Antony might have never fallen in love with her, changing the course of the Roman Empire and everything that came after.
Counter-factual history like this is generally derided in academic circles due to the number of “what ifs” involved. But it’s through this lens that Virtual JFK: Vietnam If Kennedy Had Lived examines what American involvement in Vietnam might have looked like had President Kennedy not been assassinated in 1963.
The documentary goes beyond imagining a history of what could have happened says the film’s producer Peter O. Almond. It asks the “what if” question but gives viewers the background necessary to answer that question.
“It’s not so much ‘what if’ as ‘here’s what,’” he explains. “It doesn’t lead you by the nose to the filmmaker’s conclusion.”
The film’s director Koji Masutani came up with the idea while studying at Brown University. It was there that he met international relations professor James Blight, who also narrates the film. Blight was interested in the decisions leaders make during crises — would another leader make the same decision?
Masutani was struck by how Lyndon Johnson had managed to get the United States tied up in Vietnam after Kennedy was killed. Like many people, Masutani believed there were parallels to be made between Vietnam and the quagmire in Iraq.
“He saw a theme that his generation might find illuminating,” says Almond.
Almond is no stranger to Kennedy’s decision making process. He served as producer on the 2000 Kevin Costner film 13 Days, which recounts the scene inside the White House during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Almond, now 65 and in college when Kennedy was in office, says he certainly admired the man. “He seemed to have some greater functioning wisdom,” he says.
• Virtual JFK: Vietnam If Kennedy Had Lived is now playing in Toronto.