What is the most famous political assassination in modern history? Let’s take a look at five infamous assassinations, the leaders who were sadly killed, and the lasting legacies of these traumatic events!

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  • To assassinate (v) – to kill someone famous or important.
    • They stopped a plot to assassinate the president!
  • High-profile (adj) – attracting a lot of attention and interest from the public and newspapers, television, etc.
    • He resigned from a high-profile job as economic adviser to the president.
  • Speculation (n) – the activity of guessing possible answers to a question without having enough information to be certain.   
    • Speculation about his future plans is rife.
  • Mourning (n) – great sadness felt because someone has died.      
    • Shops were closed as a sign of mourning for the king.
  • Exile (n) – the condition of someone being sent or kept away from their own country, village, etc., especially for political reasons.
    • The deposed leaders are currently in exile in the neighbouring country.
  • Cover-up (n) – an attempt to prevent the public from discovering information about a serious crime or mistake.
    • Allegations of a cover-up of the effects of pollution have been strongly denied.
  • To depose (v) – to remove someone important from a powerful position.
    • King Charles I was deposed from the English throne in 1646.
  • Assailant (n) – a person who attacks another person.
    • Can you describe your assailant?   

The Assassination of Shinzo Abe

Last July, as I was drinking my morning coffee in my favourite café in Tokyo, the news broke that former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had been assassinated while attending an event in the city of Nara.

We sat and watched in shock as Japanese television news reported on the events. While Japan had experienced assassinations in its history, such a public attack on one of the most influential Japanese leaders ever stunned the country.

Then a few days ago, a smoke bomb was thrown at current Japanese Prime Minister Kishida as he was campaigning for local elections. While not a “real” assassination attempt, the event once again reminded everyone that political assassinations are always a possibility.

Throughout history, there have been numerous high-profile political assassinations that have captured the world’s attention. These events have been marked by controversy, mystery, and conspiracy theories, and have left lasting legacies in their wake.

In this podcast episode, I will explore five famous political assassinations, each from a different country. I’ll delve into the background of each assassination, discussing the political climate at the time and the events leading up to the targeted killing. And I’ll also explore the impact of these assassinations on their respective countries and the world.

The aim of this podcast is not only to provide an informative and interesting discussion of these events but also to introduce new topics, ideas, and vocabulary to all of you listening!

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What is a Political Assassination?

A political assassination can be defined as the targeted killing of a political figure or leader, often for political or ideological reasons. The aim of a political assassination is to eliminate or remove a particular individual from a position of power or influence, or to send a message to a particular group or community.

Political assassinations have been carried out throughout history and can occur in various forms, including shootings, bombings, or poisonings. Assassinations can be carried out by individuals, groups, or even governments, and can be motivated by a range of factors, including political, ideological, religious, or personal beliefs.

One of the most well-known examples of political assassination in history is the killing of Julius Caesar in ancient Rome. Caesar, who was a powerful political and military leader, was assassinated by a group of senators who were opposed to his growing power and influence.

In more recent times, political assassinations have been used as a tool by various groups and individuals to achieve their goals or to send a message to others. For example, the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968 was carried out by a white supremacist who opposed King’s civil rights activism and non-violent protests.

Political assassinations have a significant impact not only on the individual or group targeted but also on the wider society and politics of a country. They can lead to instability, violence, and fear, and can have a lasting impact on the political landscape of a country. In some cases, they can also lead to a strengthening of the resolve and determination of the targeted group or community.


Five Famous Assassinations from Around the World

John F. Kennedy

John F. Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States, was assassinated on November 22, 1963, in Dallas, Texas. The assassination was a tragic event that shocked the world and has continued to captivate public interest and debate over the decades.

At the time of his assassination, Kennedy was a popular president who had inspired many with his vision for America. He was known for his charismatic personality and his progressive policies, including his efforts to promote civil rights and social justice.

The assassination of John F. Kennedy has been the subject of much speculation and controversy, with many theories surrounding the circumstances and motivations behind the killing. The official investigation by the Warren Commission concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in the shooting, but many people continue to doubt this conclusion and believe that there may have been other individuals or groups involved in the assassination.

The impact of Kennedy’s assassination on the United States was significant. It was a traumatic event that shook the nation and led to a period of mourning and reflection. Kennedy’s legacy as a progressive leader was cemented by his death, and his vision of a new frontier for America inspired a new generation of leaders to continue his work.

The assassination also had significant implications for US politics and international relations. The events of November 22, 1963, led to a sense of uncertainty and instability in the country, and raised questions about the role of government and the possibility of conspiracy and cover-up. It also had implications for US foreign policy, as Kennedy’s successor, Lyndon B. Johnson, continued and escalated US involvement in the Vietnam War.

Benazir Bhutto

Benazir Bhutto was the first female Prime Minister of Pakistan and one of the most prominent political figures in the country’s history. She came from a wealthy and politically influential family and was educated at prestigious universities in both Pakistan and the United States. Bhutto first became Prime Minister in 1988 and served two non-consecutive terms in office.

Bhutto’s assassination on December 27, 2007, was a shocking event that deeply affected Pakistan and the world. She was assassinated while leaving a political rally in Rawalpindi, just two months after returning to Pakistan from self-imposed exile.

The political climate in Pakistan at the time of Bhutto’s assassination was volatile, with increasing violence and instability. Her return to Pakistan had been marked by bomb attacks on her convoy, and she had received numerous death threats. Bhutto had been a vocal critic of the military government led by General Pervez Musharraf and had been calling for greater democracy and civilian control of the government.

The investigation into Bhutto’s assassination was complicated and controversial. There were allegations of government involvement and cover-up, as well as questions about the role of extremist groups. The United Nations investigated the assassination, which concluded that Bhutto’s security had been inadequate and that there had been a “deliberate and targeted killing.”

Bhutto’s assassination had a significant impact on Pakistani politics. It led to a period of political instability and violence, and raised questions about the country’s ability to hold free and fair elections. Her Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) went on to win the 2008 elections, but her widower, Asif Ali Zardari, faced numerous challenges during his presidency.

Bhutto’s assassination also had an impact on the global community, particularly in terms of the fight against terrorism. She had been a strong advocate for democracy and human rights, and had been critical of extremist groups. Her assassination highlighted the challenges facing Pakistan in its efforts to combat terrorism and extremism, and underscored the importance of international support for these efforts.

Patrice Lumumba

Patrice Lumumba was a Congolese politician and independence leader who served as the first democratically elected Prime Minister of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He was born in Onalua in 1925, in what was then the Belgian Congo. Lumumba played a key role in the Congolese struggle for independence from Belgium, which was achieved in 1960.

Lumumba’s time in office was marked by political instability and conflict, both within the Congo and with foreign powers. He faced opposition from powerful political and military factions within his own government, as well as interference from foreign powers, particularly Belgium and the United States.

In September 1960, just months after he became Prime Minister, Lumumba was deposed in a military coup led by Colonel Joseph Mobutu, who was backed by Western powers. Lumumba was imprisoned, tortured, and ultimately assassinated in January 1961. It is widely believed that the CIA and Belgian intelligence played a role in his assassination, as they saw him as a threat to their interests in the Congo.

Lumumba’s assassination was a significant event in African history and has had a lasting impact on the politics of the Congo and the wider region. It highlighted the role of foreign powers in African politics and the challenges faced by newly independent nations in establishing stable and democratic governments.

Lumumba is remembered as a hero and martyr in the Congo and is celebrated for his role in the country’s independence struggle. He is also remembered for his commitment to African unity and his rejection of foreign interference in African affairs. Lumumba’s legacy has inspired generations of African leaders and activists who continue to work towards the realization of his vision of a free and united Africa.


Olof Palme

Olof Palme was a Swedish politician who served as the Prime Minister of Sweden from 1969 to 1976 and again from 1982 until his assassination in 1986. He was known for his progressive policies and his outspoken criticism of US foreign policy, apartheid in South Africa, and the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan.

On the evening of February 28, 1986, Palme was walking home from a cinema in Stockholm with his wife when he was shot and killed by an unknown assailant. The assassination was a shock to the Swedish people and sent shockwaves through the international community.

The investigation into Palme’s assassination was one of the largest in Swedish history, but the case remains unsolved to this day. There have been numerous theories and speculations about the identity of the killer or killers, but no conclusive evidence has been found.

The assassination of Olof Palme had a significant impact on Swedish politics and society. Palme was a popular and charismatic leader who had inspired many with his vision of a more equal and just society. His death left a void in Swedish politics, and his legacy as a champion of social justice and human rights continues to be celebrated in Sweden and around the world.

The assassination also had implications for Swedish foreign policy, as Palme’s successor, Ingvar Carlsson, continued many of his policies, including his opposition to apartheid in South Africa and his advocacy for disarmament and peace. The assassination also led to a strengthening of security measures in Sweden, as the country sought to prevent future acts of violence.


Yitzhak Rabin

Yitzhak Rabin was an Israeli politician and military leader who served as the Prime Minister of Israel twice, from 1974 to 1977 and again from 1992 until his assassination in 1995. He played a key role in the founding of the State of Israel and was a central figure in the country’s politics and military for much of his life.

Rabin was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994 for his efforts to bring peace to the Middle East. He signed the Oslo Accords, a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), in 1993, which was seen as a major step towards resolving the long-standing conflict between Israel and Palestine.

On November 4, 1995, Rabin was assassinated by a Jewish extremist named Yigal Amir, who opposed Rabin’s efforts to make peace with the Palestinians. The assassination shocked the Israeli people and the international community, and it had a profound impact on the peace process in the Middle East.

The assassination of Rabin led to a period of political and social upheaval in Israel. It highlighted the deep divisions within Israeli society over the peace process and the role of extremism in Israeli politics. The assassination also had implications for the peace process itself, as the political instability that followed Rabin’s death made it difficult to continue the negotiations that he had initiated.

Despite the setback caused by Rabin’s assassination, the Oslo Accords remain a significant milestone in the quest for peace in the Middle East. They represent a recognition by both Israelis and Palestinians of the need for a negotiated settlement to the conflict, and they have served as a framework for subsequent negotiations.

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Final Thought

Today we’ve looked at five of the most famous political assassinations in modern history. Each of these assassinations had major political significance and repercussions for the countries they occurred in, and in some cases the larger region and even the entire world.

From the assassination of JFK, which had a profound impact on American politics and the way we view the world, to the assassination of Patrice Lumumba, which brought about years of instability and conflict in the Congo, these events remind us of the fragility of our political systems and the importance of promoting peace and tolerance.

As someone from the UK, it’s worth noting that my country has also had an assassinated leader. In 1812, Prime Minister Spencer Perceval was assassinated by a lone gunman in the lobby of the House of Commons, the only British Prime Minister ever to have been assassinated. More recently, in 1979, Conservative MP Airey Neave was killed by a car bomb planted by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) outside the Palace of Westminster.

These assassinations serve as a reminder of the importance of protecting our political leaders and democratic institutions, as well as the need to confront violence and extremism wherever it may be found.

What do you think? What political assassinations did I miss? Has your country ever had a leader assassinated?  

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By Tom Wilkinson

Host and founder of Thinking in English, Tom is committed to providing quality and interesting content to all English learners. Previously a research student at a top Japanese university and with a background in English teaching, political research, and Asian languages, Tom is now working fulltime on bettering Thinking in English!

One thought on “228. Most Famous Political Assassinations in History! (English Vocabulary Lesson)”
  1. Good morning Tom, answering to your question about what political assassination you missed is very difficult, due to the huge number of political assassinations in any country history. For instance, if we think to the roman empire in some period political assassination was the ordinary way to take over the power in Roma, as happened to the three successors of emperor August, Caligula, Claudius, Nero and to many other later.
    To contribute your post I can talk about two cases in Italian history.
    The first is King Umberto I of Savoy who was killed by an anarchist, Gaetano Bresci, the July 29, 1900. Some time before King Umberto had awarded the general Fiorenzo Bava Beccaris for his military merits. However Bava Beccaris was also the same general who had shot towards the crowd on strike in Milan during a workers protest in 1898. Bresci wanted to revenge all workers for the general and the king behavior.
    The second and most recent case is that of Aldo Moro, many times Italian prime minister and, at the time of his assassination (1978), leader of the major party of those years, named “Democrazia Cristiana”, literally “Christian Democracy”. Moro was kidnapped by the Brigate Rosse (red brigades), a communist terrorist organisation, and killed by themselves after 55 days of kidnapping. Still today is not completely clear what were the terrorists’ real motivation, but the most probable is the Moro’s attempts in involving the PCI (Italian communist party) in a external government supporting, which was not well-seen by the extreme left wing.

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