US History: Kennedy and Cuban Missile Crisis

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Many people have imagined an apocalyptic world with fire, building rubble, destroyed cars and debris scattered around the globe and gray smog looming over the vast landscape. However, few people realize how close this nightmare was to becoming a reality in 1962. John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s thoughtfulness for the safety of humanity allowed the President to make decisions that peacefully resolved the Cuban Missile Crisis instead of assisting in the creation of a disastrous event. The thirty-fifth President of the United States of America delicately considered the relationships between his own country and another super power to make decisions that would protect lives from the catastrophic consequences of a nuclear war.

Prior to Kennedy taking the United States presidential office in 1961, President Eisenhower had already planned an invasion of Cuba, an island country less than one hundred miles off the southern coast of Florida, with the intention of removing Fidel Castro from power. President Kennedy had to follow through with this plan. Some exiled Cubans formed an anti-communist military group, who were against Fidel Castro, and were secretly trained by the United States Central Intelligence Agency to invade Cuba at the Bay of Pigs.

Kennedy was not willing to put his own military at risk to back up this group and also feared that doing so would create greater trouble with Cuba as well as the Soviet Union. The invasion was launched on April 17, 1961, with troops on foot and flying overhead. The operation did not go as planned and failed in the first day. Around one hundred soldiers died and eleven hundred surrendered and were taken as prisoners.

Concerned for the wellbeing of the detainees, President Kennedy agreed to the terms for their freedom. For the release of the captives, the U.S.A. paid the ransom of fifty three million dollars in the form of medical necessities and food. These supplies were donated by American businesses. After this failed attempt to overthrow Castro, the Central Intelligence Agency initiated Operation Mongoose to continue efforts to eliminate him and his regime. The U.S. cut trade with Cuba. However, Cuba turned to the U.S.S.R. for aid. Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev agreed to purchase exports, including sugar, from Cuba and secretly planned to hide Soviet nuclear missiles there to protect the island from U.S. threat. Additionally, Russia sought to level the playing field with America who had nuclear missiles in Turkey and Italy.

Nuclear missiles are weapons to be feared. In 1962 on the fourteenth day of October, a U-2 surveillance aircraft owned by the United States military travelled around one hundred miles south of the state of Florida over the island country of Cuba. The pilot captured numerous photographs of recently developed nuclear missile stations. The following day, officials with the C.I.A. of the United States determined that Cuba was installing missiles that could be used to cause mass destruction to much of the United States.

On October sixteenth President Kennedy met with his team to discuss options about how to best approach the threat of these nearby and deadly weapons. After discussing several options, Kennedy chose the least confrontational route by ordering a quarantine of vessels entering Cuban ports to prevent military equipment that was considered offensive from entering the country. President Kennedy’s administration refrained from calling the quarantine a “blockade” since declaring a blockade is an official act of war. This word choice is another example of the way in which Kennedy was careful not to escalate shaky situations during this crisis.

In a speech addressing the nation, President Kennedy discusses the events of the current crisis and reminds the people that the American government wants to maintain peaceful relationships around the globe. J.F.K. tells the American people, “We will not prematurely or unnecessarily risk the costs of worldwide nuclear war in which even the fruits of victory would be ashes in our mouth” (Kennedy). President Kennedy was not concerned with showing nuclear dominance over other countries but focused on maintaining peace. J.F.K. fully understood the deadly consequences that could have resulted from nuclear warfare and was not willing to risk precious human lives if possible.

President Kennedy and Premier Khrushchev were in communication with each other as how to best handle the issue at hand. However, the United States did not trust the U.S.S.R. because they were providing misleading information and not being consistent when questioned about their involvement with the missiles residing in Cuba. The missiles threatened the security of the western hemisphere and President Kennedy knew he must examine his choices closely to ensure safety.

On October 25, 1962 Kennedy averted a situation that could have led to war when a Russian ship headed for Cuba requested access to a Cuban port. The ship did not appear to be a threat, so Kennedy allowed its passage. Turning the vessel away could have resulted in unwanted aggression. However, this was not the only close call made during the crisis. On October 27, as tension strained both leaders, President Kennedy was notified that a United States surveillance plane flying over Cuba was obliterated by a Soviet missile, killing the pilot. Instead of jumping to conclusions or launching a counter attack, President Kennedy chose to discuss the matter with Soviet Premier Khrushchev who claimed he did not order the missile launch on the aircraft.

Hours later a U.S. Navy ship dropped a depth charge on a Soviet submarine signaling it to come to the surface. The crew on the submarine were out of communication range and believed war had begun. The commanding officer wanted to launch the nuclear missile aboard the sub but the second in command refused to fire. America and the Soviet Union had adverted nuclear war multiple times and both leaders decided change must be made.

People around the world, and especially Americans, remained glued to televisions and radios during these two frightening weeks while negotiations were underway between representatives from the United States of America and the United Socialist Soviet Republics. On October 28, 1962, President Kennedy and Premier Khrushchev came to a diplomatic agreement that America would extract nuclear missiles from Turkey and Italy in exchange for the withdrawal of Soviet missiles from Cuba. Additionally, the United Nations would oversee the withdrawal of the Soviet missiles and America promised not to invade Cuba. The long, antagonizing days of the Cuban Missile Crisis was finally over.

At an event called A 50th Anniversary Retrospective of the Cuban Missile Crisis, a group comprised of several journalists, historians, scholars, and filmmakers presented information on the history and impact of the crisis in a live broadcast from the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. Speaker Nicholas Burns commented that Kennedy saved us from a nuclear catastrophe by appreciating the opposition’s views and with the willingness to negotiate to solve the dramatic matter (Burns, “A 50th Anniversary Retrospective”). The presentation was filled with other people who were knowledgeable of the topic. Several of these speakers praised President Kennedy for the calm and responsible manner in which he handled the crisis.

The Cuban Missile Crisis was a time of extreme unease for the countries involved. Nuclear weapons were trained on the opposing powers and could be launched within minutes. One mistake or change in decision could have changed the entire outcome of this conflict with the worst case being nuclear fallout and even the eradication of millions. Luckily, President Kennedy took the most cautious approach to the problem and resolved it peacefully with nearly no casualties. It is important to recognize Kennedy’s understanding of the disaster nuclear war can unearth. Although some ridiculed Kennedy for negotiating with the Russians, many are forever grateful for his attentiveness and courage during the crisis. His calm, responsible and caring attitude allowed him to make the best decisions for mankind.

Works Cited

  1. American History T.V. “A 50th Anniversary Retrospective.” 50th Anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis Conference. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. 14 October 2012. Accessed July 3, 2019. https://www.c-span.org/video/?c4048251/50th- anniversary-cuban-missile-crisis.
  2. Associated Press Archives. Meeting of the United Nations. Televised recording. October 1962. Accessed July 1, 2019. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bBEowra3500.
  3. Corbett, P. Scott, Volker Janssen, John M. Lund, Todd Pfannestiel, Paul Vickery, and Sylvie Waskiewicz. U.S. History. 26 February 2018. Accessed June 30, 2019. https://openstax.org/details/us-history.
  4. HISTORY.com Editors. “Cuban Missile Crisis.” HISTORY. A & E Television Networks. 04 January 2010. Accessed July 2, 2019.
  5. Jordan, Matthew A. “The History of the Cuban Missile Crisis.” TED Ed. 26 September 2016. https://ed.ted.com/lessons/the-history-of-the-cuban-missile-crisis-matthew-a-jordan#panels.
  6. Kennedy, John F. “Cuban Missile Crisis.” The History Place. Great Speeches Collection. 22 October 1962. http://www.historyplace.com/speeches/jfk-cuban.htm.
  7. Kiger, Patrick J. “Key Moments in the Cuban Missile Crisis.” The Cuban Missile Crisis: A Timeline. HISTORY. A & E Television Networks. 17 June 2019. Accessed July 2, 2019. https://www.history.com/news/cuban-missile-crisis-timeline-jfk-khrushchev.’

Cite this paper

US History: Kennedy and Cuban Missile Crisis. (2020, Dec 11). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/us-history-kennedy-and-cuban-missile-crisis/

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