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Cuban Missile Crisis

John F. Kennedy’s greatest triumph as President of the United States came in 1962, as the world’s two largest superpowers, the Soviet Union and the United States, edged closer and closer to nuclear war. The Soviet premier of Russia was caught arming Fidel Castro with nuclear weapons. The confrontation left the world in fear for thirteen long days, with the life of the world on the line. In 1962, Nikita Khrushchev, Premier of the Soviet Union, employed a daring gambit. He secretly ordered the placement of Soviet nuclear weapons in Cuba. Earlier the Soviet premier had promised Soviet rotection to Cuba (“Cuban” 774).

This was the first time any such weapons had been placed outside of Eurasia (Hersh 345). Several explanations for his actions have been offered by historians. One factor in Khrushchevs decision was a strategic one (Hersh 346). A year earlier, the United States had placed several medium-range nuclear missiles in Turkey (“Cuban 774). The missiles were just across the Black Sea from the Soviet Union, within sight of Khrushchev’s summer home (Hersh 346). President Kennedy had earlier ignored his advisors and placed nuclear missiles in Turkey.

Another factor was a threat by he US to one of the Soviet Union’s satellite countries, Cuba (Hersh 346). The United States had, in the past, attempted to kill Fidel Castro, dictator of Cuba (Brinkley 1047). In July of 1962, the United States found out that nuclear missile shipments were being made to Cuba. United States U-2 spy planes flew over the island, bringing back reports of construction and ballistic missiles (“Cuban” 744). The CIA found that five thousand Russian military technicians were in Cuba, and various military weapons were being unloaded onto the island.

When U-2 activity was increased, reports showed the presence of SAMs surface-to-air missiles) and torpedo boats with ship-to-ship rockets (Mills 233). On September 4, Soviet ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin met with Robert Kennedy to discuss a message from Khrushchev. According to the message, the military buildup was defensive in nature and not militarily threatening. Robert F. Kennedy informed the ambassador that the United States would closely watch all military activity in Cuba and warned of severe consequences should the Soviets place offensive weapons (Mills 233). President Kennedy apparently did not believe the message.

He asked Congress for the authority to mobilize over 00,000 reservists into active duty. The Soviets response was that they could fire rockets from Russia just as easily as from Cuba. Offensive missiles in Cuba, they argued, were therefore unnecessary for an offensive base(Mills 234). Furthermore, the United States had over 3,000 nuclear warheads and nearly 300 missile launchers, opposed to the Soviet Union’s 250 warheads and 24 to 44 missile launchers (Hersh 343). Still, John Kennedy thought that Cuba could become a base for military operations at any given moment.

The United States had to be prepared to face it (Mills 234). At this point in the crisis, John McCone, he CIA director, was regularly sending President Kennedy reports of missiles capable of launching a nuclear warhead being sent to Cuba. According to McCone, medium-range ballistic missiles(MRBMs) would be next (Hersh 348). U-2’s were sent to scout the west end of Cuba. On October 14, the CIA reported that construction had begun for MRBMs (Mills 235). Despite the increased state of readiness in the US, many people did not realize that the Soviet Union had done nothing on its home territory during the crisis.

Its fleet of ICBM launchers were not mobilized and neither were Soviet reserves. There were not even any hreats against Berlin (Hersh 343). Regardless of what the Soviets said, the United States was still far ahead in the nuclear arms race. ICBM’s were expensive to build and the Soviet Union did not have an abundance of money. Installing the smaller missiles in Cuba was much cheaper than building more ICBMs. Khrushchev believed that Kennedy would not oppose the building of the missile bases in Cuba because the United States President had not opposed Khrushchev in the past (Mills 236).

Not only did he secretly place the missiles in Cuba, but Khrushchev used Georgi Bolshakov and others to tell President Kennedy that missiles were not being shipped to Cuba. The Soviet premier was cautious to avoid a direct lie, even though he was clearly deceptive. Eventually, Kennedy chose to believe Khrushchev over the CIA reports that were being dropped on his desk. Excom, the Executive Committee of the National Security Council, was secretly called. These were hand-picked advisors of Kennedy. The newest U-2 reports were shown and explained. Ninety miles off the coast of Florida, missiles were being prepared (Hersh 348).

Finally, on October 16, Kennedy realized that Khrushchev had been continuously lying to him. The President could have been humiliated by Khrushchev. He, however, turned the tables, and chose to humiliate the Soviet premier instead (Hersh 344-5). President Kennedy directed Excom to devise several possible courses of action, and Kennedy would decide which to follow (Mills 236). The next meeting of Excom raised more questions. The members of Excom wanted to know why was the Soviet Union building missile bases in Cuba. Several ideas were brought forward.

They hypothesized that he could be trying to get the US to remove the missiles that were placed in Turkey. Another theory is that Castro was alarmed at Republican nsistence to invade Cuba and had asked for military assistance. “One member of Excom quoted an old Russian adage: ‘If you strike steel, pull back. If you strike mush, keep going. ‘” He implied that if President Kennedy didn’t respond, Khrushchev would think he could get away with other things (Mills 237). By October 17, U-2 reports showed that anywhere between sixteen and thirty-two medium-range ballistic missile sites and would be ready within seven days.

Construction for intermediate-range missile sites was already under way and would be operational by December. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, a member f Excom, suggested that the United States place a naval “quarantine”n Soviet Ships on the way to Cuba. This was to serve as a warning to Khrushchev (Mills 238). The members of Excom that wanted an air strike were against the proposal. Those in favor of immediate, pre-emptive airstrikes argued that the missiles that were already on the island would not be affected by the blockade. They could not promise the success of an air strike, however.

It would be extremely difficult to bomb all the sites, and if even one site was missed, it might mean nuclear war. The Pentagon suggested a massive bombing to destroy all inds of military equipment, and perhaps even Castro himself (Mills 238). Arguments were raised, and debate continued. Some felt an invasion was called for, while others opposed air strikes. On October 18, photographs revealed that construction on the missile bases was occurring at a faster rate than originally thought. The first medium-range missile site would be completed within the next day and a half.

The missiles were targeted at several U. S. cities. It was estimated that almost eighty million Americans would be killed, just minutes after the firing of the missiles (Mills 238). Kennedy had decided not to bring up the issue of the missiles in a meeting with the Soviet foreign minister Andrei Gromyko, and listened to his comments. Gromyko said that the few Soviet defenses that existed were set up to defend from possible American attack. Later the President was reported saying, “I was dying to confront him with our evidence. It was incredible to sit there and watch the lies coming out of his mouth” (Mills 239).

According to recently declassified files in Moscow, Khrushchev had sent over 100 nuclear warheads into the Caribbean island, in case of American attack. Approximately 42,000 Soviet soldiers were ready to launch the nukes within a few hours notice. The Soviet commander in Cuba, General Issa Pliyev, was prepared to use every one of those warheads, should the United States invade Cuba. Neither of the Kennedy brothers had any idea that Cuba was ready to launch nuclear warheads at the first sign of an invasion (Hersh 355). During the meeting with Gromyko, the members of Excomm were attempting to agree on a plan.

Most leaned towards the strategy of a naval blockade. In case the blockade failed to get Khrushchev to remove the missiles, military action could ct as a backup plan. A few fears were voiced, however, such as the possibility of Castro executing the Bay of Pigs prisoners, or Soviet air strikes, if the blockade failed (Mills 340). The day after the meeting with Gromyko, President Kennedy went to campaign, and left the Excom members to sort out their feelings and come up with a plan. They began to have second thoughts about the blockade, and some even pushed for a military strike.

Robert Kennedy opposed the military strike, explaining that this was not a fight for survival, it was a fight to uphold America’s ideals and heritage. Saturday, October 20, Robert called his brother and told him the result. It was the president’s choice; Excom could not reach a decision (Mills 241). JFK soon returned to the White House, and again heard all the plans. United States Ambassador to the United Nations, Adlai Stevenson, proposed giving up a naval base at Guantanamo, or pull the Jupiter missiles from Turkey. Both suggestions were rejected. There were too many problems with the air strike proposal.

The Commander-in-Chief of the United States ordered the blockade to begin (Mills 242). By Sunday, America’s allies new of the situation, special briefings were given to members of the Organization of American States (OAS), and Congressional leaders were requested to return to Washington. On Monday, President Kennedy addressed the nation. Two letters were delivered to Khrushchev in Moscow, just thirty minutes before Kennedy’s address. One was a copy of the speech, the other was a letter from JFK himself. He wrote that he assumed that Khrushchev knew better than to drive the world to nuclear chaos in which it was clear no country would win.

At 7 PM, October 22, the President spoke to the nation (Mills 242). “Good evening, y fellow citizens. This government, as promised, has maintained the closest surveillance of the Soviet military buildup on the island of Cuba…. It shall be the policy of this nation to regard any nuclear missile launched from Cuba against any nation in the Western Hemisphere as an attack by the Soviet Union on the United States, requiring full retaliatory response upon the Soviet Union” (Mills 242-3). As the President began his speech, the Pentagon moved the military alert to DEFCON 3, the highest military alert short of all-out war (Hersh 355).

The largest US force since D-Day was assembled in Georgia and Florida. Over one hundred thousand troops stood ready, bombers of the Strategic Air Command flew the skies, and 180 ships were in the Caribbean (Mills 243). Nuclear weapons were placed on bombers in Spain, Morocco, and England. Their target: the Soviet Union (Hersh 356). The next day, pilots flew over Cuba and snapped photographs of two operational medium-range ballistic missile sites. Back in Washington, evacuations were commencing. Jackie Kennedy refused to evacuate without her husband. Robert Kennedy would not budge, either (Mills 243).

Surveillance planes sighted twenty-five Soviet ships, along with six ubmarines, headed for Cuba. In a message to Kennedy that night, on October 23, Khrushchev warned that the blockade would be ignored, and the Soviet ships would deliver the missiles. He said that America’s actions would lead to a nuclear war (Mills 243). The Excom group found out that several Soviet ships were en route to the blockade. If they did not stop, planes and ships from the carrier Essex would be forced to fire. The Russian response might have included ICBM’s from the Soviet Union, or missiles from Cuba. The president was nervous, and so were the Excom members.

Then the news came: some of the Russian ships were stopping Mills 244). Stevenson asked the Soviet ambassador, Zorin, in a UN Security Council meeting whether he denied the existence of medium and intermediate range missiles in Cuba. Zorin replied that he was not in an American courtroom, to which Stevenson replied, “I am prepared to wait for my answer until hell freezes over… and I am also prepared to present the evidence in this room–now! ” (Mills 245) The surveillance photographs taken by the spy planes were brought in(“13” 4C). Stevenson explained that he was trying to preserve peace, not debate (Mills 245).

The blockade stopped its first Soviet ship on Friday. Armed parties from two American destroyers boarded the ship and searched. It was determined that it was carrying only trucks, and was allowed to continue (Mills 245). According to photographs taken that Friday, the MRBMs would be ready soon, and the intermediate-range missiles would be operational by the end of November. The possibility of an air strike was raised again by some Excom members. Unknown to Excom and the world at large, Kennedy and Khrushchev were keeping in touch. Khrushchev insisted that he wanted the US and Russia to have a peaceful rivalry and not begin a war.

As long as America romised not to invade Cuba, the missiles would be taken out (Mills 245). An Excom meeting was called to order, to draft a reply to Khrushchev’s words. However, the Soviet premier sent out a more aggressive message during the meeting: the US was to remove Jupiter missiles in Turkey. The FBI reported that Russian diplomats were destroying papers in New York (Mills 246). Fidel Castro was amazingly ignored throughout this whole crisis. He was certain that the Americans were invading and was frustrated that Pliyev refused to fire at the U-2’s. Castro finally obtained authority to shoot the planes down (Hersh 362).

The U-2 was shot down and the pilot killed. The Pentagon insisted on an air strike, followed by an invasion of Cuba (Mills 246). Robert Kennedy suggested that Excom should treat the second message as if it never existed, and reply to the first. Within an hour, the president’s reply was sent back to the Soviet premier. The Jupiter missiles were left out of the proposal, but it accepted the removal of the missiles under UN supervision. President Kennedy promised not to invade Cuba and stopped the blockade. On Sunday, October 28, Khrushchev agreed. The crisis was at an end (Mills 246).

The missiles were removed and the sites demolished. Khrushchev soon announced that he would concentrate on Russia’s economic problems instead of international military matters. He asked for solutions from the West in solving the Berlin dilemma. He thought that “in the next war, the survivors will envy the dead” (Mills 246). On Christmas Eve, 1962, over $50 million of baby food and medical supplies were sent, and the Bay of Pigs prisoners were released. In April 1963, Kennedy had the Jupiter missiles removed from Turkey, and four months later, Russia signed the nuclear test ban treaty.

A “hot line” teletype link now enabled instant communication between Moscow and Washington, and the US sold extra wheat and flour to the Soviet Union. The tide of the Cold War turned–for a little while (Mills 247). The crisis was the closest the world had ever come to global nuclear war and could possibly be the reason for Khrushchev’s fall in 1964 (“Cuban” 774). Those thirteen days left the world in awe of the determination and responsibility of the United States and its young president (Hersh 342). John Kennedy summarized his dealings with Khrushchev in just five words: “I cut his balls off” (Hersh 341).

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Home » Cuban Missile Crisis

Cuban Missile Crisis

The closest the world has come to nuclear war was the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962. This was the tense cold war opposition between the United States and the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union had installed nuclear missiles in Cuba, just 90 miles off the coast of the United States The Cold War was the result of a clash between communism and capitalism, two opposing world-views. Another cause of the build up to the Cold War was the intransigent attitude of both sides. The Soviet Union was extremely concerned about its security after having been invaded twice in the twentieth century.

In 1945 America created and used the atomic bomb against Japan and the USSR was determined to create one of its own. Both the USSR and the USA built up huge arsenals of Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs). The United States tested a hydrogen bomb in 1952 and in November 1955, the USSR developed one too. After that the USA moved its bombers into Europe. In 1955 West Germany was allowed to re-arm and join NATO. Russia responded by forming the Warsaw Mutual Defense Pact with its buffer zone neighbors. In 1957 the Soviets used a missile to launch Sputnik 1 into orbit around the earth.

The arms race evolved into a space race as the United States rushed to launch its own satellites. The space race was an opportunity for the two nations to show their technological superiority. The Soviet Union launched Sputnik I, the first orbiting satellite, on October 4, 1957. On November 3, they launched Sputnik II with the first living creature, a dog, named Laika. On January 31, 1958 the United States launched Explorer I, its first satellite. The U. S. began its Mercury program with an 18-minute flight on January 31, 1961 that carried a chimpanzee.

The Soviet Union, meanwhile, had its Vostok program and on April 12, Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space and completed one orbit aboard Vostok 1. In June 1963 Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman in space. The United States started to catch up on February 20, 1962 when John Glenn orbited the earth three times. The US Apollo 11 mission launched on July 16, 1969 and Neil Armstrong became the first person to step on the moon. The Berlin Wall was built in 1961 and brought more tension to the Cold War.

The open border between East and West Berlin had permitted thousands of East Europeans to escape from Soviet rule. This had a negative economic impact on Eastern Europe and was as a political embarrassment for the Soviet Union. On Sunday, August 13, 1969 East Germany blocked off East Berlin from West Berlin with barbed wire. A few days later the Berlin Wall was built to replace the barbed wire. From 1961 to 1981, there were 37,800 successful escapes across the Berlin wall from the East to the West. The reunification of Germany took place on October 3, 1990.

In 1962, Cuba was convinced that the USA was planning to attack them and asked the Soviet Union for military assistance. The USSR sent Cuba materials to build missile bases and launch sites. When President Kennedy realized that Cuba could launch missiles into America, he demanded that the USSR remove its weapons and troops. The Americans formed a naval blockade as the world stood nervously on the edge of a nuclear war. The USSR removed its weapons despite protests from Cuban leader Fidel Castro. The United States believed that the Soviet Union’s expansion threatened the developing nations of the world.

So, in 1949 President Truman and Congress approved nearly $400 million for technical development programs in Latin America, Asia, and Africa. The goals of this Point Four Program were to modernize and strengthen developing nations and discourage the growth of communism. Gorbachev’s policy of Glasnost eliminated the strict censorship practiced for hundreds of years. Glasnost stands for openness, and Soviet citizens were now allowed to speak openly about their country’s problems. Perestroika, or “restructuring,” was Gorbachev’s attempt to end the inefficiency and corruption in government.

The United States and other Western nations decided to form alliances against possible Soviet attempts to extend their sphere of influence. In April 1949 the United States signed the North Atlantic Treaty. Members agreed that an attack on one of them would be considered an attack on all of them. The Soviets later formed an opposing alliance known as The Warsaw Pact. Because of the arms race many countries in the world now own nuclear weapons. The effects of the Cold War spread throughout the globe like the radiation clouds from the atmospheric nuclear tests in the 1940’s, 1950’s and 1960’s.

The ideologies on both sides included a vision of world dominance. In addition, the US military/industrial complex’s “Domino Theory”- the fear that if one country turned Communist it would lead to their neighbors to following suit and to increased regional instability- led to many military conflicts, including the Vietnam War, funded and aided by both Superpowers. In the early morning of October 14, 1962, A U-2 spy aircraft flies over western Cuba, revealing missle sites in Cuba. Two days later, on October 16th Kennedy learns about the data collected on the missile deployments.

President Kennedy was shown photographs of Soviet SS-4 launching installations under construction in Cuba, taken two days earlier by an airplane. Looking over the photos Kennedy remarked, “They look like footballs on a football field. ” The missiles he held in his sight had a range of 1,100 miles and threatened major population centers in the U. S. Thee missiles were not operational as of yet but Deputy Director of the CIA said “They soon would be”. The president is briefed that should the United States aggressively attack Cuba, it would likely lead to World War III.

Kennedy immediately organized a group of his most important advisors to handle the crisis also know as the Executive Committee or EX-COMM. First, they considered an air strike. This was impossible, however, because the government did not see this as a guaranteed success. They also considered doing nothing, but were afraid this could shorten U. S. credibility. Seven days later Kennedy decided to impose a naval quarantine around Cuba, hoping to prevent the Soviets from bringing more weapons to the island, preventing anything or anyone coming to and from Cuba. As of yet, the Soviets didn’t know the Americans knew of the missiles in Cuba.

The American public didn’t know yet either. If the Soviets found out, they might hide the missiles or launch them if they were ready. If the public found out, the nation would panic. On October 22, Kennedy broadcast a speech informing the public about the missiles, and his plan to quarantine the island. He also announced publicly that any nuclear missile launched from Cuba would be viewed as an attack on the United States. He demanded that the Soviets remove all offensive weapons from Cuba. As tensions began to build Kennedy eventually ordered low-level reconnaissance missions once every two hours.

During the crisis, the two sides exchanged many letters and other communications; Khrushchev sent letters to Kennedy on October 23 and 24 indicating the disincentive nature of the missiles in Cuba and the peaceful intentions of the Soviet Union. On the 25th Kennedy pulled the quarantine line back and raised military readiness to DEFCON 2. On October 26, Khrushchev sent Kennedy a long rambling letter seemingly proposing that the missile installations would be dismantled and personnel removed in exchange for United States assurances that it would not invade Cuba.

On October 27, another letter to Kennedy arrived from Khrushchev, suggesting that missile installations in Cuba would be dismantled if the United States dismantled its missile installations in Turkey. The American administration decided to ignore this second letter and to accept the offer outlined in the letter of October 26. Tensions finally began to ease on October 28 when Khrushchev announced that he would dismantle and return the missiles to the Soviet Union. Further negotiations were held to implement the October 28 agreement, including a United States demand that Soviet light bombers be removed from Cuba.

A new message from Khrushchev, broadcast on Radio Moscow, effectively ends the missile crisis. Dismantling of the missiles begins at 5:00 PM. In Havana, Fidel Castro, who was not consulted or informed of the decision beforehand, is outraged. Khrushchev explains that not ending the crisis would have meant nuclear war, but that “the Soviet government under no circumstances would refuse to fulfill its international duty to defend Cuba. It may seem odd that an event, having such an impact on the world, could happen in only 13 days. Actually it is thought to have been a result of a longer process according to Jerry Goldman and Giel Stein.

In June of 1961 President Kennedy attended a summit with Premier Khrushchev in Vienna to discuss cold war confrontations between the east and west, in particular the situation in Berlin. The failure of the two to resolve their differences during the summit led Khrushchev to look at Kennedy as a weak president, who lacked the power or support to negotiate a compromise in the arms race. Worried that the United States had more nuclear missiles than the Soviet’s and more importantly that some of the American missiles were based in Turkey, only 150 miles from the Soviet Union, Soviet leadership was desperate to increase their nuclear missiles.

The showdown that happened in Cuba may well have been the result of an accumulating anxiety among the Soviet political leaders. When thinking back in history, it is not all that surprising that the Soviets chose Cuba to stage their operations against the United States. Since 1959, when Cuban Premier Fidel Castro took over power, the United States tried to “encourage” his political demise. When Castro came to power, the United States stopped buying Cuban sugar and refused to supply its former trading partner with much needed oil.

To make matters worse, after the failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion, Castro observed the United States armed forces stage a mock invasion of a Caribbean island in 1962. The purpose of the invasion was to overthrow a leader by the name of Ortsac, which is Castro spelled backwards. Ortsac was a fictitious name, but Castro got the message and soon became convinced that the U. S. was serious about invading Cuba. Sensing he could gain a strategic foothold in our “backyard,” Khrushchev eagerly extended an offer of assistance to the desperate Cuban leader.

Khrushchev offered Castro new trade opportunities, easing the effects of the U. S. sanctions, and promised to protect them for a U. S. invasion. This alliance between Castro and Khrushchev was the groundwork for a Soviet missile base in Cuba, but ultimately ended in the Cuban missile crisis. It is hard to imagine the stress of those thirteen days, affecting the life of millions of Americans and Soviets in every move that was made. It seems as though neither Kennedy nor Khrushchev wanted the nuclear disaster that was on the brink of happening, but neither wanted to back down to the other either.

After reading the transcript of taped White House meetings during the missile crisis, President Kennedy seemed to have been cool, careful and patient as he tried to figure out how to handle the Soviet threat. It seemed as though the generals supported an invasion of Cuba. Only President Kennedy seemed to understand Khrushchev and the reasons they would risk the terrible consequences of a nuclear exchange. During one of the meetings, the President said, “What is the advantage? Must be that they’re not satisfied with their ICBM’s.

It makes them look as if they’re co-equal with usthis is a political struggle as much as military. ” According to Richard Reeves, he was exactly right. The United States had surrounded the Soviet Union with medium-range missiles in Europe, capable of reaching important targets in only a few minutes. Soviet intercontinental ballistic missiles, ICBM’s, were thousands of miles from targets in the United States, and their guidance systems were primitive. As Reeves writes, “In effect, America held a loaded gun to the head of the Soviet Union. ”

President Kennedy seemed to understand Khrushchev’s thoughts; he was willing to gamble that he could match up against the United States. The two leaders were obviously searching for a way out. Again and again, President Kennedy told his men that the tactical goal was to “give Khrushchev room. I don’t want him put in a corner,” Kennedy said. According to historians on the Soviet’s side, Khrushchev said “We are face to face with the danger of war and nuclear catastrophe. In order to save the world we must retreat. ”

When it was over, Kennedy was surprised at how little Khrushchev settled for in exchange for the withdrawal of U. S missiles: an American pledge not to invade Cuba, allowing Khrushchev to claim he “saved” the island. So how close were we to a nuclear war? Someone who knows is Theodore C. Sorenson. He was the special counsel to President Kennedy and a member of the Executive Committee of the National Security Council that advised the President on the Cuban missile crisis. According to Sorenson, President Kennedy went to the United Nations to “put the Soviets on the defensive diplomatically for their sudden and surreptitious installation of strategic nuclear missiles 90 miles from our shores.

President Kennedy succeeded. The communications to both sides by U Thant, the Secretary General of the United Nations, and the world’s condemnation of Khrushchev’s action helped in the crucial days that followed. More important than from a legal stand point, Kennedy asked the Organization of American States (O. A. S. ) to both authorize and participate in a United States naval blockade of Cuba. By doing this, it elevated the blockade to an act of regional self-defense under international law.

Kennedy had already decided that he had no choice but to proceed with the blockade, with or without any endorsements from the international community. So how would some of the other leaders of the time liked to have handle the crisis? Senator William Fulbright, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee thought that a naval blockade was “the worst alternative,” because it could be deemed an act of war under international law. He thought it would be better to invade Cuba than to provoke Soviet’s retaliation by stopping, or even worse firing upon, a Soviet vessel.

Representative Carl Vinson, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, wanted to “strike with all the force and power [we possessed] and try to get it over with as quickly as possible. ” General Curtis LeMay of the Air Force said, “This blockade and political actionwill lead right into war. It would be considered by a lot of our friends and neutrals as being a pretty weak response to this and I’m sure a lot of our citizens would feel that way too. You’re in a pretty bad fix, Mr. President. ”

President Kennedy was indeed in a pretty bad fix! According to Sorenson, “He had no good choices, no options free from risk of either war or the erosion of our security and alliances, and no reliable forecasts on how Moscow would respond to our responses. ” He goes on to write, “Virtually all of us, including the President, initially believed that at the very least an air strike against the missile sites would be necessary. And we soon learned that the only safe and sure air strike would require such widespread bombardment of Cuba that an American invasion and occupation of that island would be an unavoidable next step.

It was with this contingency in mind that the Defense Department, at the President’s instruction, began to assemble in Florida the largest American invasion force since World War II. ” From Soviet documents, we now know that an American military attack would have been met with a fierce resistance from local Soviet troops authorized to use nuclear weapons against American forces on the beaches, at sea and in the air. One can only imagine the devastation and number of deaths from a nuclear fallout in both American and Soviet cities. I feel that Sorenson tells the complete picture when he writes, “So we were all lucky that week, if luck it was.

We were lucky that this nation had a conventional and nuclear superiority that made Khrushchev think twice about risking an armed clash in the Western Hemisphere; lucky that, through aerial photography and C. I. A. photo interpretation, we had enough early warning to devise in secret a response to Khrushchev’s missiles that would give him an opportunity to think twice about such a clash; lucky that Kennedy had advisers like Llewellyn Thompson, the senior State Department Kremlinologist, who was quietly steadfast throughout in urging that we not force Khrushchev into a quick choice between humiliation and escalation.

We were lucky, too, that Khrushchev was a statesman enough to recognize that his bold gamble had failed. And lucky, finally, that during the world’s first and only (I hope) nuclear confrontation, John F. Kennedy, whose cool, prudent, prodding leadership, was President in October 1962. He had, after all, been elected in 1960 by only a tiny margin.

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