The History of the Cuban Missile Crisis
It was a nightmare that not even John F. Kennedy could imagine 7 the Cuban Missile Crisis. The Soviets had decided to extend their communistic arms to equipa small island a mere 90 miles from the United States of America. with the world’s deadliest weapons in a new-game-changing move of the Cold War era. The standoff that existed between the two world superpowers for almost two weeks could have ended in total human annihilation. Since then, America has proven itself able to quickly change to fit new dynamics of society and the broader world, As a matter of fact, American foreign policy was able to quickly adapt in the aftermath of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Throughout the Cold War, because Americans were scared of communists, our foreign policy at the time was a regression back to isolation. In a way, the United States ended up conceding to the communists after the Crisis.
Within the decade after, the fundamental American principles have been in question, and we have become more scared of foreign nations than ever before, digging ourselves into a hole with no clearly marked exit. According to Stephen Ambrose and Douglas Brinkley, “Kennedy took office at the moment in time when America’s optimism was at its zenith.” This would set up Kennedy to later fail with his foreign policy when the attempted invasion of Cuba’s Bay of Pigs put the spotlight on him and his administration. It also provoked tensions that would lead to the Cuban Missile Crisis, a foreign policy fiasco that almost ended in a nuclear war. However, Kennedy would soon ‘save the day’ by conceding to the Soviets‘ deal in order to save him, the nation, the world, and his presidency. Before the Cuban Missile Crisis, America was immersed in the perils of the Cold War — a proxy war between the Soviet Union and the United States. Beginning in the 19605, President Eisenhower decided to begin operations to train soldiers with the intent of invading and overthrowing Fidel Castro‘s communist regime in Cuba.‘ Once Kennedy took office, he decided that in April of 1961, America would invade Cuba by way of the Bay of Pigs. Despite having the world’s best military and equipment, Castro “completely crushed [the invaders]”.2 This came as a shock to the world but hit home hard for Kennedy and his administration. The Cubans were much more powerful than previously thought.
Part of Kennedy’s desire to invade the Bay of Pigs came from his fear of appearing weak. Thus, Kennedy’s foreign policy before the Crisis was very belligerent from a facade. During Khrushchev’s building of the Berlin Wall, a wall to separate East and West Germany, Kennedy decided to boost military budgets, raise the number of troops by increasing the draft call, and mobilizing more men into position for battler‘ Still, Kennedy “had looked weak to many Cold Warriors in the United States because he had not torn down the wall” yetiJ Kennedy’s failed invasion enraged both him and Castro, and further strained tensions between the two countries. During the Crisis (which lasted from October 14 to October 28 of 1962), America was at its peak of fear. Never before had the country reached a point so close to total nuclear war as many citizens nationwide braced for the complete annihilation that would soon come if diplomatic solutions were not reached. Across the nation, people stocked up on household staples and supplies as if a hurricane were coming, except this hurricane would not bring wind or water, but radiation}; Churches stayed open later to provide a venue for Americans to pray for 1 Stephen E. Ambrose and Douglas Brinkley, Rise to Globallsm: American Foreign Policy SINCE 1938, 81h ed. (New York: Penguln Books, 1997), 172—173, 2 Ambrose and Brinkley, Rise to Global/5m: American, 172-173. 3 Ambrose and Brinkley, Rise to Globalism, American, 1727173. 4 Ambrose and Brinkley, Rrse to Globallsrn, Amencan. 172473 5 Timothy P, Maga, The 19605 (New York, NV: Facts On Flle, 2003), 73. 6 Maga, The 19605, 73.
their survival as never before had the “once vigilant anti-communist America.,,become America the scared”.7 Before and during the Cuban Missile Crisis, Kennedy had many U-2 spy planes take aerial photos of various waypoints in Cuba.E These waypoints would often be the sites of launch pads for the missiles. One clay in October of 1962, a U-2 spotted a launch pad that had the capability of launching missiles with a range of one thousand miles, wide enough to reach most of the continental United States.‘J This day would be October 14, 1962. The launch pad posed a major national security concern for the US, thus all eyes turned to Kennedy. Kennedy was conflicted; “a high official in the Pentagon suggested that Kennedy do nothing and ignore the missiles” because there was not yet a threat to the U,S.‘D However, Kennedy feared for his presidency and knew he needed to take some sort of action or else he could face impeachment for endangering national security.” Kennedy therefore decided that his “general goals” would be to remove the missiles and avoid a nuclear confrontation that would lead to devastating end results.
‘2 This signaled the beginning of the 13-day Cuban Missile Crisis. Kennedy’s actions during the Crisis provide a chilling example of the dangers that come with weapons of mass destruction, This threat cannot be understated as Kennedy could have brought the world to total destruction and bedlam had he made an error in diplomacy between the U.S and the U.S.S.R.n During the Crisis, Kennedy had a few maneuvers that helped shift the dynamics. In an attempt to slow down Soviet ships from bringing missiles and other military hardware to Cuba, he imposed a type of blockade. However, the term “blockade” was unusable because of the 7 Maga, The 19605, 73, 8 Ambrose and Brinkley, Rise to Globalism: American, 182-183. 9 Ambrose and Brinkley, Rise to Globalism: American, 182-183. 10 Ambrose and Biinkley, Rise to Globalism: American, 1827183. 11 Ambrose and Brinkley, Rise to Globalism American, 152483, 12 Ambrose and Brinkley, Rise to Globalism. American, 182—183. 13 RobertA. Divine, The Cuban Missile Crisis (Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1971), 6.
negative connotations it had, along with the fact that it was often “associated with an act of war”. Kennedy avoided instigatlng “acts of war” with the Soviets and thus decided to institute a “quarantine” to check ships belonging to the Soviets.“ During a ship inspection on October 26, members of the US. Navy “stopped and boarded a Soviet-charted Panamanian vessel, Marcula” to inspect its contents for any weapons of mass destruction.” Additionally, a group of advisors to President Kennedy were referred to as the Executive Committee of the National Security Council (“ExComm”).‘B All of their meetings were secretly recorded, which gives us an insider view of the Cuban Missile Crisis.‘7 The transcripts reveal the thoughts and high-level discussions going on during the time” At one point, the leader of the Soviets, Khrushchev, sent a message to The White House requesting a deal; this would be one of two letters sent by Khrushchev.” The first was a simple deal whereas the second one was a more complex deal, a situation which Kennedy found ironic.
After receiving Khrushchev’s letters, Kennedy did want to remove the missiles from Turkey in order to amicably reach a resolution with the Soviets, but doing so would cause America and Kennedy to lose face,20 He did not want the world to view the democracy of America as willing to cower down to the Soviet communists. The Joint Chiefs decided to recommend an air strike against Cuba the day after they received Khrushchev’s letter.” However, Kennedy deferred the air strike and wanted to give diplomacy its time Robert Kennedy, JFK’s brother and Attorney General at the time, suggested that the ExComm ignore Khrushchev’s second letter and simply respond to the first one. Kennedy agreed l4 Maga, The 19605, 73. 15 Maga, The 19605, 73. 16 David A Welch and James G. Blight, “An Introduction to the ExComm Transcripts.” International Security 12, no, 3 (Winter 1987), 5-29. 17 Welch and Blight. “An Introduction to the ExComm.“ 5-29. 18 Welch and Blight, “An Introduction to the ExComm.” 5729. 19 Welch and Blight. “An Introduction to the EXComm,” 5-29. 20 Ambrose and Brinkley, Rise to Globalism. American, 184—185. 21 Ambrose and Brinkley, Rise to Globalism: American, 184-185.
and thus the Americans promised not to attack or invade Cuba in exchange for removal of the missiles.“ Despite the Crisis ending without incident, the United States continued to have tense relations with Cuba, leading to US. foreign policy changing to become more isolating. A factor that fueled these tense relations and the shift in foreign policy would be Fidel Castro, leader of Cuba, undertaking “a bold foreign policy which clashed with Us. efforts to contain communism”?! The containment of communism was a top priority of the United States‘ foreign policy agenda before, during, and immediately after the Crisis. Continuing embargos against Cuba rendered devastating economic damages, and further isolating Cuba helped to fuel tense relations.
In the immediate aftermath, President Kennedy and his Soviet counterpart, Chairman Khrushchev, established the famous red telephone 7 a direct hot-line between the two superpowers to avoid any future misunderstandings and/0r disastersi24 Both nations realized at the end of the day that they need to be “on a new path to prevent nuclear confrontation in the future”,23 After JFK‘s assassination in 1963, Lyndon B. Johnson continued fighting against communism as America’s foreign policy shifted towards the Vietnam War Yet Johnson was a strong president and often did not trust his own advisors and the Joint Chiefs on determining American foreign policy towards Vietnam in the mid to late 1960s.1b Johnson’s distrust of his own men led the United States’ foreign policy to becoming even more involved in Vietnam as a means of containing and isolating communism — a topic on everyone’s mind after the Cuban 22 Ambrose and Brinkley, Rise to GIoba/Ism’American, 1547135. 23 Brown University and Susan Graseck, The Cuban missile crisis: Considering its place in Cold War history, ed. Andy Blackadar, Choices tor the 215i Century Education Project (Providence. RI Brown University, 2008), 32, 24 Brown University and Graseck, The Cuban missile crisis, 32. 25 Brown University and Graseck. The Cuban missile crisis, 32 26 HR McMaster, Dereliction of Duty: Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies That Led to Vietnam (New York, NY; Harper Perennial, 1998), 50
Missile Crisis A famous quote about the bureaucracy of foreign policy at that time was “Where you stand depends on where you sit”.Z7 This quote reigned true to the foreign policy of America after the Cuban Missile Crisisi Johnson assumed much if not all of the power regarding foreign policy moving forward into Vietnam. In the bureaucratic Federal Government, even his own advisors were not listened to by him, which shows that “where you stand” on the issue and your ability to fix it directly depends on “where you sit” in the chain of command, Johnson’s continuation of isolating foreign policy continued for a decade after the Cuban Missile Crisis and into the Nixon era.
In summation, America’s foreign policy after the Cuban Missile Crisis changed as it became more reclusive out of fear and, as a result, became more isolativei Our fear of communism made us xenophobic of communist nations, forcing us to regress back to the state of constant anxiety and suspicion seen during the Red Scares of the 19205 and 19505. This clearly shows that the foreign policy changed for the worse as it became the exact opposite of an ideal state of foreign policy 27 Carmela Lutmar, “The Policy Makers, Shaping American Foreign Policy lrom 19:37 to the Present byAnna Kasten Nelson,” review of The Policy Makers: shaping American Foreign Policy from 1947 to the Present byAnna Kasten Nelson. Political Science Quarterly 124, no. 4 (Winter 2009): 751-53.