Cuban Missile Crisis has been popularly depicted as John F. Kennedy and indeed America’s “finest hour,” and why this assessment of the confrontation is essentially true. John F. Kennedy stood up to the Russians when they placed nuclear missiles in Russia, and averted what could have turned into nuclear war. While his covert actions against Cuba may have helped bring on the crisis, his management of it helped avert a world catastrophe.
The Cuban Missile Crisis occurred during 13 days in October 1962. An American U-2 spy plane took images of what appeared to be missile sites in Cuba on October 14, aimed at the United States. Kennedy and a group of key advisors formed the EXCONN group to discuss the reaction to the missiles. Some members supported an invasion of Cuba, but eventually they decided that a military blockade of the surrounding ocean would be the best course of action. President Kennedy and Soviet General Secretary Nikita Khrushchev began secret negotiations about removal of the missiles, and at first, Khrushchev refused. Kennedy did not announce the missiles to the public until October 22, when he held a press conference. Khrushchev publicly said that Soviet ships would ignore the blockade and sail on toward Cuba. Sixteen Soviet ships were on their way, but fourteen turned around, while two more attempted to continue and U.S. ships blocked them and challenged them, but did not fire shots. There was also a submarine traveling with the ships, and Kennedy authorized the use of small weapons against the sub, if necessary.
The situation grew tenser as the Soviets continued to refuse to remove the weapons. Finally, on October 27, Kennedy and Khrushchev came to an agreement. The Soviets would dismantle and remove the Cuban missiles, and America would dismantle and remove Jupiter missiles on the border of Turkey and the Soviet Union, which the Soviet Union felt were a threat to their safety. However, Kennedy did not publicly announce the removal of the Turkish missiles. Publicly, Kennedy said that the U.S. had agreed not to invade Cuba in return for removal of the missiles. However, several months later, the U.S. did remove the Jupiters from Turkey, as well. The administration averted the crisis, and the Soviets and Americans did remove their missiles.
Kennedy’s actions most certainly avoided a nuclear war. The Soviets admitted they planned to use the missiles against the U.S., and installed them because they were afraid that Kennedy planned to invade Cuba. Before the crisis, there had been talk in the Kennedy administration of invading Cuba, assassinating Fidel Castro, and other actions against Cuba and its Communist leadership, and there was the failed Bay of Pigs invasion that made Cuba very wary of the U.S. So, in a way, the Kennedy administration helped bring on the missile crisis, but how the administration handled it was much more important.
Kennedy assembled a team of experts, including his brother Robert, and they made key decisions that helped avoid nuclear war. They came up with several options to deal with the attack, including invasion and air attacks, but finally settled on the blockade as the most effective action, mostly because the Soviets would not see it as an openly aggressive act of war. The blockade took place in international waters, and even though one Soviet ship did go through the blockade, it was effective in turning the tide of the crisis and keeping vital materials for the missiles from reaching Cuba. It also helped stall the Soviet advance and give time for negotiations to continue. Kennedy managed to avert a world crisis with diplomacy and good negotiating tactics, and so, the people remember him as a hero for his actions during this time. He did a good job of stopping a bad situation, and it was indeed his “finest hour.”
Nigro, Louis J. “High Noon in the Cold War: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and the Cuban Missile Crisis.” Parameters 35.3 (2005): 154+.
Stern, Sheldon M. The Week the World Stood Still: Inside the Secret Cuban Missile Crisis. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2005.
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