Cuban Missle Crisis Essay, Research Paper
Cuban Missile Crisis
When given the opportunity to write a research paper on any conflict or battle during recent American History, one has a number of options: World War Two, the War in Vietnam, and the Korean conflict to name but a few. However, I have chosen a brief period of two weeks during which the very existence of the United States was seriously threatened.
To most of my generation the Cuban missile crisis is nonexistent. No one tends to look at non-physical actions as ones of any importance. However, if the successes and failures of past generations are not properly looked at we will be blind as to what should be done in the future. The anxiety and emotions felt by 200 million Americans as the U.S. was on the brink of nuclear war has since been forgotten.
The Cuban missile crisis is an important facet of American history for many reasons. When Eisenhower yielded the presidency to Kennedy the gross yield of all U.S. weapons probably equaled about one million times that of the bomb that had obliterated Hiroshima. We must pay close attention to these figures because, in October 1962 the United States was on the brink of a nuclear war with the Soviet Union; we must realize just how close we came to death if it was not for the quick actions of many brave men and women in charge of intelligence.
The blast of an atomic bomb is measured in thousands of tons of TNT, in contrast the blast of a hydrogen bomb, which is measured in millions of tons of TNT. The Hiroshima bomb was ten feet long, weighed almost 5 tons, and required a crew of experts days to load. In contrast, by the time of the missile crisis, bombs twenty times more powerful were three feet long and could be strapped to an ordinary bomber. The public learned how toxic nuclear weapons were when Strontium-90 generated by tests in Nevada showed up in milk in New Jersey.
The Cuban missile crisis began on October 14, 1962 when CIA U2 spy planes took aerial photographs of Cuba and revealed the worst fears of some members of Congress: that the Soviet Union had been stockpiling weapons in Cuba. On October 16, it was revealed that not only had the Soviets been stockpiling weapons, but they were storing forty medium-range-ballistic-missiles (MRBM) in Cuba that, with the help of decommissioned Soviet aircraft could be launched up to 1,100 miles and were therefore within easy reach of the United States.
The threat of a nuclear war with the Soviet Union had placed fear in both Americans and Russians for both sides knew that neither could win a nuclear war. Although the United States might militarily win such a war, losses would be in the tens of millions and it is doubtful that we could survive the nuclear winter that would follow.
Between October 16th and 22nd Kennedy spoke with his National Security Advisors so that he might come to the best decision as to what to do in such a nuclear face-off. One suggestion was that the U.S. should invade Cuba but this was overturned due to the losses and media frenzy that The Bay of Pigs invasion had caused. Another suggestion was that the U.S. should bomb the sites where it was determined that nuclear warheads were located. This decision, too, was overturned as Kennedy felt that if the Soviets were willing to put warheads in Cuba they might retaliate if the United States bombed these warheads and the thousands of technicians in Cuba needed to ensure their smooth operation.
In 1962 although both the Soviet Union and the U.S. had MRBM s neither had the capability to intercept the opponents’, leaving it so that if the U.S.S.R launched a warhead on the U.S. within seconds the U.S. would launch one at the U.S.S.R and within minutes both of our countries would be destroyed.
The Navy was ordered to quarantine (a euphemism to avoid the diplomatic term blockade ) Cuba, turning back all ships carrying offensive weapons there. The President made it clear that any nuclear weapon launched from Cuba would result in a full retaliation by the United States on the Soviet Union.
One can speculate that the Soviet Union placed weapons in Cuba not to attack the U.S. but to give the impression that they could if they wanted to. In doing this, the Soviet s intention was most likely to instill fear into the American populous and government. Expecting the U.S. to take the matter to the U.N., the Kremlin may have placed offensive weapons in Cuba solely to be used as a bargaining chip within the U.N. so that the U.S. would agree to a Berlin and German settlement on Soviet terms. The Kremlin has been historically bad at judging other nations responses to its actions and did not realize that the American government would not consider this a mere threat, but a threat to the American way of life. The Kremlin mistakenly believed that the United States would tolerate its own methods of foreign policy being used upon it.
President Kennedy took the threat imposed by the Kremlin as a genuine threat citing that when Soviet intentions are not known it is better to take any threats at face value. Taking the Soviet threat as genuine, Kennedy himself threatened world-devastation by informing Premier Khrushchev that the United States had every intention of doing whatever is necessary to ensure the American way of life.
In one letter on October 28th, 1962 Khrushchev agreed to withdraw the missiles if the United Sates pledged never to invade Cuba. The containment policy that the U.S. had implemented against the Soviet Union had worked again. The bear was back in its lair.
There are those who believe that the United States should have bombed out the missile sites and the Castro government. The simplicity of such a course is attractive, but the results would have been questionable. The missiles would have been removed but thousands of soviet technicians might have been killed. Because it sometimes reacts instinctively, the Kremlin might have responded with a direct military counterblow.
Khrushchev failed in his mission to negotiate a Russian settlement of the Berlin and German situations. His mistake was in not realizing that the U.S. too could play tough and that Americans would not allow their way of life to be threatened under any circumstances.
On Monday, October 29, 1962 the Soviet missiles were being withdrawn and the Cuban crisis was over. President Kennedy had not flinched under the two greatest pressures of a presidency the threat to national security and the danger of a nuclear war. His mixing of limited, but definite, military action-the quarantine-with the strongest possible diplomatic language-the threat to annihilate the Soviet Union was -masterful. President Kennedy not only prevented a nuclear war but also resolved the situation without a single injury or death.
Bohlen, Charles E., Witness to History, 1929-1969. New York: Norton, 1973.
Collier, Peter and Horowitz, David The Kennedys: An American Dream. New York: Summit Books (Simon & Schuster), 1984.
Detzer, David The Brink: Story of the Cuban Missile Crisis. New York: Crowell, 1979
LaFeber, Walter The American Century. Boston: McGraw-Hill, 1988.
May, Ernest R. and Zelikow, Philip D. eds. The Kennedy Tapes. Cambridge MA:Harvard University Press, 1997.
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