Cuban missile crisis

1. What can you learn from this source about President Kennedy’s reaction to the photographs taken by the U-2 spy plane?

This source tells us a good deal about Kennedy’s reaction to the photographs, firstly because of the obvious urgency and importance of the photographs, as Kennedy calls his brother and adviser Robert at the earliest time possible, and requests his personal presence. This in itself demonstrates how important Kennedy believes the matter to be. Kennedy is obviously nervous about the situation, and was feeling extremely vulnerable as the missiles were so close (on Cuba) to the USA – ‘he said that we were facing great trouble.’ This shows how serious he believed the situation to be. He was also convinced that the Soviet Union was behind the missiles, and shows an obvious resentment and paranoia of the Russians. Kennedy is sure that something is going on; ‘he was convinced that Russia was placing missiles and atomic weapons on Cuba.’

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He wants to resolve the situation as soon as possible and wants to start formulating a plan as soon as he can. This is why he calls his adviser so early.

2. Use the sources, and your own knowledge to explain why Kennedy decided to blockade Cuba.

Source B is a map showing the area of the crisis, the range of the missiles, the position of the blockade, and other details.

It highlights a reason why Kennedy blockaded Cuba; the Soviets could hit most major American cities. The USA could have been destroyed in minutes. The Americans panicked; they wanted the missiles removed. Although the Americans did not like the constant threat of nuclear attack, they had no qualms with doing the same to the Russians, who had to face American missiles over the border in Turkey for much longer.

Source C is an extract from Robert Kennedy’s book 13 Days. It explains more reasons for the blockade, including valuable insights as to what went on behind the scenes, because Robert Kennedy was the Presidents adviser as well as his brother.

This source also goes some way to showing the urgency and tension at this time, as it explains the military action prepared; “Missile crews were placed on maximum alert. Troops were moved into Florida.”

It shows even more urgency as it tells us an estimate that 80 million Americans would have perished should the missiles have been launched. It also hits home just how close we were to nuclear war; “The B-52 bomber force was ordered into the air fully loaded with atomic weapons.”

Kennedy decided to blockade Cuba for many reasons, not all apparent in the sources. He knew something must be done to remove the nuclear threat to the USA, but there are both national and personal reasons for what he did.

The nation was worried about the missiles on Cuba and Kennedy did not want to appear weak in the public eye. He needed to make a stand, as he had only been in office 18 months, and had suffered humiliation and embarrassment over the Bay of Pigs fiasco. There were other problems during his early presidency, including the completion of the Berlin Wall, the Russian achievements in the space race and the shooting down over Cuba (by Soviet missiles) of an American U-2 spy plane.

The President did not want more countries to become communist or under Soviet influence, and was very concerned as Cuba had been the US ‘backyard’ for many years, he did not like the thought of communists so close to home. He was also concerned about US economic interests in the area, such as the Panama Canal, a vital link to the Pacific and infuriated that America had lost many different sources of income in Cuba.

Kennedy decided to blockade Cuba to become a good leader in the eyes of his people, and to remove the threat of nuclear weapons in the ‘backyard’. He was under a great deal of pressure from Republican senators for ‘doing nothing about Cuba’ and military hawks in his own government who constantly calling air strikes or a full-scale invasion.

He knew action must be taken, and as no other alternative was advisable (military action would probably have started a US/Russian war) he decided on a better course of action in the form of a blockade and communication with the Russian leader Khrushchev.

3. How useful are these sources in helping you understand why there was conflict between the USA and the USSR over Cuba?

The sources are from different sides in the crisis; they will therefore give out a different perspective. The first is a broadcast made by President Kennedy to his nation on 22 October 1962. He describes the blockade, warns that any missiles from Cuba fired upon any country on his side would be regarded as a Soviet attack on the US and calls upon Khrushchev to halt the “reckless and provocative threat to world peace”. This source cannot be entirely accurate, as it is from one side’s view; the other may be completely different. Kennedy puts the ball in the Russian court regarding attacks, and puts the onus on Khrushchev to stop the situation. He also appears to blame Khrushchev, because if Khrushchev could halt the problem, it must be within his side. He is trying to justify an attack on the USSR, should that happen, as he is putting to the American public a biased speech making out the Soviets as the aggressors.

In doing so he has become a hypocrite- the Americans had missiles in Turkey (bordering with the USSR), Italy and Great Britain aimed at Russian cities, which were set up before the Cuban missiles and remained for longer afterwards.

I think this source is mostly unreliable and irrelevant to the question, it is a one sided view, and only gives information about goings on when the crisis was underway, giving no reasons for events but it does show the nature of the crisis, and highlights how serious it was. It does however explain some reasons for the crisis, primarily Cuban nuclear capability, and this is the general reason behind the crisis, so it does have some value.

The second source is from the memoirs of Gromyko, the Soviet foreign minister at the time of the crisis. This was published in 1989. This is significant, as it is after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Russian President Gorbachev followed a policy of Glasnost (openness) so therefore Gromyko could speak the truth without state intervention. He would not gain anything from lying about the affair, so it is likely that his evidence is correct.

The source is from a conversation between Gromyko and Kennedy, Gromyko points out that the Americans have “conducted an unrestrained anti-Cuban propaganda campaign” and that “this course can lead to serious consequences for the whole of mankind.”

Kennedy comes back with a selfish, imperialistic remark about the present regime in Cuba not suiting the USA, and Gromyko asks the President why the Americans think they should be in control of Cuba for it is a free country.

This source is fairly useful as it shows the political conflict of the two superpowers over Cuba. It gives as an insight into the American stance, a petty, controlling view. President Kennedy wants to be in control of Cuba.

The Soviet perspective on the crisis is simply that Cuba should be free to govern itself, without US intervention.

The source shows why there was conflict as the Cubans wanted to be free from the US, the Soviets supported this, and the US wanted to control Cuba. It gives a sense of importance about it in the words “serious consequences for the whole of mankind.” This makes conflict seem very likely.

Source E is more useful than D in helping my understanding of why there was superpower conflict over Cuba.

4. Do sources D and E support the evidence of source B and C about the causes of the Cuban Missiles Crisis? Explain your answer.

Sources C and D are both from the American perspective as the former is an extract from 13 Days and the latter a broadcast on US radio and television. As these sources are from Robert and John Kennedy they follow similar lines. The Presidents broadcast does support the extract in source C in that the causes behind the crisis were the missiles themselves. Whether or not this is the correct reason for the crisis is irrelevant, as I am asked whether or not one set of sources support another.

Even though D backs up evidence given in C in some aspects, these two sources both contain very different information; the President is more accusing and evidently anti communist while his brother tells things how he interprets them without mention of blame.

Source B, a map showing the area of the crisis, does not give a cause for the events, but shows how close to America Cuba is, and the range of the missiles. This evidence is supported by sources D.

The Presidents broadcast supports this source as it puts the cause of the crisis as a Soviet fault, and the problem being the missiles. B indicates also that the missiles caused the crisis due to their proximity to the USA and their range, which stretches across most of America.

Source E, memoirs of the Soviet foreign minister during the crisis, does not support either of the sources, as the Soviet view was that Cuba deserved freedom from America, they believed this caused the crisis. Robert Kennedy had no way of knowing this and the map does not even hint at it.

5. These sources give two different views about who won in the end. Use the sources and your own knowledge to explain which view you think is more accurate.

These two sources give different perspectives on the consequences of the crisis, as one is from a US historian and the other is from the Soviet leader at the time, Khrushchev.

These sources contrast immensely, the US historian claims “John F Kennedy had won. The Soviet government was backing down.” Khrushchev writes the opposite; “Finally Kennedy gave in. It was a great victory for us.”

Both are convinced that their side came out on top after the crisis.

I believe there is no clear ‘winner’ in this situation, as both sides lost and gained after the crisis. The Americans seemed to gain more than the Soviets, but lost also.

The Soviets lost their missiles on Cuba but got assurance there would be no US invasion of the country, and as part of the agreement the missiles threatening the USSR itself in Turkey and Italy were dismantled a few months later.

The Americans lost their missiles in these countries, and had to put up with communism in their ‘backyard’ but no longer had to worry about a Soviet nuclear attack from Cuba.

On a personal level, Kennedy won and Khrushchev lost, as Kennedy became a saviour in the eyes of his people after resolving the crisis peacefully, while Khrushchev was humiliated after backing down. His own military never forgave him and this was one of the contributing factors to his removal from office two years later.

The same could be said about the national situation too, as the Soviets had backed down, but this was actually a great victory. Had they not done so, it was likely that American nuclear missiles would have destroyed most of the USSR without a chance to retaliate, as the US had a few thousand missiles at this time, while the Soviets had about a dozen.

The Soviets had got what they wanted; Cuba was free from US intervention and the missiles threatening their country were destroyed. This is evidently what Khrushchev feels so victorious about, as he makes clear in the extract from his book.

The US too had got what they wanted; the removal of the nuclear missiles from Cuba. Kennedy had become a great leader, and the US was still regarded as the dominant superpower.

I think both sources are accurate in their information, but neither is accurate about who won, as there is no clear winner in this situation. Both sources show extreme bias in favour of the nationality of the author.

Khrushchev’s source in particular is very pro-soviet. He makes out that his side won without the slightest doubt and that his foreign policy was triumphant. He gives himself and his side a great deal of credit for ‘winning’ the crisis.

This is not the case, Khrushchev himself backed down and his own country lost faith in him.

The Americans also thought they had come out of the missile crisis victorious, this is shown in source F. As the historian points out, after the crisis the US removed all its missiles from Turkey and Italy, and so both sides were equal in the aftermath.

The real winner after the crisis was the world itself. After coming so close to nuclear war, both sides became much more hesitant with regard to nuclear weapons and as a result treaties were signed, such as the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Missiles were removed from Cuba, Italy and Turkey, making the world a much safer place, especially for Americans and Russians. Superpower rivalry diminished after the Cuban confrontation and a hot line was established allowing US and Soviet leaders to communicate easily.

The Cuban Missile Crisis left behind a much safer world.

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