Overview of President Kennedy, The Cold War, and Cuba
1950’s tensions The 1950’s were a time of tension between the U.S and the USSR. In 1956, the soviets brutally crushed an uprising in Hungary, the US did not intervene for fear of starting World War III. The following year, the USSR tested their first intercontinental missile capable of reaching U.S. soil Premier Nikita Khrushchev took control of the Soviet Union in 1953, he was a strong-willed and hot tempered leader
The Issue of Cuba When President John F. Kennedy took office in 1961 he made it clear that he would not back down before the Soviet threat. He vowed to continue to lead the fight to contain communism In 1959, Fidel Castro led an uprising which overthrew the leader of Cuba and began creating a communist state In his first week in office Kennedy learned of the CIA’s plan to incite Cuban exiles to overthrow Fidel Castro. The so-called Bay of Pigs operation was a disaster. The exiles did not have sufficient military training and poor equipment. The exiles were caught and defeated within 72 hours.
Embarrassed by the Bay of Pigs failure, Kennedy approved another plan, Operation Mongoose, to use the CIA to disrupt the Cuban economy and possibly assassinate Castro. The Soviets and the Cubans responded by planning a secret military buildup on the island.
Critical Thinking Question A: What are the options to respond to the Soviet plan to bring missiles to Cuba?
Situation A: How the U.S. responded The placement of missiles in Cuba posed a serious threat. The range of the missiles would be 1,000-2,200 miles; Cuba is only 100 miles off of the coast of Florida. The Soviets could pack the island with missiles that could strike at the U.S. with only a few minutes warning. Kennedy and his advisors were also concerned that the president would appear weak to the Soviets and thus encourage them to continue spreading communism around the world. His advisors considered a number of responses from negotiation to invasion. U-2 spy planes flew continuous missions to provide hour by hour intelligence.
Critical-Thinking Question B: You are a member of the Executive Committee, known as ExCom, a group of Kennedy’s closes advisors gathered to help him work through the crisis. The President has asked you to asses these five possible responses. How would you prioritize them? What are the positive and negative aspects of each? Ignore the Missiles Initiate a naval blockade of Cuba to prevent Soviet ships from bringing further supplies Invade Cuba Bomb the missile sites Send a diplomat to discuss the matter with Khrushchev
Situation B: How the U.S. responded Initially, most in ExCom encouraged the president to use airstrikes to take out the missiles. However, President Kennedy decided airstrikes were too big of a risk due to the fact that they could not be sure they could take out all of the missile sites and they were uncertain as to how the Soviets might respond to America striking first. He decided to take a tough posture toward the Soviets by initiating a naval blockade of Cuba. He called it a “quarantine” to make the action sound less threatening.
Critical Thinking Question C: You are a member of ExCom. Keeping in mind his goals for the crisis as outlined in Top Secret Briefing C, Offer a recommendation for what the president should do in each of the following situations 1.The Soviets fire on American naval vessels enforcing the blockade? 2.The Soviets attempt to break the blockade 3.The Soviets wait it out for weeks or months until the crisis subsides? 4.Cuban commanders launch on of the missiles already in Cuba toward the United States
Situation C: What actually happened During the blockade, the nation panicked, certain that a nuclear war was about to ensue. The US. Military was on full alert and bombers loaded with nuclear weapons were in the air at all times. In the end, the Soviets honored the blockade. On October 24, 20 soviet ships stopped just outside the American blockade and 12 turned around. Still the question of the missiles already in Cuba remained. Finally on October 26, Khrushchev informed Kennedy that the Soviets were willing to withdraw its missiles if the U.S. would end its blockade, promise never to invade Cuba again, and withdraw its own missiles from Turkey. Kennedy publicly agreed to the first two, and secretly removed American missiles from Turkey. The crisis finally ended on October 28.