17, October 2012
Avoiding a Nuclear War
A famous quote that truly described the time of the missile crisis was said by Soviet General Anatoly Gribskov: “Nuclear catastrophe was hanging by a thread…and we weren’t counting days or hours, but minutes”("Cuban Missile Crisis Summary"). This was a period during the presidency of John F. Kennedy, and with the world was on their toes trying to get a view on what was to happen. The United States waited anxiously on the edge of a nuclear war, and lived in fear. The United States and Soviet Union, the world's most powerful nations at the time, entered a new type of war, a war with no soldiers and no bullets. This war was known as the Cold War or the "silent war." The period lasted about forty years which started in the mid 1940's and included many problems with the Soviets. A major issue was the space race, where the communist side, The Soviet Union, and the western side, The United States, wanted to obtain better weaponry and technology. The Soviets pulled ahead by launching the first satellite into space. They supported the regime of Fidel Castro and gave Cuba nuclear weapons. That was the reason for the most dangerous and most remembered issue of the war, the Cuban Missile Crisis. When a military operation of the United States on Cuba failed, the relationships between two powerful countries were at verge. Nuclear war was averted by the actions of two men: United States President John F. Kennedy and Soviet Premier Minister Nikita Khrushchev. There were steps and measures that had to be taken in order to avoid a nuclear war with the communist.
Cuban leader Fidel Castro came to power by a revolution and by smashing away all proprietary rules. Castro soon aligned himself with the Soviet Union as he shared and respected their communist beliefs. America did not support changes in Cuba and Kennedy out a trade embargo on all relations with the new government. Also, it was a threat to the United States to have an army ready for a nuclear war, with Cuba being only 100 miles off the coast of Florida. Kennedy and his military advisers wanted the overthrow of the Cuban leader and planned a small invasion with Cuban refugees led by the CIA. This plot was called the Bay of Pigs invasion. The Cubans were able to fight off the forces that the Unites States sent to attack and tensions greatly rose between the two countries. In the book, One Hell of a Gamble, Timothy J. Naftali says that the Soviet Union and Cuba thought they had barely escaped disaster in April of 1962, and tensions were on high alert with the three nations. Castro feared that the United States would attack again and got full support from its ally. The Soviets stated that they would defend their allies, the Cubans if another attack was made. A strong relationship was made amongst the two communist countries and both were ready for war against the United States, if a repeated attack happened. The declassified records display that the U.S. officials were all aware and their deployment of Jupiter Missiles near Soviet borders in Turkey and Italy in 1959 would be deeply resented by Soviet officials (Chang and Kornbluh 173).
The Cuban Missile Crisis occurred over a time frame of thirteen days in October of 1962. The missiles assembled in the Soviet Union and placed in Cuba, had the capability of traveling thousands of miles and hitting major cities within minutes. The people of the United States were in panic during the days of the crisis. Fallout shelters were built in cases that bombs were dropped over major cities and towns. Supermarkets and other stores sold out items as people prepared to live underground or in their basements, in case of an attack. Sirens were built over major cities to warn the people of a nuclear bomb threat. Many safety measures were practiced by the schools and the public. This time period was an extremely scary one as no one knew what was going to happen. People were against and afraid of the communists since they were viewed evil. The precautions that the American people would take were not to be over with until the President declared that there was no more threat and that the missiles were removed from Cuba.
The first step taken into avoiding the war was the discovery of the missiles. On October 15, 1962 A U-2 spy plane secretly photographed nuclear missile sites that were being built on the island of Cuba ("Cuban Missile Crisis"). On October 16 President Kennedy saw the photographs for himself and saw the sites were still not operational, though they soon would be. The pictures had shown medium-range ballistic missiles that were being built. Kennedy now knew that the Soviets were deceiving the Americans for months by giving their neighbor nuclear weapons. The discovery of these missiles was to be kept secret for a couple of days, although the next day another U-2 plane took flight over Cuba. The pictures it returned with was of immediate range nuclear missiles. There missiles could now strike most of the country and Cuba had become more of a threat. The president next, set up many meetings with the National Security Council and the Executive Committee to discuss plans and options to handle the situation ("Cuban Missile Crisis").
After the many meetings the President attended, he was giving six options. Making a choice was the next step to break this crisis. The first choice was to do nothing. The United States had many military bases around the world and nuclear sites near the Soviets. Many felt it was only fair that the Soviets have the same right. The second choice was to negotiate. The United States would offer to remove its missiles in Turkey if the Soviet Union did the same in Cuba. A third option was complete invasion. Kennedy would send troops to overthrow the government, put the missiles out of action, and assure themselves the Soviets would not be able to use Cuba as a military base. A fourth option, considered by many the best, would be to establish a naval blockade. The U.S. Navy would form a blockade on the ocean front of Cuba, to prevent any Soviet ships with weapons to go on the island. The fifth option was to bomb the missile bases. The U.S. Air Force would carry out airstrikes against military targets in Cuba. The final and sixth option was nuclear weapons. The U.S. would use their nuclear capabilities against Cuba, if needed against the Soviet Union, too, regardless starting a war. All the options had to be reviewed carefully and thought of the possible outcomes of each choice (Simkin).
On October 22 Kennedy made the final step by addressing the nation of his decision on handling the crisis (Fursenko and Naftali). He chooses to make a quarantine of Cuba and set a fleet of Navy ships to the outskirts of the island. The president also said that a close surveillance would be kept on the military buildup in Cuba. If Cuba launches a nuclear strike against any nation in the western hemisphere, then it will be considered an attack by the Soviet Union on the United States, requiring a full retaliatory response ("Cuban Missile Crisis: Summary). October 24 proved to be the most intense day of the crisis. It is a fact that on this day military alert was set to DEFCON 2, the highest level in U.S. history. Soviet ships approached the line this day and if they hadn’t stopped, then the U.S. Navy was to use any force to stop them. Within minutes the Soviet fleet got the order to turn around, and President Kennedy along with his team cheered and showed relief. Khrushchev showed that he was not willing to enlarge the crisis by passing the quarantine. Secretary of State Dean Rusk turned to McGeorge Bundy and said, "We've been eyeball to eyeball and the other fellow just blinked" ("Cuban Missile Crisis: Summary")
On another matter the crisis was still not over. On the eleventh day of the crisis, October 25 the U.S. ambassador Adlai Stevenson went to confront the Soviets at the United Nations. Soviet Ambassador Zorin refused to comment on anything that Stevenson said. Afterwards Stevenson showed the photos as proof that the Soviets have their presence in Cuba. Afterwards, Kennedy received a letter from Khrushchev attempting to make a deal, so that both sides may win. The letter was ignored and thing got worse. On October 27 a U-2 spy plane was shot over Cuba and almost another one In the Soviet Union. Military advisors wanted Kennedy to declare war over the Communist countries, but the president choose to wait it out instead. Kennedy later received another letter from Khrushchev demanding another deal. The missiles were to be removed from Cuba if the missiles were removed in Turkey and the Unites States was never to invade Cuba. President Kennedy refused this because he didn’t want to be ridiculed by his nation for giving into Soviet demands. Kennedy wrote back to Khrushchev agreeing to remove the blockade and promising not to invade Cuba in return for the missiles being taken out of Cuba and over watched by trusted United Nations personnel. The president also sent his ambassador to make a secret deal. The United Stated would also remove the missiles in Turkey within months as long as the soviets kept it a secret from the media. On October 28 both sides agreed to the terms and could finally relax in peace ("Cuban Missile Crisis").
Kennedy’s decision of a naval blockade ultimately led to peace between the great powers. He made keen decisions and waited things out well, making him an excellent president during this situation. Both nations lost some in the negotiation but gained a lot as well. The world was on its toes waiting and observing each side’s next move during this exhausting crisis. If the wrong move was made during this crisis, the landscape of this world we know today could have been entirely different. Thanks to the bravery of President Kennedy and Premier Khrushchev, nuclear war was avoided and the world was once again at peace. If a nuclear would have happened, neither side would have won.
Chang, Laurence, and Peter Kornbluh. The Cuban Missile Crisis, 1962: A National Security Archive Documents Reader. New York: New, 1992. Print.
"Cuban Missile Crisis." John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. N,p,. n.d. Web. 17
Fursenko, A. A., and Timothy J. Naftali. One Hell of a Gamble: Khrushchev, Castro, and
Kennedy, 1958-1964. New York: Norton, 1997. Print.
Simkin, John. The Cuban Missile Crisis. Spartacus Educational: n.p., 1988. Print.