Cuban Missile Crisis

.. in case of American attack. Approximately 42,000 Soviet soldiers were ready to launch the nukes within a few hours notice. The Soviet commander in Cuba, General Issa Pliyev, was prepared to use every one of those warheads, should the United States invade Cuba. Neither of the Kennedy brothers had any idea that Cuba was ready to launch nuclear warheads at the first sign of an invasion (Hersh 355).

During the meeting with Gromyko, the members of Excomm were attempting to agree on a plan. Most leaned towards the strategy of a naval blockade. In case the blockade failed to get Khrushchev to remove the missiles, military action could act as a backup plan. A few fears were voiced, however, such as the possibility of Castro executing the Bay of Pigs prisoners, or Soviet air strikes, if the blockade failed (Mills 340). The day after the meeting with Gromyko, President Kennedy went to campaign, and left the Excom members to sort out their feelings and come up with a plan.

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They began to have second thoughts about the blockade, and some even pushed for a military strike. Robert Kennedy opposed the military strike, explaining that this was not a fight for survival, it was a fight to uphold America’s ideals and heritage. Saturday, October 20, Robert called his brother and told him the result. It was the president’s choice; Excom could not reach a decision (Mills 241). JFK soon returned to the White House, and again heard all the plans. United States Ambassador to the United Nations, Adlai Stevenson, proposed giving up a naval base at Guantanamo, or pull the Jupiter missiles from Turkey.

Both suggestions were rejected. There were too many problems with the air strike proposal. The Commander-in-Chief of the United States ordered the blockade to begin (Mills 242). By Sunday, America’s allies knew of the situation, special briefings were given to members of the Organization of American States (OAS), and Congressional leaders were requested to return to Washington. On Monday, President Kennedy addressed the nation.

Two letters were delivered to Khrushchev in Moscow, just thirty minutes before Kennedy’s address. One was a copy of the speech, the other was a letter from JFK himself. He wrote that he assumed that Khrushchev knew better than to drive the world to nuclear chaos in which it was clear no country would win. At 7 PM, October 22, the President spoke to the nation (Mills 242). “Good evening, my fellow citizens. This government, as promised, has maintained the closest surveillance of the Soviet military buildup on the island of Cuba…It shall be the policy of this nation to regard any nuclear missile launched from Cuba against any nation in the Western Hemisphere as an attack by the Soviet Union on the United States, requiring full retaliatory response upon the Soviet Union” (Mills 242-3).

As the President began his speech, the Pentagon moved the military alert to DEFCON 3, the highest military alert short of all-out war (Hersh 355). The largest US force since D-Day was assembled in Georgia and Florida. Over one hundred thousand troops stood ready, bombers of the Strategic Air Command flew the skies, and 180 ships were in the Caribbean (Mills 243). Nuclear weapons were placed on bombers in Spain, Morocco, and England. Their target: the Soviet Union (Hersh 356).

The next day, pilots flew over Cuba and snapped photographs of two operational medium-range ballistic missile sites. Back in Washington, evacuations were commencing. Jackie Kennedy refused to evacuate without her husband. Robert Kennedy would not budge, either (Mills 243). Surveillance planes sighted twenty-five Soviet ships, along with six submarines, headed for Cuba. In a message to Kennedy that night, on October 23, Khrushchev warned that the blockade would be ignored, and the Soviet ships would deliver the missiles.

He said that America’s actions would lead to a nuclear war (Mills 243). The Excom group found out that several Soviet ships were en route to the blockade. If they did not stop, planes and ships from the carrier Essex would be forced to fire. The Russian response might have included ICBM’s from the Soviet Union, or missiles from Cuba. The president was nervous, and so were the Excom members. Then the news came: some of the Russian ships were stopping (Mills 244).

Stevenson asked the Soviet ambassador, Zorin, in a UN Security Council meeting whether he denied the existence of medium and intermediate range missiles in Cuba. Zorin replied that he was not in an American courtroom, to which Stevenson replied, “I am prepared to wait for my answer until hell freezes over..and I am also prepared to present the evidence in this room–now!” (Mills 245) The surveillance photographs taken by the spy planes were brought in(“13” 4C). Stevenson explained that he was trying to preserve peace, not debate (Mills 245). The blockade stopped its first Soviet ship on Friday. Armed parties from two American destroyers boarded the ship and searched.

It was determined that it was carrying only trucks, and was allowed to continue (Mills 245). According to photographs taken that Friday, the MRBMs would be ready soon, and the intermediate-range missiles would be operational by the end of November. The possibility of an air strike was raised again by some Excom members. Unknown to Excom and the world at large, Kennedy and Khrushchev were keeping in touch. Khrushchev insisted that he wanted the US and Russia to have a peaceful rivalry and not begin a war. As long as America promised not to invade Cuba, the missiles would be taken out (Mills 245).

An Excom meeting was called to order, to draft a reply to Khrushchev’s words. However, the Soviet premier sent out a more aggressive message during the meeting: the US was to remove Jupiter missiles in Turkey. The FBI reported that Russian diplomats were destroying papers in New York (Mills 246). Fidel Castro was amazingly ignored throughout this whole crisis. He was certain that the Americans were invading and was frustrated that Pliyev refused to fire at the U-2’s. Castro finally obtained authority to shoot the planes down (Hersh 362).

The U-2 was shot down and the pilot killed. The Pentagon insisted on an air strike, followed by an invasion of Cuba (Mills 246). Robert Kennedy suggested that Excom should treat the second message as if it never existed, and reply to the first. Within an hour, the president’s reply was sent back to the Soviet premier. The Jupiter missiles were left out of the proposal, but it accepted the removal of the missiles under UN supervision. President Kennedy promised not to invade Cuba and stopped the blockade.

On Sunday, October 28, Khrushchev agreed. The crisis was at an end (Mills 246). The missiles were removed and the sites demolished. Khrushchev soon announced that he would concentrate on Russia’s economic problems instead of international military matters. He asked for solutions from the West in solving the Berlin dilemma.

He thought that “in the next war, the survivors will envy the dead” (Mills 246). On Christmas Eve, 1962, over $50 million of baby food and medical supplies were sent, and the Bay of Pigs prisoners were released. In April 1963, Kennedy had the Jupiter missiles removed from Turkey, and four months later, Russia signed the nuclear test ban treaty. A “hot line” teletype link now enabled instant communication between Moscow and Washington, and the US sold extra wheat and flour to the Soviet Union. The tide of the Cold War turned–for a little while (Mills 247). The crisis was the closest the world had ever come to global nuclear war and could possibly be the reason for Khrushchev’s fall in 1964 (“Cuban” 774).

Those thirteen days left the world in awe of the determination and responsibility of the United States and its young president (Hersh 342). John Kennedy summarized his dealings with Khrushchev in just five words: “I cut his balls off” (Hersh 341).