Topic of Study [For H2 and H1 History Students]:
Paper 1: Understanding the Cold War (1945-1991)
Section A: Source-based Case Study
Theme I Chapter 2: A World Divided by the Cold War – Manifestations of the global Cold War: Cuban Missile Crisis (1962)
Historical Context: A crisis in the making
Before the historic address made by the American President John F. Kennedy, the United States government had discovered the construction of medium-range missile bases in Cuba on 14 October 1962. Alarmed by the prospect of an imminent security threat, Kennedy called for an emergency meeting with his advisors (later known as the Executive Committee, ExComm in short).
During the meeting, there were four proposed courses of action:
- Actual invasion of Cuba
- An air strike to destroy the Soviet missile sites in Cuba
- A naval quarantine to block the delivery of Soviet missiles to Cuba
- Diplomatic pressure
Hawkish advisors like Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara had proposed an attack on the Soviet Union should Cuba initiated any form of aggression against the USA, but opponents within the Committee feared the outbreak of war. In particular, National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy was strongly against American attempts to undermine Cuban security.
Bundy nevertheless reminded his colleagues that an attack on Cuba could quickly escalate to an all-out war: “The political advantages are very strong, it seems to me, of the small strike. It corresponds to ‘the punishment fits the crime in political terms. We are doing only what we warned repeatedly and publicly we would have to do. You know, we are not generalizing the attack.” “One thing that I would still cling to,” Bundy avowed, “is that he’s [Khrushchev] not likely likely to give Fidel Castro nuclear warheads. I don’t believe that has happened or is likely to happen.”An excerpt from “The Cuban Missile Crisis in American Memory: Myths versus Reality” by Sheldon M. Stern.
Eventually, Kennedy had opted for the use of a naval quarantine. The ExComm had agreed that the US government should demand all missile sites and bases to be dismantled in Cuba.
The Speech: Prelude to the October Crisis
On 22 October 1962, Kennedy made a televised address to the American citizens that the government had identified Soviet missile bases in Cuba. In response, the American President had announced seven steps to be taken so that the possible conflict can be averted.
One of such steps include the imposition of a naval quarantine to prevent the delivery of cargoes containing ‘offensive weapons’. Notably, Kennedy called upon his Soviet counterpart Nikita Khrushchev to de-escalate tensions and restore world peace. He stressed clearly that any act of aggression against nations in the Western Hemisphere would be deemed as an attack by the Soviet Union on the United States, thus justifying retaliation.
This Government, as promised, has maintained the closest surveillance of the Soviet military buildup on the island of Cuba. Within the past week, unmistakable evidence has established the fact that a series of offensive missile sites is now in preparation on that imprisoned island. The purpose of these bases can be none other than to provide a nuclear strike capability against the Western Hemisphere.
[…] I call upon Chairman Khrushchev to halt and eliminate this clandestine, reckless, and provocative threat to world peace and to stable relations between our two nations. I call upon him further to abandon this course of world domination, and to join in an historic effort to end the perilous arms race and to transform the history of man.An excerpt from US President John F. Kennedy’s speech Announcing the Quarantine Against Cuba, 22 October 1962.
What can we learn from this article?
Consider the following question:
– Assess the view that the Soviet Union was responsible for the outbreak of the Cuban Missile Crisis.
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