The world will never be the same since October of 1962. It is now known as the Cuban Missile Crisis. The U.S.
learned that the Soviets were building nuclear missile bases on Cuba because the Soviets wanted to close the missile
gap. Even though the Soviet Union promised they would not attempt to place nuclear weapons in Cuba, they put
them there anyway in hopes that the U.S. would not find out until it was too late to do anything about it. The ploy
almost worked. The nuclear bases were very near completion when a U.S. U-2 spy plane discovered the bases. The
world held its breath as these events unfolded before their eyes; If any decision had have been different, it might
have led to WW III. That is not a very comforting thought, knowing that we were so close to a nuclear holocaust.
Many believe Kennedy made the right decision, I !
stand with that group; Others believe we should have conducted surgical strikes against the bases to show we would
not tolerate a threat that close to our own shores. Kennedy was probably cautious about strikes because of the Bay of
Pigs invasion which had failed so miserably just a year before. The Bay of Pigs invasion was an attempt by the U.S.
to remove Castro from office. We armed and trained about 2000 Cuban exiles for this job. The hope was that a
general uprising would begin, and Castro would be removed from office by his own people and not by any United
States personnel. What cost the success of the mission was that the U.S. neglected to provide air cover for the
troops. Of the 2000 troops, 300 were killed and the rest were taken prisoner. Evidently, Kennedy did not want
another Bay of Pigs, so he elected to try a naval!
blockade. He must have made the right choice, because we are still here today.
An advantage that the U.S.S.R. had if we had not found the missile bases in time, would have been the first strike
capability. This does not necessarily mean the ability to strike first, needless to say, any country can do that; It
means the ability to strike first and disarm the opponent at the same time. If the U.S.S.R. had active nuclear missile
bases in Cuba, many Americans feared that the Soviets could make an attempt take out our air
bases without our even realizing it until it was too late. In being so close to the U.S. coast, they could conduct strikes
against our B-52 bases virtually undetected by our radar. This would eliminate our ability to strike back at them.
Even when we realized they were attacking it would be to late to do anything. With our ability to counter attack
gone, the Soviets could dictate whatever policy it wanted to the U.S., and we would have no choice but to accept
their terms. If we did not, we would suffer the consequences (Smoke 36). Those consequences could be very harsh
and detrimental to our society.
A country that has first strike capability knows that it can start a war any time it chooses. On the
other hand, a country that knows that they are not capable of first strike, will not be as willing to start a war. This
was the problem we had encountered in Cuba. We believed that the placing of Soviet missiles inside of Cuba’s
borders would give them this first strike ability. In our eyes, that seriously endangered our national security. So we
decided that we must either eliminate the threat, or have them withdraw all nuclear materials from their bases in
Richard Smoke, the author of Nuclear Arms Control: Understanding the Arms Race, sees the Soviets as a people
who tried every option possible to get every advantage that they could. Khrushchev believed that putting nuclear
missiles in Cuba was the most expedient way to close the
missile gap with the United States. In Smoke’s opinion, they were willing to risk WW III in order to obtain first
strike capability. As he says, the plan
almost worked, but a U.S. U2 spy plane discovered the secret bases on Cuba just before they were finished (44). He
states that Kennedy’s first choice of action was to let the Air Force use conventional weapons to destroy the bases.
Kennedy quickly and wisely, in Smoke’s opinion and my own, decided to use this option as an absolute last resort.
Kennedy’s first choice of action was a public declaration that the Soviets must remove the missiles from Cuba.
When that plan failed to deter the soviets, he used an alternative plan, which was a naval blockade that prevented
any Soviet ships from entering Cuban waters. In Richard Smoke’s opinion, he made a wise
decision in choosing the blockade. He supports Kennedy in every course of action that he took in the Cuban Missile
The International Relations book does not
state its opinion on Kennedy’s actions during the Cuban Missile Crisis because it is not allowed to be biased in any
way. However, it does say that his choice was good because the Soviets then had a way out without humiliating
themselves. Even though the U.S.S.R. had an easy way out, it still hurt Khrushchev in his political life on the home
front. He was voted out of office two years later for schemes just like this one (Roskin, Berry 93).
It was later learned that there were already nuclear warheads in Cuba. Just exactly when they arrived in Cuba is
undetermined, but the outcome
could have been far worse than it was. I believe that even though the International Relations book does not come out
and support Kennedy’s decisions; I think it hints that he chose the best option.
Dion Brugioni, author of Eyeball to Eyeball:
The Inside Story of the Cuban Missile Crisis, believes Kennedy made a wise decision in that he realized he needed
counseling in a matter in which he had little experience. Bruginoi feels Kennedy did the right thing in keeping
Eisenhower informed at all times. Eisenhower believed that if the U.S. acquired an accurate assessment of Soviet
capabilities, it would save the taxpayers billions of dollars (Brugioni 1). Therefore Kennedy launched the U-2 spy
plane that discovered the nuclear bases.
Brugioni believes Kennedy made all the right decisions, but all the reasons he made those decisions were purely
political. He states that yielding to the Soviets would seriously undermine
United States’ credibility. Also, yielding to the
Soviets would have been political suicide because it would have been unacceptable to a large number of
American voters (1).
I believe, along with all the authors mentioned above, that Kennedy did the right thing. I have found no authors of
text that disagree with Kennedy’s decision, and I do not believe that there are very many if any. Since there were
already missiles in Cuba, a strategic attack on Cuba could have been extremely harmful to our nation’s health. If any
one thing had been handled differently, it might
have resulted in a nuclear war from which the world might never have survived. I believe strongly that if there were
any mistakes made in the way we handled things, there were a very few. Their may be
some mistakes Kennedy made during this time of crisis, but they are kept very well hidden from all of us.
Brugioni, Dino A. Eyeball to Eyeball: The
Inside story of the Cuban Missile
Crisis. New York: Random House, 1991.
Roskin, Michael, and Nicholas Berry. The New
World of International Relations. New
Jersey: Prentice Hall. 1996.
Roskin, Michael and Nicholas Berry. An Introduction to International Relations. New Jersey: Prentice Hall. 1993.
Smoke, Richard. Nuclear Arms Control:
Understanding the Arms Race. New York:
Walker and Company, 1988.