Thirteen Days to Success
October of 1962 could almost be categorized as a short thriller full of fear and suspense entitled The Cuban Missile Crisis. Had this been an actual film, it would have been directed by President John F. Kennedy who would control what was seen on the screen and how intense it would appear. The fear that the audience caught from the movie would show for at least a week after opening night. The decisions and actions that President Kennedy made to avoid the Cuban Missile Crisis showed what type of person he is and led to the world being a nuclear free place. Kennedy expressed great leadership when he ordered the blockade to prevent nuclear missiles being launched on the US.
In late October, Kennedy made a defensive decision to establish a naval blockade of Cuba. A naval blockade, otherwise known as a defensive quarantine, is a period of time where the American ships blocked the sea between Cuba and Florida. Additionally, the government ordered preparations for an all-out military action. The plan was a massive airstrike, an invasion of Cuba, and other actions that were needed to be taken. This was supported by NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization), the OAS (Organization of American States), the United Nations, and the Rio Treaty all by October 20th (Gopalan). Part of the decision was also to discuss the situation with Cuba, which Kennedy did in his letter exchanges with Leader Nikita Khrushchev from October 23rd to 28th. In these letters Khrushchev proposed a compromise that would dismantle their missiles in Cuba if the United States agreed not to invade Cuba and dismantle their missiles in Turkey. Kennedy ignored the letter about Turkey but agreed to not send proxies into Cuba ensuring peace and trust between the two countries. Later, Kennedy was forced to dismantle the weapons in Turkey in fear of losing the newly found trust with Russia (157-171 Kennedy).
Kennedy’s decision had direct effects on all parts of the world. It made the US appear resilient for standing strong in a tense situation and resolving to the positive conclusion that they wanted. Americans could now live in less fear of the USSR and what they were capable of. Cuba too looked strong in showing defiance against America as Castro kept the trade shut by not allowing exports and imports with America (Kennedy Announces Blockade). The Soviet Union, on the other hand, came off as weak to the other countries, especially to communist Chairman Mao of China. Once members realized this, they brought it to a vote to replace Khrushchev with Brezhnev for making Russia look bad. And the USSR eventually was successful in removing the US’s missiles in Turkey. As for the rest of the world, there was evident relief among all nations. However, France did leave NATO, and Iran denied entrance in fear of being involved in another world war (Suddath).
With the direct effects, there were also some indirect effects that came shortly after. The US government set up The Hotline, a telephone connection between the White House and the Kremlin in case another crisis arose. In 1963, the Limited Test Ban Treaty was signed by the governments of the USSR, the United Kingdom, and the United States to ban the testing of nuclear weapons in the atmosphere, outerspace, and under water due to its dangerous lasting effects. Another was the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty that stated that no country held the power to supply another country with nuclear materials. However, the Soviet Union wanted to have nuclear capabillity equal to the United States and reached their goal later in1972 (Sudddath).
The Cuban Missile Crisis was the event that truly tested Kennedy’s limits and proved that he could calmly handle anything thrown at him. When Kennedy was told that Russia inhibited ICM’s (InterContinental Ballistic Missiles) in Cuba, he did not panic; instead he calmly organized a meeting with Soviet Foreign. Kennedy played it smart; not telling the public what was in the midst of happening until a proper resolution was drawn (Cummings). He kept it in check how Americans felt about the USSR and communism. The way he presented his speech kept the Americans in control and so that they wouldn’t develop much stress on the subject if Kennedy were to only announce what was happening without a resolve (Kennedy 149-156). Kennedy’s humanity could not be stressed enough; he never lost sight of it. In his inaugural speech he said, ‘Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to insure the survival and the success of liberty’ (Kennedy, Inaugural Speech). This is also present in his Address to the people on the crisis, ‘We are not at this time, however, denying the necessities of life as the Soviets attempted to do in their Berlin blockade of 1948’ (154 Kennedy). And then again in his biography 13 Days, ‘The final lesson… is the importance of placing ourselves in other country’s shoes…’ This showed how concerned Kennedy was about the world and how they would be affected by his and America’s actions. It also showed how he had learned from his mistake of not taking in others beliefs when it came to the Bay of Pigs failure.
However, some researchers disprove of how Kennedy handled the Cuban Missile Crisis. People say that his attempt to overthrow Fidel Castro during the Bay of Pigs invasion was poor and that it estranged Cuba. When Kennedy came to office, he was informed of the plan to invade Cuba. Shortly thereafter the secret mission was leaked to the press; Kennedy made the plan seem less extravagant fear of what the American citizens would think. This was where some thought that he went wrong. Without the belief that this was a big plan, the government would lose support on this idea and the invasion would be poorly executed, like it was. Even then Kennedy still cut the amount of planes, further weakening the invasion until it failed. After the event at the Bay of Pigs, it is thought that the Cuban government felt alienated enough to develop nuclear weapons. Thus Kennedy was the cause of the Cuban missile crisis (Failure at Bay of Pigs). Even a supporter of Kennedy, Graham Allison, wrote in his book The Essence of Decision that Kennedy took numerous severe actions that increased the likelihood of war (Allison).
Even though there are people who believe that Kennedy’s actions were destructive, his actions proved him to be more heroic. If Kennedy hadn’t of made the mistake in his orders during the Bay of Pigs Invasion, the Cuban Missile Crisis would probably still occur. The reality is that Russia still would have nuclear weapons and the US would still try to overthrow Castro, resulting in the same scare. In order to prevent this, the idea of communism would have to be negligible. Then Americans wouldn’t be paralyzed out of fear of communism spreading. The Containment Policy wouldn’t be in affect and the Cold War would have been prevented. This would be the only way to prevent this crisis from occurring. Kennedy had also learned from his mistake at the Bay of Pigs Invasion, by taking a longer amount of time and by keeping others thoughts in mind when he made his decision. This helped him keep a better grip on the military with the help of the CIA so that there wasn’t a repeat of July.
Others who believe that this crisis showed that Kennedy was a bad leader were because they believe that he overreacted. It is thought that he dramatized the matter at hand, bringing the world closer to a nuclear war, to gain support for the mid-term election just months later. People say that Kennedy thought that he could gain domestic support by taking a bold stand against the Soviets. He used the fear that the USSR had on Americans to make the situation seem direr than it actually was. If Kennedy could put a stop on the Soviets than the spread of communism, which was the Americans ultimate fear at the time of the Cold War, then he would come off as a heroic president (Kennedy & Cuba).
These people overlooked that the Cuban Missile Crisis was a bigger situation then they believed it to be. The missiles in Cuba were located 90 miles from Florida and could very much be a target. Many researchers have completed searches on the effect of a nuclear war and the outcome it would have. A group of researchers in Colorado recently looked at a plausible effect of 100 small nuclear warheads. Had the missiles been fired, we would have experienced worldwide famine, a deadly frost, a 50 percent loss in our ozone layer, and soil would lose its fertility for at least 20 years. Shortly after the attack, deadly black carbon would inhibit area and rise into the atmosphere, promising a spell of black carbon rain for years to come (O’Callaghan). If the USSR were to launch their missiles, then their people would even have to suffer the consequences and millions of deaths.
The Cuban Missile Crisis was an experience that showed a lot about former President Kennedy in 1962. With his decision to form a blockade on Cuba, Kennedy showed great leadership and sense of humanity with the way that he handled the situation and how he thought of the impact it would have on others. It also led to the prevention of most nuclear practice and ceased the fear of a nuclear world war.