The Days the Earth Held its Breath
By Michael Karlov
The twentieth century was a very dark time for mankind. Humanity had survived through two devastating World Wars, the Great Depression and many other revolutionary events. Moreover, humanity witnessed firsthand what science was able to achieve in the military sphere and how much destruction could possibly follow. After the complete obliteration of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 with the power of state-of-the-art weaponry, a brand new type of threat opened up to the world: the threat of nuclear war and total annihilation of the human race. This threat was not only real, but completely possible. With Soviet-U.S relations at a critical point following disagreements over contested Berlin, there was great fear that a third, even more devastating, world war was around the corner. The threat of nuclear war escalated during those uneasy times with Russia and the U.S arming themselves to the teeth, preparing for full-on open conflict - mutually anticipating an invasion.
One particular point in history had the whole world shaking over its fate. This point was dubbed “The Cuban Missile Crisis”. The Cuban Missile crisis was, arguably, the most significant political event that occurred during the second half of the twentieth century. This paper explores the political situation in the world at the time, the events leading up to the Cuban Missile Crisis, the revelation, US and Soviet actions in the crisis and the immediate and remote aftermath.
Even before the Second World War, the U.S was hostile to Soviet Russia and its communistic ideologies that directly conflicted with western ideas of a free market and capitalism. The United States even orchestrated a series of covert actions against the Bolsheviks during the infamous Revolution of 1917 by funding the Bolshevik enemies - the Whites, and later on interfering with military operations by sending in thousands of troops to Vladivostok and Archangelsk to help the Whites in combat.¹ Later on, even though the U.S had many economic ties with Russia following Vladimir Lenin’s institution of the New Economic Policy (NEP), political relationship was still unstable even thought the U.S. had finally recognized the U.S.S.R. as a sovereign nation in the 1930’s. As Adolf Hitler’s Operation Barbarossa overwhelmed the Soviet Union during mid 1941, The United States provided Russia with huge quantities of weapons, ships, aircraft, rolling stock, strategic materials and other humanitarian supplies through the Lend-Lease Program signed by F.D Roosevelt.²
After the groundbreaking victory in the Second World War, disputes started to arise around influence in Berlin and around ideological differences. The United States feared that the growing power of the Soviet Union might cause a shift in global power, leaving the United States and many democratic countries of Europe vulnerable to its ideological influence. This became a real possibility after the creation of the Eastern Bloc and Russia’s development of the atomic bomb in 1949 which resulted with the United States organizing NATO to “contain communism” from spreading over the whole world.
After the success of the Cuban Revolution of 1959 Fidel Alejandro Castro took power. The United States feared that Castro, a communist, would ally with the Soviet Union. Clearly, having a potential ally to the enemy near the coast was a sizable threat to U.S security so the U.S decided to take action. The U.S. tried using military force to assassinate Fidel Castro in the Bay of Pigs Invasion which, ultimately, was a failure.³ In May of 1960 Cuba openly allied with the Soviet Union. Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev promised to defend Cuba with Soviet arms if any military action was taken by the U.S. following the failed invasion. At this point in the Cold War Russia was secretly losing the arms race. The United States already had “Jupiter” ballistic missiles...