President JFK and the Cuban Missile Crisis
June 12, 2010
The Cuban Missile Crisis forever marked 1962 as the year the world almost witnessed a nuclear war. The Soviet Union, Cuba, and the United States were all teetering on the edge of a cliff that was crumbling from the weight of fear, tension, and secrecy. It also marked the official end of Americans innocent belief that they were safe in the glow of Lady Liberty’s torch. Yet amidst the dark shadow of nuclear threat one American president rose to this challenge and proved that peace through strength is the best strategy. In 1962 the Soviet Premier was Nikita Kruschchev. During this time the Soviet Union was unable to keep up with the U.S. in the arms race which resulted in only having missiles capable of reaching Europe. On the other hand the U.S. could easily reach Soviet soil with the push of a button. Khrushchev feared that the U.S. would make the first move by striking from Turkey which was only 150 miles away. “In late April 1962, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev conceived the idea of placing intermediate-range missiles in Cuba. A deployment in Cuba would double the Soviet strategic arsenal and provide a real deterrent to a potential U.S. attack against the Soviet Union.” (Think Quest, 1997) This was a plan that would be enthusiastically accepted by Cuba’s Fidel Castro. Castro was still stinging from the failed Bay of Pigs attack. He was also more than a little nervous that there would be an inevitable second attack coming his way which led to his decision to allow the Soviets to build their missile installments in his country. Castro was nervous due to a strategic plan put in place by the U.S. “The Kennedy administration seemed to settle on a policy of harassment and diplomatic isolation in order to contain Castro and keep him off balance. The harassment included running operations back and forth between Cuba and Florida, destroying factories, and staging hit-and-run attacks against the Cuban coast. Operations such as deploying American forces in the region, buzzing Cuban airfields, flying high altitude reconnaissance missions over the island, and staging military exercises such as PHIBRIGLEX-62, in which United States Marines invaded the fictitious Republic of Vieques to overthrow its imaginary dictator "Ortsac" – or "Castro" spelled backwards - served to ensure Castro remained off-balance.” (Lynch, 1995)
When U.S. intelligence learned of the missile installments in Cuba the thirteen day standoff, which had Kruschchev and Kennedy facing down one another much like characters in an old western at high noon on a dirt street with panicked townspeople, i.e. the American people, peeking through pulled curtains, began. These thirteen days were filled with American school-children forced to practice bomb scare drills while at school only to return home and find their parents glued to the television while discussing whether they could afford to build a bomb shelter in their backyard. In a personal interview, Laurie Mowery recalls her parents “stocking up on canned food supplies” and “praying for the safety of her and her siblings every morning before they set off for school” (Mowery, 2010). Mowery also recalls the, “quiet fear” that her parents tried to disguise but “was present from the time they awoke to the time they went to sleep” (Mowery, 2010). Even America’s children who lived through those thirteen days can still feel the loss of blissful security.
America did have an ace up her sleeve though and his name was Kennedy. While not innocent in helping to create at least some pieces of this Missile Crisis puzzle, he stood in front of America like a parent protecting his children. He used measured calm in his dealings with Kruschchev as well as the American people. In his October 22, 1962 televised speech he laid out his seven step plan of action. He ordered that all ships thought...