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Background Information on the Cuban Missile Crisis

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Background Information on the Cuban Missile Crisis
Background Information on the
Cuban Missile Crisis
In late September 1962, U.S. spy planes flying
over Cuba discovered the presence of Sovietmade medium-range nuclear missiles on the
island. The result, played out through the month
of October, was the most serious foreign policy
crisis of the Kennedy White House-indeed,
probably the most serious foreign policy crisis in
the history of the Cold War. Cuba was a mere
ninety miles from the coast of Florida, and
missiles fired from there could easily strike
targets in the United States as far north as
Cincinnati, and as far west as San Antonio-and
with minimal warning time. Perhaps even more importantly, Kennedy felt that American prestige
(as well as his own) was on the line; as recently as September 4 the president had given a speech
in which he warned the Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev, against placing any such weapons in
Cuba. That Khrushchev had done so in spite of this warning seemed to demand a response.
While most Americans remained blissfully unaware of the situation, the CIA formally presented its
findings to President Kennedy and his "ExComm" (short for "Executive Committee," made up of
several cabinet members and other major advisers) on October 16. The group considered a range
of options for responding to the challenge, from opening face-to-face negotiations with the Soviets
to launching an all-out invasion of Cuba. In the end they settled on a blockade of the Cuban coastalthough for purposes of international law it was referred to as a "quarantine" rather than a
blockade. Until the missile sites had been dismantled U.S. warships would stop and search all ships
approaching the island for equipment related to the missiles. Those that were found to be carrying
such equipment would be turned back.
Kennedy announced his decision to the American people in a radio broadcast on October 22, and
U.S. warships immediately began stopping Soviet vessels bound for Cuban shores. For the next
several days it seemed that the world hovered on the brink of a nuclear war, while feverish
negotiations continued between Kennedy and Khrushchev. Finally, on October 27 a deal was
struck—the Soviets agreed to remove their missiles from Cuba in return for promises from the
United States not to invade Cuba, and to pressure NATO into withdrawing its medium-range
missiles from Turkey. On November 20, convinced that the last missile sites had been dismantled,
Kennedy ordered an end to the "quarantine."
The crisis had several long-range effects. Fidel Castro, the
pro-Soviet president of Cuba, felt betrayed by the Soviet
leadership, since he had not been consulted at all on the
settlement. More importantly, leaders in both the United
States and the Soviet Union seemed genuinely rattled at
how close they had come to nuclear conflict. In the months
ahead they agreed to the installation of a telephone
"hotline" connecting the White House and the Kremlin and
allowing for instantaneous negotiation between the two. In
addition, the two sides began the first steps toward limiting
the nuclear arms race, working toward a treaty—eventually
signed in August 1963—banning the above-ground testing
of nuclear weapons.
US & Global 4
13 Days Analysis
Mr. Halterman
Name:
1. How was the President informed of the possibility of missiles in Cuba?
2. What are the estimates of the capabilities of the missiles? What is the tone of the cabinet discussion
about what action to take? What options are presented? What is Kennedy’s position on the matter?
3. What is the connection between Cuba and Berlin?
4. What are the three options presented at the EXCOMM meeting?
5. What is the position of General LeMay and the military?
6. What course of action does the cabinet choose?
7. What does the President say in his television address? How does it reflect a policy position? How
might saying this create international tension?
8. The National Security Archive Web site contains the following statement:
“If the Cuban Missile Crisis was the most dangerous passage of the Cold War, the most dangerous
moment of the Cuban Missile Crisis was the evening of Saturday, 27 October 1962, when the resolution
of the crisis - war or peace - appeared to hang in the balance.” How effectively is this portrayed in the
movie?
Lesson format/ strategies:
1. Opening issue. Read the following quotation to the class (or put on overhead transparency)
and discuss what they think it means. Follow with the question, “Is the quotation still valid
today?”
“Nuclear powers must avert those confrontations which bring an
adversary to a choice of either a humiliating retreat or a nuclear war. To
adopt that kind of course in the nuclear age would be evidence only of the
bankruptcy of our policy—or of a collective death wish for the world.”
–John F. Kennedy, Speech at American University, 1963
2. Using the DVD: 13 Days
A. First 2 minutes shows nuclear weapons being launched and exploded
B. Select 3:10:54 and play to 3:12:02, go to 4:13:24 and play to 5:17:30
(President is informed of the missiles, and cabinet meeting)
C. Select 7:20:17 and play to 7:31:30 (LeMay meeting)
D. Select 10:39:10 and play to 10:41:22
E. Select 14:50:52 and play to 15:52:36
F. Select 25:1:46 and play to end 30:2:18:50
Culminating Activity:
Have students write a paragraph in which they complete the following statement:
“The most significant result of the Cuban Missile crisis was…”
Additional/ wrap-up:
1. Students could research the event at the official National Security Archive:
http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/nsa/cuba_mis_cri/
In particular, students can compare the movie version with the analysis by Philip
Brenner, “Turning History on its Head”:
http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/nsa/cuba_mis_cri/brenner.htm .
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