Cuban Missile Crisis The Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 was the closest the world ever came to full-scale nuclear war. When the Soviet Union placed offensive nuclear missiles in Cuba, President Kennedy interpreted the act as one of hostility that would not be tolerated. However, the situation was blown way out or proportion by the president, American media, and ultimately the citizens of the United States. The Soviet Premier, Nikita Khrushchev, was reacting to the Bay of Pigs Invasion of Cuba, US Missile installations along the Turkey/Soviet border, and the clear anti-Communist policy of the United States. Khrushchev was born in Kalinovka in southwestern Russia. He was raised in a poor family whose income depended solely on the coal mining job of his father.
In 1918 he joined the Bolsheviks and attended a Communist school the following year. He moved to Moscow in 1929 and began working for the Communist government. He gained much praise and advanced quickly. By 1939, he was a member of the Politburo. He became Secretary of the of the Central Committee in 1951.
After Stalin died in 1953, the USSR went through two more premiers before Khrushchev came to power in 1958. As Premier, Khrushchev publicly condemned the terror filled reign of Stalin. Stalin continually pushed for domination. Several Eastern European countries united with the USSR under Stalins reign and millions of innocent people were slain. Stalin also restricted Soviet citizens personal liberties to previously unheard of measures.
Khrushchev was a completely different ruler. He acridly criticized Stalins crimes against humanity and began a rapid process known as destalinization. This entailed destroying statues, pictures, or images of Stalin and renaming most things previously named for Stalin. Khrushchev also restored many of the personal liberties that Stalin had taken away. He let political prisoners free, restored much freedom of thought, and restored freedom of the press. He increased production in factories and placed a strong emphasis on the Soviet space program.
Although he had little pity for small, weak Europe and Asian countries, he worked to avoid war with Western nations. He even called for a “peaceful coexistence” with the United States. Khrushchev, despite being communist, was concerned for the welfare of his country and did not want war with the United States. Despite his desire to avoid conflict with the western world, Khrushchev was faced with an aggressive United States government, and had to act accordingly. The Bay of Pigs invasion was a prime example.
This overt military action took place when the CIA funded a paramilitary force of rebel Cubans to invade Cuba and overthrow Castro. Kennedy refused to give the invasion strong American military force so it ultimately failed, thus becoming a great embarrassment to the United States. Not only was it an incredible failure and embarrassment, but it was also a US sponsored military offensive against Cuba, a communist country and Soviet ally. It was a challenge to the governments of both the Soviet Union and Cuba. In addition to the attack on Cuba, Khrushchev was also faced with US missile installations in Turkey and Italy that posed a serious threat to the Soviet Union.
The installations in Turkey were less than 150 miles from the Soviet border. The installations here were MRBMs, Medium-Range Ballistic Missiles, and were nearly identical to the missiles Khrushchev had installed in Cuba. He was merely trying to prevent the US from gaining the upper hand in a power struggle, which could have meant serious disaster for the Soviets. Khrushchev, just like Kennedy and the rest of the United States, didnt want the enemy to gain a nuclear advantage. He was trying to protect his country and prevent nuclear disaster.
The hysteria created in the United States as a result of the Soviet installations was immense. The US media was calling Khrushchevs actions aggressive and people began to panic. Kennedy and his advisors were debating whether or not to invade Cuba to destroy the missiles (which would have meant war), or to negotiate with Khrushchev. The situation was turned into a crisis. Khrushchev sent his first of two letters to Kennedy on October 24, 1962 in which he explained his reasons for installing the missiles. He said that the action was not aggressive, and that they would remove them immediately if the US missiles in Turkey were dismantled and Kennedy publicly promised not to invade Cuba. The fact that Khrushchev wanted the Turkey missiles dismantled was hidden from the American public for several years, making Khrushchev look much more militant than he truly was.
Kennedy still debated with his brother, Robert, and Vice President Johnson for a few days. They decided not to heed to the Soviet demands and waited instead. In the meantime a U-2 plane was shot down over Cuba as it was surveying the missiles, suggesting that Khrushchev might be aggressive. However, planes were continually flying over Cuba, posing a threat to the Cubans and Soviets. Kennedy decided not to retaliate but voiced that if another plane was shot down, we would invade Cuba.
Khrushchev wrote another letter on October 26 reiterating that they would quickly dismantle the Cuban Missiles if the US would publicly promise not to invade Cuba and if they would dismantle their missiles in Turkey. Again, Kennedy delayed and did not respond to Khrushchev. Kennedy merely said that the US blockade would be lifted if the missiles were taken out. On October 28, Khrushchev agreed and ordered the missiles to be removed. The Cuban Missile Crisis was over. What happened here is easily understood in retrospect.
The US had outlined a clear Anti-Communism policy through the Korean War, Bay of Pigs invasion, and missile installations in Europe. Khrushchev didnt want to jeopardize the safety of his country so decided to install missiles in Cuba to protect the Cubans and the USSR The US media along with the government, did not inform the public of the installations in Turkey or Khrushchevs offer to remove the missiles if the US missiles were also removed. This created intense public opposition to the Soviet leader as he was made out to be much more militant than he actually was. He was simply fighting fire with fire, but the government and media prevented the public from having the truth. It looks almost like a blatant attempt to manipulate the American public by over-dramatizing a situation for which US government was predominately responsible. Kennedy threatened invasion and he would have had support of the entire nation if he had proceeded with this plan.
Khrushchev obviously didnt want war as he eventually agreed to remove the missiles and allow the US to have a nuclear advantage. Why would Khrushchev agree to remove the missiles without any US promise to remove their missiles or not to invade Cuba? The answer is obvious. Khrushchev did not want war with the United States. He was a vast improvement over Stalin as a Premier and had restored much freedom to his country. He wasnt a mad killer like Stalin and simply wanted to protect the citizens of his country, unlike Stalin had. The US government, however, wanted the media and public to think otherwise.