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Cuban Missile Crisis

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Essay title: Cuban Missile Crisis

On October 22nd, 1962, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, 35th President of the United States of America, addressed the nation on television. In his seven-point speech, he informed his audience that long-range nuclear missiles, capable of “striking most of the major cities in the Western Hemisphere, ranging as far north as Hudson Bay, Canada, and as far south as Lima, Peru” (JFK library p. 3) were being installed in Cuba by the Soviet Union. President Kennedy discussed the United States’ response, which included the placement of a naval blockade around the island of Cuba, a request for an immediate convening of the United Nations Security Council, and a heightened military alert. However, it was his third point which sent a chill around the world.

“Third: It shall be the policy of this Nation to regard any nuclear

missile launched from Cuba against any nation in the Western

Hemisphere as an attack by the Soviet Union on the United States, requiring a full retaliatory response upon the Soviet Union.” (JFK Library p. 3)

With these words, President Kennedy informed the world that the Cold War was perilously close to turning hot, and the world stood on the brink of nuclear holocaust. Almost twenty years since the end of World War 2, after two decades of mounting tension between the Soviet Communist Empire and the Western allies, the dreaded nuclear showdown was underway. America and the Soviet Union were on a collision course. How had this come to pass?

Although the announcement came as a great shock to the public, the Cuban Missile Crisis had not occurred “overnight”; it had been building for more than two years.

In mid-1960, Cuba signed agreements with the USSR and Czechoslovakia, and almost immediately U.S. Intelligence detected the start of a massive, secret arms buildup on the island, sponsored by the Soviets. (Johnson, Hatch p. 2) Soviet ships began arriving at Havana, and the Cubans unloaded them under extreme secrecy. Over the next year, U.S. Intelligence recorded deliveries of small arms and ammunition, light aircraft, military vehicles, and equipment for military factories. They also learned that Cuban pilots were training in Czechoslovakia on the latest Soviet aircraft. Then, in mid-1961, CIA sources discovered that Cuba was receiving state-of-the-art Soviet bombers, fighters and transport aircraft.

At this time, the dilemma for American policymakers was that most of the military equipment could be described accurately as defensive, and therefore not a threat to United States security. However, much of it could also be used offensively, and the main concern was whether or not the Soviets would provide Cuba with missiles capable of attacking America. (Johnson, Hatch p. 2)

Throughout 1961, Soviet ships continued to supply Cuba secretly with military equipment and, then, in 1962, the volume and secrecy of the deliveries increased. In late August, for example, The National Security Agency reported 57 Soviet ships in a little over a month.

Confronted with American concerns about this military buildup, Soviet spokesmen repeatedly assured the U.S. government that the equipment sent to Cuba was for defense only. The President alluded to this in his television address:

“Only last Thursday … Soviet Foreign Minister Gromyko told me in my office that he was instructed to make it clear once again … that Soviet assistance to Cuba, and I quote, ‘pursued solely the purpose of contributing to the defense capabilities of Cuba’, that … ‘training by Soviet specialists of Cuban nationals in handling defensive armaments was by no means offensive, and if it were otherwise … the Soviet Government would never become involved in rendering such assistance.’ That statement also was false.”

(JFK Library p. 3)

The crisis began to build to a head in August, when air reconnaissance photographs revealed that the Russians were building numerous sites for SA-2 surface-to-air missiles, known as SAMs. (Johnson, Hatch p. 4) These anti-aircraft missiles were a direct threat to U.S. surveillance aircraft, and construction of 24 SAM sites was being carried out around the clock. Why did the Soviets want to keep U.S. reconnaissance aircraft out of Cuba? John McCone, Director of Central Intelligence, was the only one to predict that SAMs were on the island to prevent the United States seeing the construction of offensive nuclear missile installations that could threaten America.

Escalation of the crisis continued. On September 15, NSA reported the SAMs’ missile defense system was complete and operational. All reconnaissance flights were now in real danger. Then, on October 15th, Director McCone’s prediction was proven correct. Analysis of aerial photographs revealed that

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