The world was at the edge of a third world war. This was the result of a variety of things: the Cuban Revolution, the failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion, US anti-communism, insecurity of the Soviet Union, and Cuba’s fear of invasion all made causes for war. However, war was not the result due to great cooperation from both President Kennedy and President Khrushchev and each of the decisions made by the leaders was crucial in the outcome of The Crisis. Kennedy’s choice to take action by means of quarantine instead of air-strike and Khrushchev’s decision to abide by the quarantines were perhaps the two most significant decisions made by the leaders in order to prevent war. The Cuban Missile Crisis showed the world that compromising and discussion can in-fact prevent war. As Khrushchev said in 1962, ;quot;They talk about who won and who lost. Human reason won. Mankind won.;quot; 1 The world had almost seen another world war, the effects of which would have been devastating because of the weapons involved. Humanity, indeed, was the prevention of the war.
The Cuban Revolution was a background cause to the crisis. On January 1st, 1959 a Marxist regime in Cuba would have seemed unlikely. To the communist party in Cuba, Fidel Castro appeared tempestuous, irresponsible and stubbornly bourgeois. In 1943 President Batista appointed a communist to his Cabinet, as he used communists as leaders of the labor unions. Batista started to fail the Cuban communists and their loyalties transferred gradually to Castro, completely by 1958. On December 1st, 1961 Castro declared himself a Marxist and claimed he had always been a revolutionary, studying Das Kapital of Karl Marx. Most Cubans idolized Castro, supported his government and at least accepted his measures.2 He claimed to have a desire to help the poor and said he would have found it impossible to follow the dictates of a single philosophy. His first action in power was to reduce all rents on the island, making the land owners, many of who were American, unhappy. In 1960 Castro was swiftly pushing Cuba to the left, and as a result many Cubans left, along with the American investors. There was so much opposition to Castro’s developments that he created a Committee for Defense of the Revolution out of fear of invasion from the US, internal guerrilla uprisings, and black marketing "counterrevolutionary activity". Castro improved life in Cuba with communism; he managed to solve the problem of unemployment, put in place universal schooling, provided free dental and medical services, almost completely rid of malaria and polio from his country and created a great nationalistic pride. Despite all this great outcome, the effect of the Revolution on America left the US sour.
Castro had taken away the profit producing properties which had been owned by Americans, and this angered them. In 1898 America gave many benefits to Cuba, it helped modernize Cuban industry, education and medicine (partly due to imperialistic greed from economic involvement) and expected loyalty for doing so. US investment in Cuban sugar resources dropped 35% from 1928 to 1958. Out of two million workers, the US only employed 70,000. Cuba was angered that between 1945 and 1960 they gave more money than all of Latin America combined. "Cubans felt controlled by the United States."3 At first Americans gave Castro a good assessment, but President Eisenhower’s government remained suspicious about communist success. Americans lost site of the benefits the revolution had brought to Cuba and concentrated on being angry with Cuba for expropriating American properties. The US was further angered when Castro’s nationalistic speeches became increasingly anti-American. The Revolution had severed ties between the US and Cuba, which led to the Bay of Pigs invasion later on.
In March 1960 the US led a group of trained and armed Cuban exiles in what was planned to be a simple invasion. The emigres were expected to draw support from the island, and Fidel Castro (who was at that time thought to be unpopular) and his inefficient, unstable government would collapse almost instantly. The Americans thought this would work because a similar plan was executed in Guatemala that was a terrific success. However, the Americans had miscalculated and the failure of the invasion was humiliating. Castro was much more popular than the CIA had thought, and an army American sponsored attack would actually enrage most Cubans, at the same time improving the position of the leader, Castro. Even anti-Castro habanero’s in Cuba would defend Cuba out of nationalistic pride. This, the Americans had all misjudged. The Bay of Pigs invasion had been drawn up by President Eisenhower, but John.F.Kennedy approved the CIA plan soon after taking control. ;quot;The thought of this pleasant land becoming ;quot;Stalinist;quot; disturbed Kennedy, like seeing a treasured childhood retreat decay into tawdry slumdom overrun by rowdy toughs.;quot;4 On April 17, 1400 members of Cuban exiles came from Nicaragua. They landed in the Bay of Pigs, were discovered my local milita and were forced to open fire. The crucial tactic for America was the element of surprise, and that was now gone. Fidel had actually learnt of the invasion at 3:15am that day and prepared an army and rounded up CIA agents and journalists. By the 18th, just the next day, the invasion was doomed. The brigade pleaded with Kennedy for aerial support but he declined. Defeat of the Americans came on the 19th, with 1,100 prisoners left in Cuba. The Bay of Pigs invasion was a failure. Fidel maintained support of the people and Kennedy feared Khrushchev probably thought he was foolish and immature for approving such a a disorganized event, and he was sure the Soviet leader believed him weak for not sending in additional troops to finish the invasion. Kennedy was embarrassed at such a defeat he worried that Khrushchev thought he was timid. If he thought this then Russia might become aggressive and perhaps end up at war. Kennedy wanted to appear strong but also maintain an aloof political stance, however, Castro’s continued success could only weaken the New Frontier.
The US’s anticommunist views also created tension. Kennedy said, ;quot;Our objection isn’t to the Cuban Revolution; it is to the fact that Castro has turned it over to the communists."5 Communism was a serious threat to America for they were democratic. They saw what happened in Russia earlier, and the success communism had there and now this just added. Dealing with one enemy communist state was hard enough, let alone having to deal with two. This hate America had for communists in a way contributed to the Missile Crisis, however, because Cuba feared invasion from the US. They’re only friend was their fellow communists, the Russians.
In the fall of 1961 the American administration formulated a plan to destroy Castro called Operation MONGOOSE. Kennedy sent a memo to the Secretary of State, Dean Rusk, okaying the project on November 30, 1961. A panel including Attorney General Robert Kennedy and Maxwell Taylor, discussed the liquidation’ of certain Cuban leaders. On January 30 1962 Kennedy met with the Russian President Khrushchev’s son-in-law to remind the Russians the US was friendly and had not interfered with Hungary in 1956, this was an attempt to side with Russia. A few weeks before the missile crisis, Robert Kennedy told the panel his brother was ;quot;concerned about progress on the MONGOOSE program, and feels that more priority should be given to trying to mount sabotage operations;quot;.6 On February 3 1962 Kennedy ordered a complete ban on all trade with Cuba and State Department officials urged NATO to stop trade as well. In reply, Castro issued the Second Declaration of Havana’ the next day, which was a call to all the people of Latin America to rise against American Imperialism. Aware of Operation MONGOOSE, and with the trade ban and the worsening economic situation in Cuba, Castro was being forced to turn to the Soviet Union for help. On March 12 rationing of food began in Cuba. On June 16 there were demonstrations held by discontent housewives and daily acts of sabotage from the American CIA or exile movements based in the US made the atmosphere in Cuba full of tension and discomfort. Americans even hosted guerrilla attacks and attempted assassinations. In the spring of 1962 Castro thought America would soon invade as it had done before, so it turned to Russia and requested military aid. In effect, America’s hate for communism drove Cuba to unite with Russia, America’s other communist enemy.
The Soviet Union’s Premier, Nikita Khrushchev, agreed to supply Castro with some short range surface-to-air missiles (S.A.M’s) and a number of offensive nuclear missiles. Why did Russia agree to help Castro? In April 18, 1961 (the Bay of Pigs invasion) the Soviet Premier wrote President Kennedy threatening to give Cuba "all necessary assistance in beating back armed attack". A year after sending that letter Krushchhev raised the thought of placing missiles in Cuba. The Soviet Union had been racing the US to create weapons of warfare. "Apparently, the main reason Moscow wanted missiles in Cuba was that in her military competition with the United States she was falling far behind."7 America had an atomic bomb at the end of WWII and German rocket experts surrendered helping develop V-2 because cheaper, faster planes were being needed anyway, Project MX-774 was the name given to the research to develop such technology. In the Korean War of 1949 President Hary S. Truman announced the Soviet Union had detonated an atomic device. The US reacted by setting off a big bomb called "Mike". The US had superior design, they were more accurate. The Soviet Union feared American technology on weapons was superior (which it was) and that the Americans knew they knew it too. Since the Russian nuclear weapons were short-range whereas the American missiles were long range, and also accurate, America could potentially fire on Russia and hit. Russia couldn’t do such an attack because they only had technology for short-range missiles. Setting up a base in Cuba would give Russia the ability to attack America if needed. Another suggested reason why Russia decided to put the missiles in Cuba was apparently to gain ends in Berlin. Russia also had a duty to support its fellow communist of Cuba. This would be the start of international communism. This did not go well with the US.
The US Government learned of the Soviet missile sites on October 5, by a U-2 pilot Richard Heyser who took photographs from his aircraft. Kennedy immediately called a meeting of his executive committee (Ex-Comm) and two possible courses of action were discussed; an air strike followed by invasion, or a naval quarantine. Kennedy’s goal was to avoid military confrontation if possible. The military supported the invasion, but after meeting with the head of the air force he learned that in order to destroy the military bases in Cuba it would cost 10-20,000 lives. This influenced his decision which finally was to impost a quarantine against Cuba.8 An air strike was also risky because the Soviet’s position on the situation was unknown, and there wasn’t a guarantee that all the missile bases would be hit.9 Kennedy’s decision to quarantine was one of the key decisions that prevented war.
Kennedy demanded to Khrushchev that the missiles be removed, and then put America on alert for nuclear war. America was ready for war with twenty planes already in the air ready to drop on Russia within minutes of Kennedy’s public address. On October 23, US ships took up positions along the quarantine line, they were given clearance so use any means necessary to halt ships that did not stop for inspection. Although the building of the missile sites never ceased during the time of the quarantine, they ships were in cooperance with the US. The next day the first of the Soviet ships approached just short of the quarantine line and stopped dead. If Khrushchev had not ordered the ships to obey the quarantine then the result would have been disastrous, perhaps the war would have started even. The cooperation from Khrushchev was extraordinary.
On October 25 Khrushchev responded to Kennedy’s speech and agreed to remove the missiles if Kennedy made a public agreement never to invade Cuba.10 Fidel Castro was never consulted about this which angered him greatly, but it was in Russia’s best interest to agree to peace because none of the military bases were finished yet in Cuba, and if war was waged now then Russia would surely lose. Although Kennedy already agreed to the first letter of peace from Kruschev, two days he received a second letter asking America to also remove their missiles from Turkey as a condition of the agreement. This was an aggressive letter and suggested not just Khrushchev had not written it. Ignoring the second letter, Kennedy hoped Khrushchev would still accept the terms of the first peace letter, which he did. On October 28, Khrushchev announced over Radio Moscow that he would remove the Soviet nuclear weapons, and under US supervision the missiles were transported back to Russia. A potentially disastrous conflict was averted.
In conclusion, a the major reason that a military conflict was averted was the cooperation between Kennedy and Khrushchev and their commitment to peace. Neither was willing to wage war, specially not Russia since their missile bases in Cuba were unfinished. Kchruschev would not have been willing to defend Cuba from American invasion anyway, suppose a war did break out. Many things could have changed the course of the crisis to the point of disaster: if Kennedy had chosen to use air strikes, if Russia had crossed the quarantine line, if Kchruschev didn’t agree to peace, if the missile bases had been finished. Luckily these things weren’t, and the world was saved from a potentially catastrophic nuclear war.