Manchester Historian

Student newspaper for the University of Manchester's History Department

Tuesday 12th December 2017 | Manchester, UK

The Cuban Missile Crisis

Aerial view showing missile launch site 3 on Cuba October 1962, Wikimedia Commons.

Aerial view showing missile launch site 3 on Cuba October 1962, Wikimedia Commons.

 

Robert F Kennedy, the US Attorney General, described the Cuban Missile Crisis as a clear moment where the US and USSR ‘brought the world to the abyss of nuclear destruction’. Those thirteen days in October 1962 were arguably the most dramatic in Cold War relations, namely due to the severity and consequence of using nuclear weapons.

By 1962, tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union were immensely strained following a period of chaotic developments. Events such as the Berlin Crisis and the failed Bay of Pigs invasion destabilised US and USSR relations. Elected in 1960, President John F Kennedy wanted to “assure the survival and success of liberty”, highlighting the means to which the leader of the free nation would go to secure the democratic ideology. His counterpart, Nikita Khrushchev was similarly passionate about the communist movement and believed that “history [was] on [their] side”. The passionate sentiments of both leaders would be tested when the Cold War directly impacted the survival of the human race.

Off the coast of Florida, the Communist president, Fidel Castro, had overrun the island of Cuba and signed a secret agreement with the Soviets to maintain nuclear missiles in case of any further US-sponsored attacks. When American spy planes discovered the missile sites, Kennedy refused to accept their proximity and set up a Naval Blockade around Cuba. Here, a period of brinkmanship began, in which both the US and USSR failed to withdraw. By the second week of critically stressed tensions, Kennedy, in an attempt to rectify the situation, publically declared that the US would not invade Cuba if the missiles were removed within twenty-four hours. To entice the USSR further, Kennedy promised to remove US missiles in Turkey. At the last minute, Khrushchev agreed to the concessions and the potential nuclear Armageddon was resolved. Regardless of their opposing ideals, both leaders had attempted to resolve the situation for the good of humanity, recognising the repercussions of the potential disaster.

The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 symbolised the end of the Cold War and never has the use of nuclear weapons been processed as a legitimate answer to the assertion of a dominant world ideology. The potential fallout of the Cuban Missile Crisis would have been catastrophic and unattainable: hundreds of millions would have been annihilated. Therefore, the parallels between this incident and the current foreign relations between the US and North Korea are unsurprisingly similar. The lessons of history continue to shape our understanding of current affairs, making the experience of the Cuban Missile Crisis more prevalent than ever before.

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