Source A4, an extract from a 1980s book, states that Castro (left) was virtually unknown in America and thought of as little or no threat, when however, Castro was extremely successful in over throwing Bapista in 1951.
Bapista was a capitalist and America and Cuba were trading partners, America bought Cuban sugar, and although Bapista was corrupt, the Americans didn’t mind him remaining in power due to his governing policies.
Upon realising that a Marxist was now ruling Cuba, America tried to invade Cuba at the Bay of Pigs operation in 1961. The attempt was an embarrassment to the US and made President Kennedy look weak and inexperienced. It was his first test of presidency and it failed. Although Kennedy didn’t initiate the idea to invade Cuba, he didn’t prevent it from happening when he took over presidency.
After the Bay of Pigs, America severed all ties with Cuba and hence forced them to find a new trading partner. Who better than Russia?
Source A5 clearly shows Castro and Khrushchev conducting friendly discussions in New York in October 1960.
The Russians now had a way to balance the power by putting a missile base on Cuba.
Section B - The American Point of View
American U2 spy planes took thousands of photographs of San Cristobal in Cuba in the month of October, 1962.
Source B1 is just one of these pictures showing suspected Soviet Missile Sites being set-up.
It is clear why the Americans were so distraught at this. Source B2 shows how Cuban Missile Sites would have nearly all of the major US cities in its strike range.
Kennedy appointed an Executive Committee to advise him. This committee, as described in Source B3, was led by the president’s younger brother, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy.
The committee discussed the alternatives they had. They could launch a nuclear air strike against the missile sites, they could launch a conventional air strike, followed by an invasion, or they could initiate a naval blockade that would prevent the Soviet missiles to enter Cuba.
Kennedy wanted to avoid any possibility of nuclear war, according to Source B3, although the military chiefs of staff voted for an air strike but the president chosen his brother’s suggestion of a partial blockade that wouldn’t force Khrushchev to react immediately. As this is a secondary source, we cannot tell exactly how strong the opposition was.
President Kennedy made a number of televised speeches informing the American nation and the rest of the world of his concerns and what he intended to do. Source B4 is his speech made on 22nd October, 1962.
Here he expresses his concerns about the “offensive” missiles based in Cuba. He states that he will not unnecessarily start a nuclear war, but if the threat increased to America that he wouldn’t back down.
He told the nation that a partial blockade on Cuba would be initiated and that unlike the Soviet’s blockade on Berlin, the US were prepared to let the necessities in to Cuba and would only stop Soviet Missiles entering.
He stated that the armed forces were ready for “any eventuality” and that this was not only for the good of America, but for that of the entire western hemisphere.
Source B5(i) is part of a letter from Khrushchev to Kennedy explaining how the Soviets were prepared to “cease further work on the weapon-construction sites…dismantle…crate them…and return them back to the Soviet Union”. This was the first letter Khrushchev sent and the one that Kennedy chose to reply to as there was nothing that the Americans had to do in return. We now understand that secret negotiations took place in which the USA agreed to dismantle and return their missile sites in Russia’s neighbour, Turkey.
Source B5 (ii) shows USS Barry inspecting a USSR Freighter carrying missiles removed from Cuba, so Khrushchev was doing as Kennedy had asked. To the Americans it had appeared as if Khrushchev had backed down to the USA and Kennedy was a saviour.
Section C - The Cuban and Soviet Point of View
Fidel Castro spoke out at the funeral of Cuban’s killed during the Bay of Pigs operation in April 1961, shown in Source C1. He talks of how America couldn’t stand a socialist revolution “under their very noses”. It’s clear by Castro’s choice of words that he was outraged by the USA’s behaviour and sudden hostility towards Cuba.
Source C2 shows a poster issued by the Cuban government stating that it is every Cuban citizen’s job to defend Cuba. Remember that Cuba were not officially at war when this poster was issued. It’s obvious that Cuba were now cautious about further US attacks.
Source C3 shows what the US had continently chosen to ignore, the strike range of the US missiles installed in Turkey, shows that the US could pinpoint almost every major Russian city.
The Americans had missile bases in Italy, Britain and Turkey and the USSR were trying to balance the power. Khrushchev expressed his concerns to Kennedy, shown in the letter in source C4. Khrushchev made a proposal that they would remove their missile base in Cuba if the US removed their Turkish ones. This was a wasted letter. Kennedy chose to ignore the offer.
Source C5 shows part of a BBC publication called “East vs. West” broadcasted in 1984. It is an episode titled “Crisis in Cuba, 1962”, and in this Callum McDonald seems to side with the Russians. He says “The (Soviet) missiles therefore were intended to restore nuclear equality… It was never intended to launch a surprise attack against the US”. Although this quote is clearly opinion, the BBC is a usually reliable source of facts and information.
The USSR had reason to fear the US. Even though ICBMs (Inter-continental Ballistic Missiles) were not readily available, short range missiles were, and they could strike Russian soil easily from Turkey.
Section D – Were contemporaries correct in regarding President Kennedy as the saviour of the western world after the Cuban missile crisis?
It appears that President Kennedy set himself up to become a saviour in his inaugural address, source D1, in 1961. He said “We shall… oppose any foe to assure the survival and success of liberty”, this is a continuation of the ideas of the Truman Doctrine.
Source D2 is taken from a book in the mid 1970s. The writer explains that in his opinion Kennedy can be blamed for the Bay of Pigs fiasco, not for initiating the idea, but from allowing it to continue when he had to the chance to prevent it. This whole event left President Kennedy appearing weak and inexperienced, not an image Kennedy wished to keep.
Source D3 is a British cartoon form the Daily Mail in 1962. It shows a typical western showdown. It could be interpreted as showing support to Kennedy and this could be the case as Britain were American allies. Kennedy is dressed in all white, possibly indicating him as the ‘good guy’. Khrushchev is dressed in all black, suggesting he is the ‘bad guy’. Kennedy stands alone. This could be seen as bravery or as a criticism that America didn’t ask for help from their allies.
Fidel Castro is depicted as a ‘Mexican bandit’. His small, donkey-riding, un-intimidating stature could be an indication to his minor role in the situation. He is shown spinning a pistol on one finger, possibly to show that he is unpredictable. Although Castro appears un-intimidating, his is backed by Khrushchev.
Source D4 shows Kennedy and Khrushchev trying to prevent a nuclear outbreak as equals. There are pictured on top of a large chest containing the ‘nuclear monster’, maybe an implication of Pandora’s Box. There are pictured trying to stop ‘evil’ escaping. This cartoon is a US cartoon so was the artist really meaning for the two men to be working as equals?
Source D5 is a secondary source which contains fact and opinion. It states that Kennedy seemed to come out of the Cuban missile crisis with an improved reputation and public appearance. He gained respect by controlling the ‘hot-heads’ in his own country who pressed for nuclear strikes on Cuba. On the outside it appeared that he had stood up to Russia, demanded something and got it. But Cuba was still ruled by a Marxist and still relying on a communist Russia.
The whole event made the USA, Russia and Britain realise just how close to a nuclear disaster they actually came. This led to a ban on all nuclear weapon testing, except controlled tests underground. However Kennedy was still intent on stopping the spread of communism.
The whole problem was started by the US trying to overthrow Castro because they didn’t want a communist in their ‘back yard’. Kennedy looked weak after the Bay of Pigs and when confronted again by the Cuban Missile Crisis, he would not back down and appear weak again. America pushed Cuba into the arms of Russia as Cuba needed another trading partner.
So was Kennedy the saviour of the western world?
In my opinion I believe Khrushchev was. If he hadn’t have seen the dangers of nuclear war and withdrawn from Cuba, it is very likely that Kennedy would have called for a nuclear attack. However, Khrushchev appeared cowardly and therefore wasn’t re-elected. Even though he acted wisely he was mostly responsible for preventing a nuclear outbreak.