Histories were once realities. Most of the stories we read in our textbooks for academic purposes were actual real life experiences of some people – people who at that time were faced with fear, anxiety and the pressure to make the right decision. Where we are as a nation today is a reflection of the right or wrong decision made by our leaders. Although we can boast of several illustrious leaders whose decision has helped mould the future of this nation, John F. Kennedy was a president whose choice at a critical period in the history of America made the whole difference (White, 1996). Through his decision, he showed the world that the best way of resolving differences is not through warfare but through negotiations and compromise (Graham, 1999).
The true test of a leader is evident in his/she ability to make sound and timely decisions when called upon to do so. A good leader must have the ability to respond to issues, the guts to take risks and foresight to predict what might eventually occur as a result of the decision he/she is making. Where we are as a country today, is as a result of the decisions our leaders have made in the past. No event can be isolated in life; rather, we trace the history of every occurrence to what has happened in the past. This is because the present is a victim of the past and we must understand the past in order to make sense of what is happening in the present. Such is the case in our country.
October 1962 – a year that will be marked on the calendar of America. For us who read or heard of the story, it was an historic period in America. However, for those witnessed as the events occurred, it was a period of panic, uncertainty and unrest. Nobody could predict what will happen – not the American government, not the Soviet Union and definitely not the citizens of America. As Allison puts it, the thirteen days that the crisis lasted can be described as the most dangerous moment in human history (Graham, 1999). Sometimes after the crisis, Nikita Khrushchev recalls, “I found myself in the difficult position of having to decide on a course of action which would answer the American threat but which would also avoid war. Any fool can start a war, and once he’s done so, even the wisest of men are helpless to stop it– especially if it’s a nuclear war.” (Gribkov & Smith, 1986).
The expiration of the World War II brought with it the advancement of science and technology. During the war itself, the German atomic scientists were encouraged o build nuclear ballistic weapons that was capable of destroying a whole city. Scientists from Britain, France, the Soviet Union, and the United States came together in a bid to build a nuclear weapon. This was done under the code-name “Manhattan Project”. The project was sponsored by America and in July 1945, the first atomic bomb was made.
Hiding under the guise of being ambushed during the World War II, America decided to continue the making of nuclear weapons and each one that was made was more dangerous than the previous. However, as it would appear, it was not only the American government that was amassing nuclear weapon, the Soviet Union was also producing nuclear bombs – although not as dangerous or powerful as the ones produced by America. In the scheme of things then, possession of nuclear power automatically makes you a threat to the world and untouchable to other nations. It was a guarantee for safety and it comes with such benefits of being regarded as a world power. America, by inference, was quickly becoming a force to reckon with and a predominant power in the world.
The Cuban Missile Crisis itself was an accumulation of the friction between the American government and the revolutionary government of Fidel Castro. Before the Cuban Revolution of 1959, America enjoyed a great deal of influence on the economy and politics of Cuba (Encarta, 2008). However, this changed under the government of Fidel Castro. Castro refused to be influenced by America instead he formulated policies that gave the American government a reason to be concerned.
He seized the property of wealthy Cubans and those of foreigners, who were mostly Americans, in a bid to establish a communist system in Cuba. This resulted in the placement of an economic embargo on Cuba. This cut any form of trade between America and Cuba. Instead of giving in, Castro decided to establish a better relationship with the communist nations. During this period, there was a cold war between the American government and the USSR – a war between communists and capitalist nations.
In an attempt to overthrow Castro’s government, the American government decided to establish relations with Cubans that were against Castro’s government. The American government trained and supplied ammunitions to anti-Castro Cubans that sought refuge in America. In 1961, these anti-Castro agitators invaded Cuba in the Bay of Pigs. This invasion was not successful and as it turned out, it consolidated Castro’s government. Cubans were infuriated with the U.S government because of its interference with political issues in Cuba and as a result gave their full allegiance to Fidel Castro’s communist government.
With Fidel Castro formal declaration that Cuba was a communist nation, the tension between the American government and Fidel Castro intensified. At the same time, Soviet prime minister, Nikita Khrushchev began a plot to secretly deliver nuclear weapons to Cuba. This plan was welcomed by Fidel Castro who wants to use the opportunity to protect his island following the threat of the Bay of Pigs. The Soviet premier devised this plan in order to avert any attack that might be launched against the Soviet Union.
This plan was meant to be privy to the United States government. Khrushchev did this on the assumption that this action would go unnoticed by the American government. With both parties fighting a common enemy, an arrangement was made for the quick installation of missiles in Cuba without drawing attention of the United States government.
Looking at the crisis from the perspective of the United States government, the crisis began on October 15, 1962 after a U-2 spy plane and U.S. Navy low-level reconnaissance aircraft took photographs of Soviet missiles which was under construction in Cuba. The following morning, the matter was brought to the notice of President John F. Kennedy who immediately formed the EX-COMM. This group consisted of the twelve advisory members who were considered the most competent in handling the issue. President John F. Kennedy decided that the EX-COMM meetings should be held secretly so as not to make the Soviet Union suspect that the United States was fully aware of the situation.
After seven days of difficult and long secret meetings, President John F. Kennedy openly announced the discovery of the missile installation 90 miles aware from the shores of Florida. Although President John F. Kennedy was presented with evidence based information that posed a threat on major cities like New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, he knew the situation was a complex one which called for a tactical solution. He was faced with a situation with potentially severe consequences.
However, he could not decide the course of action to be taken against Cuba or the Soviet Union. Although America in 1962 can be said to be the predominant world nuclear power, Kennedy and his advisors knew that launching an attack could turn into a nuclear war that could turn into another World War. On the other hand, the Soviet Union posed a threat if America folds its arms and does nothing (Encarta, 2008). The predicament, as Kennedy conceived it, was severe.
After several sessions of hot deliberation, President John F. Kennedy and his advisers came to a concession that a blockade would be the right course of action to take. Although they did not all have the same reasons for supporting the blockade, they agreed to the fact that a full military invasion would be risky given the situation of things. On October 22, 1962, President John F. Kennedy openly announced that the Soviet Union should get rid of all the missile bases and their harmful contents. He also ordered a “naval quarantine (blockade) of Cuba in order to prevent Russian ships from bringing additional missiles and construction materials to the island” (hpol.org, 1990).
For several days, the world watched in fear as the crisis intensified. The American government waited for the course of action to be taken by the soviet premier. This is because a blockade, in military terms, was considered an art of war. Although President John F. Kennedy claimed the action was a naval quarantine, Kennedy and his advisers were not certain of how the Soviet Union will conceive of such action (Encarta, 2008). During this period, several soviet ships turned back to from the quarantine line but the missile installation continued. However, on October 26, 1962, the crisis took a new turn with Khrushchev sending a coded cable to Kennedy, offering to withdraw the missiles from Cuba on the condition that United States would not attack the Island of Cuba. Early the next day, President John F. Kennedy agreed to the terms of Khrushchev.