This segment includes portions of President Kennedy’s speech to the American public on October 22, 1962. When the speech is announced Khrushchev and his advisors realize that their secret deployment of missiles is no longer secret; they suspect an invasion or attack will be announced and that war is imminent. Kennedy announces the discovery of Soviet missiles in Cuba, describes the quarantine and eludes to the fact that the United States will retaliate against the Soviet union if any missile from Cuba is fired. This is widely referred to as the scariest speech in American history.
Visit the Cuban Missile Crisis: Three Men Go To War website for additional resources.
The Cuban Missile Crisis, as it is known in the United States (or as the October Crisis in Cuba, or the Caribbean Crisis in the former Soviet Union), occurred over a period of 13 days in October 1962 and is probably the most serious foreign policy crisis in history.
Cuba is just 90 miles from the coast of Florida; close enough to launch missiles to much of the United States and only weeks prior to the crisis, President Kennedy publicly warned the Soviets about placing missiles in Cuba. However, to understand how the role of these three nations in bringing the world to the brink of nuclear war, the timeline must go back to at least April of 1961. As of April 17, 1961, the United States and the Soviet Union were deeply embroiled in the Cold War and Cuba was two years into Castro’s Communist regime. JFK had inherited from Eisenhower an anti-communist CIA program designed to overthrow Castro through an invasion that would come to be known as the Bay of Pigs Invasion.
On April 17, 1961, this invasion failed. JFK was unwilling to put more energy into overthrowing Castro and did not allow the U.S. military to support the invasion force. Despite their success, Cubans and Castro believed that the U.S. could not tolerate a Communist neighbor and another invasion was certain. In the Soviet Union, Khrushchev was aware of the missile gap with the U.S. and aware that Cuba presented an opportunity to counter U.S. military build up and protect a Communist ally. Thus, the secret movement of missiles from the Soviet Union to Cuba began the following spring and summer. U.S. spy planes photographed these missile sites and the CIA presented President Kennedy with the information on October 16, 1961. He took one week to meet with advisors and consider various courses of action, including negotiations with the Soviets and the invasion of Cuba, ultimately choosing to quarantine, or blockade, Cuba. Kennedy announced this decision to the American public on October 22, 1962. For the next six days the Americans were convinced that world war was inevitable. Through a series of letters and negotiations between Kennedy and Khrushchev, both sides realized that nuclear war was imminent, that military advisors were pushing for war, and that Castro wasn’t afraid to martyr Cuba in exchange for the destruction of the United States. During the negotiations, U.S. planes continued to conduct near constant flyovers of Cuba. The Soviets insisted to Castro that he should do nothing. Castro observed this order for four days, but on October 26, he gave the order to shoot down any U.S. plane over Cuban territory. On October 27, a missile crew was successful in shooting down a U2 plane, but Kennedy and Khrushchev stayed their hands and continued negotiations.
The crisis ended on October 28 when the Soviets agreed to remove the missiles from Cuba while the U.S. agreed to remove missiles from Turkey and Italy. The blockade was formally ended on November 20 and a ‘hotline’ was established between Washington and Moscow to ensure more timely and direct communication between the two super powers. Castro was not consulted in the negotiations.
1. Is Khrushchev’s and his advisors prediction about Kennedy’s speech accurate? What is their impression of Kennedy? (this 2nd part assumes they have watched earlier segments)
2. Why do many historians consider this to be a ‘scary’ speech? How do you suspect that Americans reacted to this?
3. What is the tone of this speech? What lines in the speech support that assessment?
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