The Cuban Missile Crisis

Photo of Nikita KhrushchevPhotograph of President John F. Kennedy

In his speech to the nation on October 22, 1960, President Kennedy told the American people, "This government, as promised, has maintained the closest surveillance of the Soviet military buildup on the island of Cuba. Within the past week, unmistakable evidence has established the fact that a series of offensivemissile sites is now in preparation on that imprisoned island.  The purpose of these bases can be none other than to provide a nuclear strike capability against the Western Hemisphere."

The traditional interpretation of what happended with the Cuban missile crisis is that the Russians put missiles in Cuba aimed at the U.S. When the Americans found out, we got the Soviets to back down and we essentially won. But this was a much more dangerous and complex story than the public was led to believe as we can see in the following chronology

1950s - American-owned businesses controlled all of Cuba's oil production, 90% of its mines, and roughly half of all its railroad, sugar, and cattle industries. Havana had become an attractive tourist destination for Americans and US crime syndicates shared control of the island's lucrative gambling, prostitution, and drug trade with General Fulgencio Batista, the dictator who had ruled Cuba for years and who was one of America's greatest allies.

1959 - On January 1, Fidel Castro officially Map of Greece and Turkey after WWIItook control of Cuba after leading a six-year successful revolt against Batista.

1960 - In May, Cuba and the Soviet Union established diplomatic relations.

1961 - In early January, the US and Cuba severed diplomatic and consular relations.

Map of Cuban Missile Crisis1962  - In April, the US Jupiter missiles in Turkey became operational.  All positions were reported "ready and manned" by US personnel.  Later that month, Khrushchev began discussions in Moscow to deploy similar weapons in Cuba

1963 - the Soviets, determined not to be intimated again, began the largest weapons buildup in their history.

Final Thoughts about the Cuban Missile Crisis  
  1. It brought the US closer to a nuclear war than any other confrontation before or sense.
  2. There are two very important sides to this crisis, not just the American side.  In fact, the US had been waging a war against Cuba since Castro's coming to power in 1959.  That war consisted of planned assassination attempts against Castro, and over a year's worth of foreign policy strategies designed to overthrow the Cuban government from within the nation.  The Soviet Union and Cuba had very good reasons to fear a US invasion - they knew Kennedy had greatly increased his defense spending and had rapidly built up our strategic forces.
  3. The Soviet Union acted in a seemingly irrational way - by bringing missiles to Cuba even though they had very few and could not defend themselves against the US - because it feared the overthrow of Cuba.    Thus, the US should be more prudent in trying to overthrow or threaten other governments - as they will not always act rationally.
  4. We did not avoid nuclear war with Cuba because the U.S.  forced the Soviet Union to back down; instead, we avoided war largely because the Soviets, in the words of Professor of International Studies at American University, Phillip Brenner, has written, because the Soviets "showed restraint throughout the crisis."

Edward R. Murrow interview with Fidel Castro in 1959 at