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THE BIG QUESTIONWho won the Cuban Missile Crisis?
HEADLINE QUESTIONSWhy was the Berlin Wall built in 1961?How did the USA react to the Cuban Revolution?Why did Khrushchev put missiles into Cuba?Why did Kennedy react as he did?Who won the Cuban Missile Crisis?
CONTENT THAT YOU NEED TO KNOWThe building of the Berlin Wall in 1961;The Cuban Revolution and the USA's reaction to it;The Bay of Pigs;The events of the Crisis including the roles of Khrushchev and Kennedy;The resolution and the consequences of the Crisis.

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  • In 1959, Fidel Castro seized power in Cuba and deposed Fulgencia Batista.
  • Batista had been a particularly unpleasant dictator with a habit of murdering people, but he had been pro-American.
  • Under Batista, Cuba had been under US influence and many companies had invested heavily in the country.
  • Castro appealed to the USA for aid, but was turned down by President Eisenhower.
  • Eisenhower ordered a reduction in imports of Cuban sugar by 95%; this was potentially disastrous for the Cuban economy.
  • The USA also cut off all aid to Cuba and Castro nationalised all businesses. He was not at first a Communist, but US actions forced him to accept aid from the Soviet Union.
  • In 1960, the Soviet Union signed an agreement to buy 1,000,000 tonnes of Cuban sugar every year for five years. This tied the two countries closely together. There was now a Communist country in the western hemisphere.
  • In April 1961, the CIA backed an invasion of Cuba by 1,400 Cuban exiles at the Bay of Pigs. They were faced by 20,000 Cubans.
  • All of the ammunition was loaded on one ship, which sank. Within three days, all of the invaders had either been killed or captured.
  • It was a fiasco. Kennedy, the new US president had not been behind the invasion, but he had not stopped it. It made him look foolish.
  • In December 1961 Castro announced that he was setting up a communist government in Cuba.
  • There was now a communist country within 70 miles of American soil.

Why did Khrushchev put missiles on Cuba?

  • Since becoming the Prime Minster of the Soviet Union, Khrushchev had followed a policy of Peaceful Co-existence.
  • He accepted that the West had a right to exist, but wanted to prove that the Soviet system was better than capitalism.
  • He tried to compete with the West in sport and the space race and made every effort to hit the headlines across the world.
  • He tried to build up support for the Soviet Union by offering aid to countries in Africa, Asia and South America.
  • By 1962, he had managed to make the USA look foolish on a number of occasions.
  • In the U2 incident (May 1960), Eisenhower had tried to claim that the spy plane was in fact a weather plane
  • In the Bay of Pigs (April 1961), Kennedy made appeared to be inexperienced and foolish.
  • At the Vienna Summit in June 1961, Khrushchev came to the conclusion that he could push Kennedy around.
  • In August 1961, he ordered the building of the Berlin Wall to prevent refugees leaving the East.
  • Cuba now offered the biggest coup of all, if he could put missiles on the island, all the US defences would be worthless.

Why did Kennedy react as he did?

  • Kennedy was well aware that the Soviet Union had gained the upper hand in recent years.
  • He knew that the USA had been made to look foolish on more than one occasion.
  • He felt that Khrushchev had pushed him around at Vienna in June 1961.
  • He was embarrassed at the building of the Berlin Wall in August 1961, but had been able to do nothing about it.
  • He had ordered three increases in the US defence budget since 1961.
  • He had made up his mind that, whatever happened next, he had to stand up to Khrushchev.

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The Crisis

  • In the summer of 1962 the CIA reported that there were rumours that missile bases were being built in Cuba.
  • On October 14 1962, a US spy plane took photographs which showed Soviet missile bases being built on Cuba.
  • This meant that all US missile defence systems were now useless.
  • From 16 October Kennedy spent one week asking his defence chiefs for possible reactions and considering alternatives.
  • He decided on a blockade because they could not promise that an air strike would destroy the sites but not hit anywhere else.
  • He did not want Soviet personnel to be killed for fear of the consequences.
  • In fact, all present with the exception of the President and his brother Robert Kennedy, favoured some sort of military action against Cuba.
  • The blockade came into effect on 24 October after Kennedy had given Khrushchev a warning. 180 ships were used including a fleet of nuclear submarines.
  • Khrushchev replied with a statement accusing the USA of interfering in Cuba’s internal affairs.
  • But the Soviet ships sailing to Cuba slowed down and even began to sail in circles.
  • Khrushchev now sent two letters. One in public was defiant, the second offered a compromise. The missile sites would be destroyed if the USA guaranteed to leave Cuba alone.
  • Kennedy agreed to Khrushchev’s offer. The blockade was removed, the sites were destroyed and Cuba was left alone.
  • In a secret meeting between Robert Kennedy and the Soviet ambassador, the US government agreed that US missiles would be removed from Italy and Turkey.
  • However as these were in a NATO force it could not be announced immediately. They were removed three months later.
  • Kennedy also suggested that the two leaders should begin talks on arms reduction.

Why did the Cuban Missiles Crisis end like this?

  • Kennedy realised that he had to make a stand.
  • Khrushchev realised that he had gone too far.
  • Neither of them was prepared for nuclear war.
  • The crisis focused the minds of the leaders of the Superpowers on their responsibilities.

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Who won the Cuban Missiles crisis?

  • On the face of it, Kennedy won because the missiles were withdrawn.
  • However, Kennedy realised that Khrushchev would lose face if he withdrew the missiles and so agreed that the USA would never interfere in Cuban affairs in the future.
  • Kennedy also agreed to remove missiles from Turkey and Italy, which had been a complaint of Khrushchev’s.
  • He had pointed out that the USA had missiles on the Soviet border in Turkey.
  • Khrushchev was also able to claim victory because Cuba would be left alone in the future. In his memoirs, he stated that this had been the reason for his actions.
  • He could also point to the removal of NATO missiles from Turkey.
  • However, in the USA, Kennedy’s promise to leave Cuba alone was very unpopular in some quarters. It may have been a factor in his assassination.
  • Khrushchev’s withdrawal of the missiles was unpopular in the Soviet Union because it was seen as a humiliation for Soviet foreign policy. He was dismissed in 1964.
  • Neither side won the Cuban Missiles crisis; it was a victory for common sense.
  • Both leaders may have paid for letting each other be able to claim a victory, but in different ways.


http://www.carloslabs.com/projects/200712B/GroundZero.html

VIDEOS ON THE CUBAN MISSILE CRISIS
A summary of the Cuban Revolution from an old documentary



A summary of the Cuban Missile Crisis from the BBC Documentary series on the Cold War