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President Kennedy by and large receives all the praise for how he dealt with the Cuban Missile Crisis firmly and decisively in demanding a naval barrier of Cuba and ordering the Soviet Union get rid of nuclear weapon and supplies from Cuba. Through reacting with a quarantine to avoid extra Soviet Shipments to Cuba, the president set up a row Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet Premier. Before the United States of America could employ more radical military actions, like air strikes against Cuba’s invasion or the missile sites, Khrushchev retreated. Consequently, the Soviets pulled out their weapons in agreement with the USA through a public pledge that it would not attack Cuba. In this paper the leadership of President Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis will be discussed. The discussion will briefly introduce the crisis before proving a detailed discussion on the whole issue.

The early hours of Tuesday 16th October 1962 saw McGeorge Bundy, President Kennedy’s national security assistant serve the President in his bedroom, with high-altitude photographs captured from U-2 airplanes over Cuba’s sky. They illustrated Soviet soldiers secretly and hurriedly setting up missiles- nuclear armed. It was not the first time as for some time before; the Soviets had candidly been shipping weaponry to Cuba, entailing surface-to-air anti-aircraft missiles (SAMs). To prevent any form of criticism concerning this from the Republicans, eventfully campaigning for the congressional elections in November at the time, Kennedy had indicated his failure to protest over such defensive weaponry being set up in Cuba. However, he warned that the Soviets against ever introducing such offensive weapons for fear of what he termed as “the gravest issue” arising (Kennedy, 46).

May (3) observes that Kennedy’s leadership critics during the Cuban Missile Crisis dispute that he risked nuclear war and humiliated Khrushchev, a fact that made him ousted out of power in 1964. He was later succeeded by more assertive leaders. This troika was finally subjugated by Leonid Brezhnev who soar the Soviets build up of weapons. Under Kennedy’s leadership, United Nations ambassador, Adlai E. Stevenson campaigned for a trade that saw the United States of America get rid of its missiles from Turkey in exchange of Soviets withdrawal of missiles from Cuba. The critics of the way the President handled the crisis refute that diplomacy would have been efficient and would have avoided possible nuclear war and afterwards tensions within Soviet-American relations. 

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The occurrence of the gravest issues

Just like the Soviet premier, Nikita Khrushchev had repeatedly made a promise not to ship offensive weapons to Cuba, and following the predictions by top intelligent analysts in America that hew would stick to his promise, the President felt safe in sounding his warning that the gravest issue would occur. However, the photographs from U-2 provided evidence that Khrushchev was not a man of his words, but a liar. The gravest issues were now in sight (May, 2).

Historical Resources (5) observes that during that time, the United States of America had over 25,000 nuclear weapons within their arsenal. On the other hand, the Soviet did not even have half as much as the US, giving America an upper hand incases of any crisis. Dwight Eisenhower, Kennedy’s predecessor had premeditated in 1960 that if a calamity led either side to launch nuclear weapons, all humans within the northern hemisphere would perish. This indeed was a gravest issue. Kennedy probably did not want to see this happening.

The ExComm and the Secret tapes

To aid him deliberate on what action to take concerning the Cuban state, and the magnitude of the risk that would be involved in running of a nuclear exchange, President Kennedy pulled together a group that came to be referred to as the Executive Committee of the National Security (ExComm). During the early of his term in office, the president was forced to decide on the CIA scheme to send back Cuban exiles to the Bay of Pigs (Cuba), hoping that the exiles would oust the Communist government of Cuba under the leadership of Fidel Castro. Kennedy sought for advice concerning this issue from just very few people. These were the people he knew was formally obligated to consult. This operation however proved to be a debacle, and there after Kennedy had resorted to consult more widely in future to prevent being haunted by such events and poor consultation (Historical Resources, 4).

Among those who made up the ExComm as constituted by Kennedy were the usual participants within the National Security Council assemblies, Robert Kennedy the President’s brother and the attorney general, an the chief script writer of the President, the White House counsel Theodore Sorensen (May, 3). All these included within the committee could assist Kennedy to deliberate on the domestic political sides of the issue. Several other major advisors were also invited by Kennedy to team up with the group, they included: Robert Lovett and Dean Acheson, who earlier own worked under President Harry Truman and would assist Kennedy view the then present crisis in longer historical point of view,   Llewellyn (Tommy) Thomson, the US former ambassador to the Soviet Union, almost certainly the person within Kennedy’s circle that was best familiar with Khrushchev; and C Douglas Dillon, who was earlier on high ranks under Eisenhower and linked Kennedy to the Republican Leadership.

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Currently people know what the deliberations of the ExComm’s meetings were as the President has installed a tape recorder with an unused area of the basement of the White House, with wires connecting to the concealed microphones in the Cabinet Room and the Oval Office (May, 3). No one knew of this except, the guards charged with maintaining the machines, his private secretary, and possibly his brother, Robert. Because he left it on throughout nearly all meetings of the EXComm, anyone currently can go and listen to proceedings.

During the debate within the first day, everyone was for the idea that America should bomb Cuba. The only difference was presented in the magnitude of the attack. The President, Bundy and a few other members talked of a “surgical strike” exclusively against the sites of the missile. Quoting Bundy, he said, “it corresponds to the punishment fits the punishment in political terms” (Kennedy, 89). Other members were in support of the chiefs of staff in stressing that an attack should also include getting rid of air bombers and defence sites in order to restrict losses of the US airplanes and avoid rapid air retaliation against the USA bases situated in Florida.  George Ball, the under secretary of state had asserted by comparing a US shocker attack on Cuba to Pearl Harbor.

Another option had fronted itself by the end of the third day during the crisis, on 18th October. Following the comments of the George Ball concerning a surprise attack on Cuba, some members were strongly against this saying that this act was beyond what was expected of the US but the conduct could be expect of the Soviet Union. This sentiments were expressed by Robert Kennedy and seconded by Dean Rusk, the Secretary of State who examined that decision-makers could bear the “the mark of Cain” on their foreheads for their entire lives. To get in line with this concern and get time for obtaining support from countries, the ides of Kennedy’s publicly announcing the existence of Soviet missiles in Cuba came about. Consequently, the President ordered a blockade to stop further introduction of missiles and commanded that the Soviets remove the missiles that were there by then. It has not noted that both for resonance with the “Quarantine Address” of 1937 by Franklin Roosevelt and for legal reasons, the term “quarantine” was replaced with “blockade” (May, 3).

For those among the advisors of the President who still referred speedy use of military power (in later classification, the “hawks”), this quarantine amounted to an ultimatum. Khrushchev was to surrender with one or two days or else Cuba would experience a US air attack and shortly there after an invasion would follow. Among those within the ExComm, later classified as “doves”, time for probably creating some diplomatic resolution was bought by the quarantine (ThinkQuest, 2).

Kennedy on Berlin Crisis, not a Cuba’s Missile Crisis

During the initial stage ExComm debate, the President held himself responsible for the crisis.  He said, “Last month I should have said that we don't care” (May, 2), meaning that were it that he did not give such strong public caution, Khrushchev would probably have been left to go ahead with his mission of introducing missiles in Cuba. He continued, “It doesn't make any difference if you get blown up by an ICBM flying from the Soviet Union, or one from 90 miles away. Geography doesn't mean that much” (May, 3). However Kennedy spend most of time explaining to the ExComm’s members and others the reason as to why the crisis entailed much more than just personal outrage, since he had given a warning and Khrushchev had decided to confront him. For Kennedy, the reason was that this crisis was not chiefly concerning missiles in Cuba but about Berlin (Historical Resources, 4). 

In 1948-1949, the Soviets had attempted to take over West Berlin and their blockade disturbed by the astounding decision by of West Berliners and an Anglo-American airlift. Khrushchev however, attempted the threat once more in 1958 and persisted doing so. He later teamed up with East German to put up a wall surrounding West Berlin as a measure of stopping the East German’s exodus from Soviet-restricted areas. Initially in 1962 he had told the President that he had plans of acting on West Berlin once the US congressional elections got had ended (ThinkQuest, 4).

Kennedy (100) points out that consequently, the interpretation of Kennedy, counseled by Thompson, concerning the setting up of missiles in Cuba was that it was a ploy preparatory to a confrontation in Berlin. According to Kennedy such a row would develop a terrible dilemma. The US had vowed to protect one and a half million West Berliners against take over by the Soviet. However, the Americans had to ways whatsoever for physically stopping the thousands of Soviet and East German troops that enclosed Berlin from assuming control of the city if they decided that way. The only defense for the West Berlin was the United States threat of reacting to an attack against the Soviet Union through the use of nuclear weapons.

Had Kennedy demanded candidly that the Soviet get rid of their nuclear weapons out of Cuba, Khrushchev might have had to make a choice as to whether to obey or risk actual war, and this could result to nuclear war (Munton & Welch, 120). The responsibility would be his. On the other hand, if Kennedy displayed fear to face Khrushchev, the outcome might have been encouraged Khrushchev to disregard American warnings concerning Berlin. In this case, Kennedy but not Khrushchev would bear the responsibility. Kennedy to the combined chiefs of staff, “A Soviet move on Berlin leaves me only one alternative, which is to fire nuclear weapons - which is a hell of an alternative” (May, 3).

Kennedy went on television and radio on Monday 22nd October, illustrating the secret Soviet upsurge within Cuba, declaring the quarantine, and ordering that the Soviet get rid of the missile. Within the next few days, one disturbing moment followed the other. Kennedy together with his advisors wondered how to stop a soviet ship that traversed the quarantine line. A navy’s plan for dealing with this crisis was described by Robert McNamara, the Secretary of Defense (Historical Resources, 4). He advised the use of a destroyer that could signal the submarine. Kennedy argued them to wait on that day because he did not them to have an initial attack on the Soviet submarine. McNamara protested against Kennedy’s decision, a fact that made Kennedy very furious. Lucky enough, there was a stumble upon at sea and Khrushchev commanded all Soviet merchantmen heading to Cuba to turn back.

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Munton & Welch (100) observe that meanwhile Kennedy plus his advisors were charged with a responsibility of tracking the persistent missile construction in Cuba. The president authorized low-level surveillance of flights during the day to compliment the U-2 flights. Additionally he agreed conditionally to night-time coverage entailing the use of flares.

The Turkish missile issue

26th -27th October saw the crisis coming to a head. Kennedy was cabled by Khrushchev sating that that he was ready to get rid of the missiles from Cuba but on condition that the US does not invade Cuba.  Before Kennedy and his ExComm could deliberate on the issue, Khrushchev broadcasted another message to add another condition that the US should also withdraw other offensive ways and nuclear weapons from Turkey. This second message generated an angry debate with Ball asserting almost generally that the condition was objectionable. Kennedy was seemed not comfortable with Ball’s remarks (Munton & Welch, 81).

Finally President Kennedy found a means finessing the state. This was through sending his brother Robert Kennedy to meet. Anatoly Dobrynin, the Soviet ambassador to inform him the missiles that were in Turkey was out of date, and that the United States of America was preparing to get them out in six months time. This was true. Further he added that, though, if the Soviet used this information to allege that the US had accepted the deal that Khrushchev proposed over the radio, the President would reject the allegations and fail to the missile from Turkey. The intention of Kennedy was pacifying Khrushchev without being seen as to have made a concession and also to stop any extended negotiations (May, 5). 

In reality the exchange between Dobrynin and Robert Kennedy had no effect. Khrushchev had already made a resolution to withdraw to a simple request for a pledge of no invasion. This is how the crisis ended, on this basis, no invasion pledge. As the Soviets got rid of their missiles and packed the parts on ships to be taken back to the Soviet Union, the US reconnaissance aircraft was watching.

The month of October 1962 saw the world escape a nuclear attack mostly due to the cautiousness of Kennedy and the belated carefulness of Khrushchev. Even though Kennedy saw it necessary to be rigid in his demand the Soviet to get rid of the missiles in Cuba, he had been cautious enough to stop to the last possible instant any act that could lead to killing a Russian. Khrushchev had almost certainly decided to drop his command for removals of quid pro quo from Turkey because of realizing that a Soviet anti-aircraft missile gunned down a US U-2 plane in Cuba killing the pilot. Both Khrushchev and Kennedy realized that once blood had been shed, it could almost impossible to control any crisis.

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