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The U.S. Navy played a pivotal role in this crisis, demonstrating the critical importance of naval forces to the national defense. The Navy, in cooperation with the other U.S. armed forces and allies, strategically employed military power in such a way that the President did not have to resort to war to protect vital Western interests. Khrushchev realized that his missile and bomber forces were no match for the Navy's powerful Polaris missile-firing submarines and the Air Force's land-based nuclear delivery systems once they became fully operational. Naval forces under the U.S. Atlantic Command, headed by Admiral Robert L. Dennison, steamed out to sea, intercepting both merchant shipping enroute to Cuba and Soviet submarines operating in the area. U.S. destroyers and frigates, kept on station through underway replenishment by oilers and stores ships, maintained a month-long naval quarantine of the island. Radar picket ships, supported by Navy fighters and airborne early warning planes, assisted the Air Force's Air Defense Command in preparing to defend American airspace from Soviet and Cuban forces. Playing a vital role, Navy aerial photographic and patrol aircraft observed the deployment of Soviet offensive weapons into Cuba (and eventually monitored their withdrawal by sea).
Cuban Missile Crisis Free Download
Fifty years ago, the Cuban missile crisis brought the world to the brink of nuclear disaster. During the standoff, U.S. President John F. Kennedy thought the chance of escalation to war was "between 1 in 3 and even," and what we have learned in later decades has done nothing to lengthen those odds. We now know, for example, that in addition to nuclear-armed ballistic missiles, the Soviet Union had deployed 100 tactical nuclear weapons to Cuba, and the local Soviet commander there could have launched these weapons without additional codes or commands from Moscow. The U.S. air strike and invasion that were scheduled for the third week of the confrontation would likely have triggered a nuclear response against American ships and troops, and perhaps even Miami. The resulting war might have led to the deaths of 100 million Americans and over 100 million Russians.
The main story line of the crisis is familiar. In October 1962, a U.S. spy plane caught the Soviet Union attempting to sneak nuclear-tipped missiles into Cuba, 90 miles off the United States' coast. Kennedy determined at the outset that this could not stand. After a week of secret deliberations with his most trusted advisers, he announced the discovery to the world and imposed a naval blockade on further shipments of armaments to Cuba. The blockade prevented additional materiel from coming in but did nothing to stop the Soviets from operationalizing the missiles already there. And a tense second week followed during which Kennedy and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev stood "eyeball to eyeball," neither side backing down.
Saturday, October 27, was the day of decision. Thanks to secret tapes Kennedy made of the deliberations, we can be flies on the wall, listening to the members of the president's ad hoc Executive Committee of the National Security Council, or ExComm, debate choices they knew could lead to nuclear Armageddon. At the last minute, the crisis was resolved without war, as Khrushchev accepted a final U.S. offer pledging not to invade Cuba in exchange for the withdrawal of the Soviet missiles.
The current confrontation between the United States and Iran is like a Cuban missile crisis in slow motion. Events are moving, seemingly inexorably, toward a showdown in which the U.S. president will be forced to choose between ordering a military attack and acquiescing to a nuclear-armed Iran.
Those were, in essence, the two options Kennedy's advisers gave him on the final Saturday: attack or accept Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba. But Kennedy rejected both. Instead of choosing between them, he crafted an imaginative alternative with three components: a public deal in which the United States pledged not to invade Cuba if the Soviet Union withdrew its missiles, a private ultimatum threatening to attack Cuba within 24 hours unless Khrushchev accepted that offer, and a secret sweetener that promised the withdrawal of U.S. missiles from Turkey within six months after the crisis was resolved. The sweetener was kept so secret that even most members of the ExComm deliberating with Kennedy on the final evening were in the dark, unaware that during the dinner break, the president had sent his brother Bobby to deliver this message to the Soviet ambassador.
The Israeli factor makes the Iranian nuclear situation an even more complex challenge for American policymakers than the Cuban missile crisis was. In 1962, only two players were allowed at the main table. Cuban Prime Minister Fidel Castro sought to become the third, and had he succeeded, the crisis would have become significantly more dangerous. (When Khrushchev announced the withdrawal of the missiles, for example, Castro sent him a blistering message urging him to fire those already in Cuba.) But precisely because the White House recognized that the Cubans could become a wild card, it cut them out of the game. Kennedy informed the Kremlin that it would be held accountable for any attack against the United States emanating from Cuba, however it started. His first public announcement said, "It shall be the policy of this Nation to regard any nuclear missile launched from Cuba against any nation in the Western Hemisphere as an attack by the Soviet Union on the United States, requiring a full retaliatory response upon the Soviet Union."
Presented with intelligence showing Soviet missiles in Cuba, Kennedy confronted the Soviet Union publicly and demanded their withdrawal, recognizing that a confrontation risked war. Responding to North Korea's provocations over the years, in contrast, U.S. presidents have spoken loudly but carried a small stick. This is one reason the Cuban crisis was not repeated whereas the North Korean ones have been, repeatedly.
One lesson of the Cuban missile crisis is that if you are not prepared to risk war, even nuclear war, an adroit adversary can get you to back down in successive confrontations. If you do have redlines that would lead to war if crossed, then you have to communicate them credibly to your adversary and back them up or risk having your threats dismissed. North Korea's sale of a nuclear bomb to terrorists who then used it against an American target would trigger a devastating American retaliation. But after so many previous redlines have been crossed with impunity, can one be confident that such a message has been received clearly and convincingly? Could North Korea's new leader, Kim Jong Un, and his advisers imagine that they could get away with it?
Economics and security are separate realms, but lessons learned in one can be carried over into the other. The defining geopolitical challenge of the next half century will be managing the relationship between the United States as a ruling superpower and China as a rising one. Analyzing the causes of the Peloponnesian War more than two millennia ago, the Greek historian Thucydides argued that "the growth of the power of Athens, and the alarm which this inspired in Sparta, made war inevitable." During the Cuban missile crisis, Kennedy judged that Khrushchev's adventurism violated what Kennedy called the "rules of the precarious status quo" in relations between two nuclear superpowers. These rules had evolved during previous crises, and the resolution of the standoff in Cuba helped restore and reinforce them, allowing the Cold War to end with a whimper rather than a bang.
A final lesson the crisis teaches has to do not with policy but with process. Unless the commander in chief has sufficient time and privacy to understand a situation, examine the evidence, explore various options, and reflect before choosing among them, poor decisions are likely. In 1962, one of the first questions Kennedy asked on being told of the missile discovery was, How long until this leaks? McGeorge Bundy, his national security adviser, thought it would be a week at most. Acting on that advice, the president took six days in secret to deliberate, changing his mind more than once along the way. As he noted afterward, if he had been forced to make a decision in the first 48 hours, he would have chosen the air strike rather than the naval blockade -- something that could have led to nuclear war.
It has been said that history does not repeat itself, but it does sometimes rhyme. Five decades later, the Cuban missile crisis stands not just as a pivotal moment in the history of the Cold War but also as a guide for how to defuse conflicts, manage great-power relationships, and make sound decisions about foreign policy in general.
When the family was transferred to Côte d'Ivoire, radio was again the vital link that kept them in touch with what was going on in the United States. Through the Cuban missile crisis and the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the neighborhood ham radio operator became the local hero.
Maj. Rudolf Anderson Jr. was shot down and killed over Cuba during the October 1962 crisis. He was flying a U-2 from McCoy AFB, Fla., and was brought down by a Soviet SA-2 missile. Anderson was posthumously awarded the first Air Force Cross, which had been created in 1960. Anderson and other Strategic Air Command and Tactical Air Command pilots provided pictures that gave U.S. leaders crucial information and proved to the world that offensive nuclear missiles were being placed in Cuba. (U.S. Air Force photo) 041b061a72