The world was never as close to nuclear warfare as it was during the Cuban Missile Crisis. America was holding their breath as the possibility of nuclear grew greater and greater as the Soviet Union continued to supply Cuba with thermonuclear weapons. I n October of 1962, aerial reconnaissance pictures showed missiles in Cuba that could have wiped out our national defenses in 17 minutes (Chronicle of America, pg 747). Fear swept over the country and the American citizens supported their president in planning action. John F. Kennedy showed composure as he watched the possibility of nuclear warfare brush by his sleeve and ending up in a peaceful agreement.

A series of conflicts led up to the Cuban Missile Crisis, one of which was the invasion at Cuba's Bay of Pigs, on April 17, 1961. This invasion consisted of twelve hundred American trained Cuban exiles who planned to over-throw Fidel Castro through a violent uprising. However the invasion was no match for Castro's air force and well trained troops. Kennedy stood behind his decision to keep hands off and the Cuban exiles surrendered. Kennedy assumed full responsibility for the failure. In October of 1 962, American spy planes brought back pictures of forty nuclear missiles being installed in Cuba by the Soviets. These missiles had a striking range of about 2200 miles and posed a serious threat to America. "Kennedy and Soviet leader, Khrushchev now began a game of "nuclear chicken" (The American Pageant, p.864) . The president refused to use air strikes against the missile launching sites in Cuba. Instead of the air strikes, Kennedy initiated a naval blockade and quarantine of Cuba and demanded immediate removal of all nuclear missiles threatening the United States. He also told Khrushchev, the Soviet leader, that if Cuba would launch any missiles on the United States it would be considered an act of war by the Soviet Union. Kennedy also declared th at if the United States was attacked, there would be direct retaliation on the Soviet Union. Americans waited while Soviet ships carrying offensive weapons to Cuba were turned back while cargo ships were allowed to pass through the American navel blockade. If the Soviet ships carrying offensive weapons did not turn back, the American ships would have had to attack the Soviet ships. This would have been regarded by the Kremlin as an act of war and could have started a nuclear war. "On October 28, 1962 in this eyeball to eyeball confrontation, Khrushchev finally flinched" (The American Pageant, p. 864). Kennedy and Khrushchev came to a compromise that if the nuclear missiles were pulled out of Cuba, the American quarantine on Cuba would end and the U.S . would promise not to invade the island.

This was the closest our world has ever gotten to a devastating nuclear war. For Americans, the Cuban Missile Crisis was one of uncertainty and fear, many of which thought that their lives were threatened. Most Americans supported their president in not being intimidated by the Soviets shipping nuclear missiles and standing up and defending the American people. Kennedy's actions altered the history of the world by saving us from nuclear warfare.

Richard Cross
Cameron Earle
Mike Kipe

Cuban Missile Crisis links and Photo credits:

Library of Congress's Documents from the Soviet Archives

Mississippi State University Cuba Archives

To AP US History Page

To The Interdisciplinary Units Page

To US Government Lesson Plans


Teachers: Visit our sponsor for Social Studies materials:

George Cassutto's Cyberlearning World

     [Lesson Plan of the Day]     [Cassutto Memorial]    [About the Author]    [Search]    [Civics Lesson Plans]