The Cuban Missile Crisis, 50+ Years Later

October 16 was the fifty-second anniversary of the start of the Cuban Missile Crisis, the closest the world has come to a nuclear war. While I’m not sure that “celebrate” is the right word for the occasion, here are some links to more information on the topic.

A very detailed timeline of the crisis can be found at Nuclearfiles.org.

The George Washington University’s The National Security Archive is really the starting place for personal or classroom study. Its online collection “The Cuban Missile Crisis, 1962: the 40th Anniversary” has a great collection of materials.

The audio clip of Curtis Lemay telling Kennedy that he’s “in a pretty bad fix,” memorable to those who’ve seen the film Thirteen Days, can be located most precisely at the Miller Center’s online archive.

The big, interactive web project of the Cuban Missile Crisis, “To the Brink: JFK and the Cuban Missile Crisis,” also includes a nifty app for iPad (I haven’t tried this yet).

Among the most interesting pieces I’ve read is a story from last year in The Atlantic that draws on Sheldon M. Stern’s recent book The Cuban Missile Crisis in American Memory, which approaches the topic in a layered, textual, memory-studies way (as a medievalist, I appreciate these things…).  I think this is really a must-read piece, if you want to get a sense of some of the most recent trends in the scholarship are heading. The core reality of the situation, that the missiles really represented little by way of a strategic imbalance and that Khrushchev saw them as a response the U.S. stationing missiles in Turkey, seems to be well established by Stern, who was the first person to extensively study the Ex-Comm tapes, the conversations of the Executive Committee of the National Security Council. And the reality was that the removal of the missiles from Cuba was really a swap, the U.S. removing its Jupiter missiles from Turkey some months later. Kind of puts a different spin on things. Schwarz’s analysis, in The Atlantic, of the consequences of the Kennedy administration’s actions in terms of strategy and foreign policy, are substantial fare.

There was one comment after the article, however, which made me look up a few things. The commenter was claiming that it was actually the Eisenhower administration which deployed the Jupiter missiles to Turkey, and therefore that blaming Kennedy for creating his own mess is unfair. Without having read all the voluminous studies of the issue, this is true. The Jupiter missile was pushed by the Eisenhower administration, and negotiations for deployment overseas began in 1958.  The agreement with Turkey was concluded in October 1959, more than a year before Kennedy took office, although it was 1962 before the missiles were actually operational. So the idea for deployment originated with the Eisenhower administration, and I suppose just naturally carried over into the Kennedy administration. So, why not just can the idea, especially since the system was cumbersome and obsolete anyway? The answer would seem to be in Turkey’s role in the Cold War, which made the Turkish government very unenthusiastic about any action that suggested that they were less than a full member of NATO.

It’s always more complicated.