John F. Kennedy: The Promise Revisited

By Paul Harper; Joann P. Krieg | Go to book overview

The Dangerous Legacy: John F. Kennedy and the Cuban Missile Crisis

Michael P. Riccards

The propagation of myths surrounding leaders can be an interesting and even uplifting experience, but sometimes these very exaggerations can lead posterity to a dangerous flight from reality. Such is the case with the Cuban Missile Crisis--a twenty-five-year old legend that has proven remarkably immune in the public mind to recent scholarship and radically differing testimony. This historical warp is dangerous not only because it gives us an unclear, if not distorted, view of past events, but more importantly, because it provides an inappropriate model of how to deal with the Russians today.

The traditional components of the Cuban Missile Crisis are well known and have been vividly illuminated for the mass audience in the dramatic television film, The Missiles of October. Briefly, the plot summary is as follows: after having received various assurances from the Russians that no offensive weapons would be placed in Cuba, President Kennedy in late October 1962 received definite evidence that nuclear missile sites were being constructed; the Executive Committee of the National Security Council (ExCom), which usually met without the president, debated and formulated a series of alternatives and agreed in a consensual way on the blockade; the Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, having been caught redhanded, offered to remove the missiles for a no-invasion of Cuba pledge from the United States; before the administration could respond affirmatively, the premier, under pressure from the hawks in the Soviet Presidium, sent a second message demanding instead a swap of Cuban bases for American Jupiter bases in Turkey; the president, on the advice of his brother, simply accepted the first message, disregarded the second, and eventually Khrushchev capitulated and abandoned his reckless bid to change the balance of power. For Kennedy, the victory was total and complete, and he magnanimously avoided

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