Becoming JFK: A Profile in Communication

By Vito N. Silvestri | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER 14
Drama and Dialogue about Nuclear
Suicide: The Cuban Missile Crisis

In the late summer of 1961, shortly after the Berlin Wall was erected, the Soviet Union broke faith with a three-year moratorium by announcing a resumption of atmospheric nuclear tests. Earlier that year at the Vienna talks, Khrushchev had agreed that the Soviet Union would not resume testing. Kennedy had hoped that a condition of no atmospheric testing might be the first step in a nuclear control agreement. Finally, realizing that there was no other alternative, he announced in March 1962, that the United States would resume testing. Six months later, he announced that the United States would conduct underground testing. The relentless nuclear race, despite Geneva talks on arms control, was still very much alive.

The real test of thermonuclear politics occurred in October 1962, when Khrushchev established missiles capable of firing nuclear warheads in Cuba. That action was the climax to the intensity and terror of the arms race between the two stockpiling nations.


Background

In August, 1962, Soviet ships began delivering military cargo to the Cuban interior. U.S. photographic surveillance by U-2 planes began to show an undefined but clearly military activity. On September 4, Kennedy warned Khrushchev that the United States would use "whatever means necessary" to protect the Western Hemisphere from Cuban aggression. Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko responded by informing the United Nations General Assembly that any US attack on Cuba would mean war. A few days later the U.S. House and Senate approved a joint resolution sanctioning the use of force against Communist aggression and subversion in Cuba. Later that month a defecting Cuban pilot confirmed US intelligence information that the Soviets had placed more than 200 MIG fighter airplanes in Cuba.

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