1961: A Year of Crisis, Steadfastness,
Our greatest challenge is still the world that lies beyond the cold war--but the first great obstacle is still our relations with the Soviet Union and Communist China
State of the Union Address 1961
Kennedy's first year in office was marked by crisis, dominated by foreign policy issues and unrelenting in its competition with the Soviets. Khrushchev's military challenges in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Berlin, and Cuba ensured that the year would be one of trial and testing for Kennedy and the nation.
Ten days after the Inaugural Kennedy delivered his first State of the Union speech, underscoring his themes of warnings and sacrifice from his Inaugural Address. He emphasized the somberness of the times: "Each day the crises multiply. . . . Each day we draw nearer to the hour of maximum danger. . . . the tide of events has been running out and time is not our friend. . . . There will be further obstacles before the tide is turned."
Reporters thought he was unusually pessimistic and grim, but events within a few months soon proved his point. By March, communist-led forces were close to overtaking Laos. Later that month, the Soviets blocked any possibility for agreement at nuclear test ban talks by demanding a Troika veto on all inspections, thus rendering the process useless.
In April, Kennedy's decisions contributed to the state of crisis. CIA officials convinced him that the Eisenhower plan to invade Cuba, using Cuban exiles as soldiers, would succeed if implemented immediately. Kennedy and Eisenhower had both understood that this was to be a guerrilla operation, with troops quietly infiltrating the country and arousing the citizens against Castro. But the operation was a disaster. The CIA failed to involve the Cuban exile leaders in Florida, who were in contact with an anti-Castro network throughout the island. Instead, the CIA launched a full-scale conventional military