To what extent was the United States responsible for the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962?

The first source is a telegram of President John F. Kennedy’s reply to Chairman Nikita Khrushchev’s Letter of October 26, 1962. This was retrieved from a website entitled “John F. Kennedy President Library & Museum.” The origin of this source is valuable because, while no specific author is mentioned, the website as a whole is a tribute to President Kennedy. It started under Robert F. Kennedy, who was the first president. Since he was closely related to John F. Kennedy and was alive during the time of JFK’s presidency, this source is therefore more accurate in portraying the events that occurred during that time. However, the origin is limited due to the fact that there’s no evidence of who specifically published this information on the website and when it was done, which is crucial because it helps to know if the author had any prior knowledge on the topic and how soon the information was published after the actual incident (1962). The purpose of this source is to show how President Kennedy responded to Khrushchev in regards to the withdrawal of weapon systems from Cuba. This is valuable because it shows the exact message from the telegram that was sent to Khrushchev in 1962. This helps to understand what was going on during that time to analyze what President Kennedy’s intentions were regarding the Cuban Missile Crisis. This helps clarify what side the United States favored and sets a basis for an accurate response to the overall question. However, this information is limited from one perspective (the United States) and minimal is learned about what the Soviet Union favored.

The second source focuses on President John F. Kennedy and the Cuban Missile Crisis in general. This source was written by Professor Ernest R. May and was last updated on November 18, 2013. The origin of this source is valuable because May was an assistant professor at Harvard University in 1954 and wrote a book entitled “The Kennedy Tapes: Inside the White House during the Cuban Missile Crisis.” This shows his level of knowledge on the topic from what he learned in school and from writing his book. The fact that the date the source was last updated (2013) signifies how much information May had received ever since the day of the actual event and was able to have sufficient time to compile his knowledge into one source. However, the origin is limited because during the amount of time between 2013 and present time, new information could have been discovered about this topic. Skepticism arises due to whether the website was updated or not during that time frame.

The purpose of this source is to investigate “how Kennedy demonstrated his leadership skills during the crisis” (May). This is valuable because it includes what Kennedy’s actions were as well as certain other events that were happening around that time (i.e. the ExComm and the Turkish missiles issue). It even includes some of the actions the Soviet Union took as well and the end result for both countries. However, the limitations of the purpose are how one would question Kennedy’s leadership since his decisions were mostly based on the actions of other countries, such as Berlin and Turkey, and not his own.

As the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 involved talks from the Executive Committee of the National Security Council (ExComm) about implementing a surprise attack on Cuba followed by President Kennedy’s later decision to remove missiles from Cuba, it is favorable of a historian to say that the United States is fully responsible for the crisis. However, Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev “had promised repeatedly not to send offensive weapons to Cuba” (May). The United States was monitoring the construction of the missiles in Cuba with its U-2 aircrafts. Nonetheless, pictures were taken and Soviets were found secretly preparing the missiles. Also, Khrushchev’s failed attempt on an agreement with the United States about withdrawing missiles from Turkey sparked President Kennedy to take drastic measures as a result.

The ExComm deemed the attack on Cuba a success, but the attack would only be to sites that contained the missiles, as well as “air defence sites and bombers” (May). George Ball, the undersecretary of state said that an attack like this on Cuba would be “…like Pearl Harbor” (May). A historian would look back at the attack on Pearl Harbor and think how gruesome that event was. Many lives were lost and the whole attack was unexpected. However, this is what the ExComm wanted it to be like when the attack on Cuba was implemented. This attack would need sufficient time to develop, but in the interim, President Kennedy ordered a blockade, or quarantine, to “prevent the introduction of further missiles, and demanding that the Soviets withdraw the missiles already there” (May). President Kennedy was desperate in initiating the attack, but gave an ultimatum to the Soviets only within a day or two. If Khrushchev didn’t give in, then the United States would launch its attack. A historian reading this source would argue if President Kennedy was leaning more on the side of violence rather than a peaceful negotiation because he said to his joint chiefs of staff, “leaves me only one alternative, which is to fire nuclear weapons – which is a hell of an alternative” (May), meaning that President Kennedy would fire the nuclear weapons if he had no other option. The fate of Cuba now laid in the hands of President Kennedy and the United States because he had to decide whether or not to actually implement the attack on Cuba, seeing how external influences, such as the ultimatum, affected his decision-making. When the U-2 aircraft was shot, “Kennedy and his advisors prepared for an attack on Cuba within days as they searched for any remaining diplomatic resolution” (Office of the Historian, Bureau of Public Affairs). Another external influence pressured President Kennedy even more whether or not to attack Cuba, and if he decided to do so, a nuclear war would ensue.

The United States ended up being fully responsible for the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, but only to a certain extent. While it is true that the United States was irresolute in whether or not to implement the attack on Cuba and eventually taking charge in the demands of removing the missiles from Cuba, there are contributing factors as to who else is ultimately responsible for the crisis. As mentioned previously, the U-2 aircrafts flew over Cuba taking pictures in which they depicted Soviet soldiers secretly preparing the missiles. Khrushchev “had promised repeatedly not to send offensive weapons to Cuba…” (May), but it turned out that he was lying when the United States took his word for it. President Kennedy stated that “he would not protest about such defensive weaponry being installed in Cuba, but warned that if the Soviets ever introduced offensive weapons, ‘the gravest issues would arise’” (May). A historian reading this would wonder that these “gravest issues” are. Finding this out could contribute in proving that the Soviet Union could be responsible for this crisis. The United States’ innocence in being responsible for the crisis is shown in the telegram of President Kennedy’s reply to Khrushchev’s Letter of October 26, 1962. It says, “But the first ingredient, let me emphasize, is the cessation of work on missile sites in Cuba and measures to render such weapons inoperable, under effective international guarantees” (JFK Library). If a historian was reading this, he/she would infer that President Kennedy wasn’t looking for any more trouble. His priority was to make sure the weapons in Cuba didn’t operate. He later says that it “would surely lead to an intensification of the Cuban crisis and a grave risk to the peace of the world” (JFK Library). President Kennedy didn’t want the crisis to become worse and ensue violence. Therefore, the historian can conclude that the United States wasn’t responsible for the crisis because she wanted to end it rather than start it or make it worse. As mentioned previously, there was a failed attempt of Khrushchev on an agreement with the United States about withdrawing missiles from Turkey. On October 26-27, 1962, Khrushchev was going to remove the missiles from Cuba if the United States promised to not invade. But Khrushchev turned things around by adding the withdrawal of missiles and other dangers from Turkey to the list. The United States, however, didn’t concur with this. President Kennedy wanted to calm Khrushchev down by sending the Soviet ambassador “to tell him that the missiles in Turkey were obsolete, and that the US planned to pull them out within about six months” (May). Again, President Kennedy wasn’t trying to look for violence nor a dispute. Nevertheless, this had no effect but resulted in the missiles being taken apart to be returned to the Soviet Union. A historian examining this situation would ask why Khrushchev demanded more than what he and President Kennedy agreed upon? The historian can also conclude that Khrushchev had been responsible because of their higher demands and belated resolutions. President Kennedy and the United States were trying all they can to prevent any dangers from happening, but one sees how Khrushchev and the Soviet Union were asking for missiles to be removed from Cuba as well as Turkey when the crisis was just terminating. If Khrushchev had agreed with President Kennedy from the start, it would have prevented President Kennedy to have to take any unnecessary actions.

Based on the evidence provided, it can be inferred that the United States was responsible for the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, but only to a certain extent. President Kennedy and the ExComm were thinking about implementing a surprise attack on Cuba, but it never happened, which caused the United States to instead call for the removal of missiles from Cuba. However, the actions of the Soviets in Cuba along with Khrushchev strict demands dealing with the withdrawal of missiles from Turkey made them more responsible for the crisis.

After doing this investigation, I realized the many challenges facing historians, such as coming across contradictory sources and their limitations, and the different methods used to study history, such as analyzing cause and effect in primary and secondary source documents. I grasped a deeper meaning of the nature of history as well.

As I was analyzing different sources, I realized how one source talked about the events that occurred in the Cuban Missile Crisis. I retained the information in my head as I read the first source, but only to find out that a second source had an important event or fact not listed in the first source. For example, as I was reading the source “John F Kennedy and the Cuban Missile Crisis” from bbc.co.uk, I saw the section entitled “A Berlin crisis, not a Cuba crisis,” However, when I read the source “Office of the Historian, Bureau of Public Affairs,” nothing about Berlin was mentioned. This prompted me to keep looking for more and more sources to see what new information I can find about the crisis, since there’s no quintessential source that talks about every single aspect. Leaving out a big piece of information can be the difference between a reliable source and an unreliable source and one can question whether the author made speculations about the occurrences dealing with Berlin and the Soviet Union since that information isn’t in every source.

I also perceived some of the methods historians use to study history and realized that studying history is more than just reading articles talking about a specific event. Primary source documents, like the letter (telegram) President Kennedy sent to Khrushchev, are significant. Instead of getting an answer to a question I might’ve had from an author as to how President Kennedy responded as a result of the crisis, I can examine primary source documents that show what President Kennedy actually said during that time, and one can comprehend how he didn’t want to make matters concerning the crisis worse when reading this primary source.

This investigation opened my eyes to many different thoughts and insights about the nature of history. I realized that there is no single right answer in history; everything is open to interpretation. I’ve had many questions regarding the efficacy of my overall question. Was the United States really responsible for the crisis? Can the answer of my overall question have anything to do with other events occurring at the same time as the crisis? These questions show uncertainty and can be discussed and debated since there is no single right answer. Based on my sources, I would say that it’s impossible to capture the entirety of an event. This leads to more uncertainty since not all sources contain the same information and since not everything that happened was recorded or written down.

Overall, this investigation has allowed me to learn what and why historians face many challenges when analyzing different sources, the different methods used to study history, and the deeper meaning of the nature of history. I also learned that nothing in history comes down to a solid, definitive answer. It is important to evaluate how reliable sources really are for justification.

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