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Investigation of How John F. Kennedy Was Responsible for Causing The Cuban Missile Crisis

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This investigation will explore the question: How responsible was John F. Kennedy for causing the 1963 Cuban Missile Crisis? The years 1962 & 1963 will be the focus of this investigation, as well as any post-crisis or pre-crisis evidence that can be used in this investigation to better answer the research question.

The primary source shows President John F. Kennedy speaking to the members of congress about the Cuban missile crisis. Its origins are from a broadcaster called “Universal-International News” which can be seen in the title card at the beginning of the film. A value of this source is that it is coming directly from John F. Kennedy, who was the president of the United States at the time, and as such knew a great deal about the conflict. It is questioned many times since the Cuban Missile crisis if members of the United States government intentionally withheld information that they feared might fall into the hands of the Soviets, and we must assume then that what president John F. Kennedy is saying in his speech may or may not be the whole truth of the story. Therefore it could be argued that it is a limitation of the source as well. The purpose of the source is to inform the people of the United States first-hand about the conflict that has risen in Cuba and how the United States will respond. A limitation of the purpose is that because the speech is addressed to the American people, President John F. Kennedy may have felt it necessary to omit certain information that he felt should not be known by the public. The content of this speech indicates that John F. Kennedy did not want a nuclear war, and by the end of the speech asked Kruschev to end this race for domination and to keep friendly relations between the two countries. A value of this that can be seen straight away is that Kennedy did not want the two countries to go to war with each other, much less a nuclear war, however, he also saw the dangerous situation, and was forced to take action against it, before any more offensive pushes were detected.

The secondary source is an opinion article by The Guardian explaining how the Cuban Missile Crisis happened, and how well the United States government, and in particular John F. Kennedy handled the situation. The origin of this source is an online article published by a reputable news outlet. This is a value of the source, as we can be fairly certain that most if not all information in the article is true and based on factual evidence. However, a limitation of the origin is that it is an opinion article, meaning that the author can include his own bias in the story which may not be good for analytical purposes and can introduce an outlier in the information. The purpose of the article is to mainly educate and give people an introductory explanation into what caused the Cuban Missile Crisis and how it was averted. A value of this is that there is not a lot of difficult terminologies only understood by well-educated and professional historians. The limitation of this, however, is that the terminology may be too simple to get satisfactory information at this level of education. Lastly, the content shows a lot of pictures and diagrams pertaining to the article. This is yet another value as the reader can link the texts to the images and diagrams and gain a better understanding with the help of visual pointers.


The Cuban missile crisis can be described as one of the pivotal moments in human history. The Cuban missile crisis was part of the Cold War between the United States of America (USA), and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), which were the two biggest superpowers of their time. World War 2 ended abruptly and violently with the destruction of Nagasaki and Hiroshima by the USA with the use of atomic bombs. These bombs were the most violent bombs ever to have created, and the 2 bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki are to this day the only nuclear-capable weapons that have been deployed in warfare; with very good reason. After the end of the Second World War, both the USA and the USSR created nuclear-capable missiles, which were able to be deployed in an overseas territory close to the enemy, and hit them with relative accuracy. Both the political leaders of the USA and the USSR continued to threaten each other with these missiles, until June of 1961 when it all came to a culmination.

On the first of June 1961, the United States signed an agreement with Turkey to deploy 15 nuclear-capable missiles in their territory, which would give the USA the advantage of being able to use them on the USSR with minimal time delay. Nikita Kruschev, the Soviet premier at the time didn’t want to be threatened from Turkey, and needed a place where he could put nuclear-capable missiles at America’s doorstep, thus having an advantage when negotiating for territory such as Berlin. The most logical choice for this was Cuba. It was close to the USA and had a communist leader; Fidel Castro. In regards to Castro Anastas Mikoyan said: “Yes, he is a genuine revolutionary. Completely like us. I felt as though I had returned to my childhood!”. On an unknown date, Fidel Castro met with the head of Soviet special forces in Havana. The head of Special Forces laid out their plan and framed it in such a way that it was actually a protection plan against American invasion into Cuba. Castro conferred with his advisors and agreed. This development overseas is something that was completely out of John F. Kennedy’s hands and is something he wouldn’t have been able to stop or delay in time with the information he had.

Since the deployment of Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba needed to stay a secret until they were ready, the missiles along with 42,000 Soviet soldiers were secretly shipped to Cuba in large timber freighters. The soldiers were disguised as Cuban civilians or Cuban soldiers so as to not arouse suspicion to any American spy who may or may not be stationed on Cuba. They (USA) saw the missile deployment in Cuba – about which they learned only in mid-October, 1962. Kennedy was in a bad position, because the Soviet buildup in Cuba had been known for quite some time, and his political rivals had been capitalising on the fact that Kennedy wasn’t taking any action against this, even though Soviet weaponry and 42,000 soldiers were only 90 miles away from Florida. The reason for this was that Kruschev and Kennedy had been in contact with each other in private, and Kruschev told Kennedy that the buildup was only defensive and that he wouldn’t deploy nuclear missiles in Cuba. Knowing this, Kennedy said that the defensive buildup was fine, however, he would take action if he found nuclear missiles in Cuba. He said this, thinking that Kruschev would never put any nuclear missiles in Cuba. This is a key factor when analyzing Kennedy’s responsibility. He relied too heavily on the trust he placed in a Soviet leader, which in hindsight was very obviously misplaced.

When Kennedy realised the deceit, he not only needed to worry about the Soviet Union launching missile at the USA, but he was also convinced that he would be impeached if he failed to take action. The heads of government convened at the White House to discuss possible retaliation plans. Kennedy had told Kruschev that he would take action if he was to place nuclear missiles in Cuba, and not going through with his promise would be a sign of weakness, giving Kruschev the freedom of placing nuclear missiles in other strategic places under the false defensiveness of their deployment and strengthening the plans for Kennedy’s impeachment. The three options that Kennedy had at his disposal were Diplomacy, a Naval Blockade, and an Airstrike. Diplomacy was, of course, the option with the least possibility of casualties, both military and civilian; nonetheless, it had a low chance of working, and it would take far too long to come to any kind of compromise. Therefore a Naval Blockade seemed to be the one with the highest chance of success. Block access to Cuba, but still, leave room for possible negotiating.

On the 22nd of October at 1:00 am Moscow time, Kennedy and Kruschev come into communication, 1 hour before Kennedy’s public press release at 2 am. Kennedy issues an ultimatum; he knows that 14 Soviet freighters are headed to Cuba, and one is carrying the world’s most powerful medium-range nuclear missiles. In the Caribbean, the American Navy has created a “Quarantine” around Cuba, and Kennedy threatens that he will use the warships to prevent the freighters from ever reaching Cuba. Kennedy and Krushchev reached an agreement on a settlement that led to the removal of the missiles, and it secured that Kennedy had resolved the Cuban missile crisis.

All in all, we can draw a conclusion that John F. Kennedy was not wholly responsible for starting the Cuban Missile Crisis, but he did escalate the issue with the constant threat of impeachment if he didn’t do anything. We can, therefore, say that the decisions that Kennedy made, in the end, did save the world from mutually assured destruction, but they could have been better if he was not under so much pressure from all of the American people pressing for impeachment if he didn’t solve the problem at hand. For all intents and purposes, it could also be argued that Eisenhower had a part in starting the Cuban Missile Crisis, as he was the president before Kennedy who stationed nuclear-capable missiles in Turkey. It is most likely that the Soviets saw this as a threat from the Americans, and thus wanted to retaliate by conveniently placing their own nuclear-capable missiles in Cuba.


In my investigation, I wanted to highlight the differences in reliability for different sources, especially in an investigation about a topic that by its very nature was full of lies, truth, cover-ups and espionage. Finding the right source material for the investigation proved to be rather difficult, but because of the more open nature of the United States government compared to the Soviet government at the time, I chose the speech made by John F. Kennedy as my primary source. Primary sources from the Soviet perspective certainly exist, but considering the Soviets history with covering up the truth, and trying to present themselves as a superior state, the limitations of such sources would have been substantial. As well as this, Soviet sources to this topic have a high chance of being written in Russian, which for many students studying History is a language that they don’t speak. Even if translations do exist, it would present another limitation which is that due to the translation, some deeper meaning of the text may have been lost in the process. Many historians would classify the Cuban Missile Crisis as an important historical event. It certainly came close to a major conflict, however, a historical event should not be judged by how destructive or even potentially destructive it was, but rather by the changes or implications it has brought into people’s lives, following its resolution. An example from outside of the Coldar would be the detonation of the nuclear warheads on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Historians still argue about whether or not it was just to drop them, however, almost all historians agree that following the end of the second world war, countries (in particular the Soviet Union and the United States) saw the destructive potential of these bombs. Conventional warfare as it had been known for centuries had now been almost completely put out of the picture, as now there were bombs in existence on both sides that could level entire cities and cause harm to the population of multiple countries. “One lesson that came out of it [Cuban Missile Crisis] was the extent to which Russians and Americans had failed to think similarly going into it. What had appeared to be “rational” behaviour in Moscow had come across as dangerously “irrational” behaviour in Washington”.

Works cited

  1. Chomsky, Noam. ‘Cuban missile crisis: how the US played Russian roulette with nuclear war.’ The Guardian, Accessed 7 Feb. 2020.
  2. ‘Cuban Missile Crisis.’ History, Accessed 13 Feb. 2020.
  3. ‘Cuban Missile Crisis – Eyeball to Eyeball – Extra History – #2.’ YouTube, uploaded by Extra Credits, Google, Accessed 13 Feb. 2020.
  4. ‘Cuban Missile Crisis – The Failed Checkmate – Extra History – #1.’ YouTube, uploaded by Extra Credits, Google, Accessed 13 Feb. 2020.
  5. Gaddis, John Lewis. The Cold War: A New History. New York, Penguin Books, 2007.
  6. ‘The history of the Cuban Missile Crisis – Matthew A. Jordan.’ YouTube, uploaded by TED-Ed, Google, Accessed 13 Feb. 2020.
  7. ‘John F. Kennedy Missile Crisis.’ YouTube, Google, Accessed 7 Feb. 2020.
  8. Painter, David S. The Cold War: An Interdisciplinary History. New York, Routledge, 1999.

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