Profiles in Courage and Ignorance
Last month was the 60th anniversary of the Cuban missile crisis. This nuclear stand-off occurred 17 years after the United States ushered in the nuclear age by dropping atomic bombs on Japan to end World War II. John F. Kennedy was 28 at the time, and Fidel Castro was 19. Neither man knew they were headed for a Cold War collision.
Castro came to power first.
He led a revolutionary group that overthrew the U.S. backed Batista regime in 1959. US President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s final policy directive was to remove Castro from power in Cuba.
Kennedy was elected President of the United States in 1960.
The next year, Kennedy invaded Cuba to remove Castro, but Castro was forewarned by Soviet intelligence. Kennedy’s “Bay of Pigs” invasion didn’t just fail, it was an international embarrassment. It gave the impression the new American president was inept.
Later that year, Castro announced to the world that Cuba was a communist nation.
In 1962 the Soviet Union decided to protect its communist ally from future US invasion and establish its military might in the western hemisphere by placing nuclear weapons in Cuba.
US intelligence discovered the Soviet Union placed nuclear weapons ninety-miles from the American shore. Naturally, the US felt threatened, declared it an act of aggression, and demanded that the Soviet Union remove the weapons.
The doomsday scenario was if the Soviets refused, then the US would be forced to destroy the weapons in a surgical airstrike then re-invade Cuba to remove Castro. This course of action would have led to war between the superpowers.
It took thirteen grueling days for the Kennedy Administration to prevent a nuclear war.
The US agreed not to invade Cuba unless provoked and to remove their nuclear weapons from Italy and Turkey in exchange for the Soviet Union taking their nuclear weapons out of Cuba.
Anti-communists in the United States accused Kennedy of abandoning our allies and backing down to Soviet aggression. Kennedy responded to his critics in a famous speech about world peace, delivered…