Monday, October 22, 2012

50 Years Ago Tonight: President Kennedy Addresses The United States During the Cuban Missile Crisis. The Destruction of the World Narrowly Averted

This really frightened Americans in 1962- Huge Russian Missiles in Red Square

At 7 p.m. on Monday, October 22nd, 1962, President John F. Kennedy appeared on television to inform the American people of the recently discovered installation of Russian nuclear missiles in Cuba.  The situation would become known as the Cuban Missile Crisis. President Kennedy announced a "quarantine" of any ship sailing to Cuba that had offensive weapons on it.  This "quarantine" was actually a blockade, which is a declaration of war under international definition.

The President had first learned of the missiles on October 16th, when he was shown aerial photos taken by an American U-2 spy plane over Cuba, located some ninety miles off the coast of Florida.  The United States was not willing to tolerate Russian atomic weapons in its own backyard.

Premier Khrushchev of the USSR Forced his Military to Back Down

This was the closest the world has ever come to complete nuclear annihilation.  Luckily, both sides backed down, the USSR (Russia) under Khrushchev, who was to lose his position due to the confrontation,  and the United States under Kennedy, who would be assassinated the next year. Both nation's armed forces.  were prepared to go to war and use atomic weapons. It became known in later years that the Russian missile commanders in Cuba actually had authority to launch nuclear missiles at the United States if they were attacked. The results would have been catastrophic.

Here is President Kennedy addressing the American people and the world 50 years ago.  This speech did not induce a panic in the United States, but firm resolve and support of the President. It was Kennedy's finest hour in terms of leading the free world, and reaching a secret compromise with the Russian leadership by agreeing to remove U.S. missiles in Russia's backyard in nearby Turkey -- that were scheduled for removal anyway in the next few years.

For an interesting reassessment of the Cuban Missile Crisis, and how the myth of a United States "victory" over Russia helped fuel aggression in the cold war (the situation the United States and Russia faced from 1946 - 1989 when they were ideological enemies) see this month's issue of Foreign Policy:

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