EYEBALL TO EYEBALL: AN INTERACTIVE MAP OF THE CUBAN MISSILE CRISIS
Following the Allied victory over the Axis powers in World War II, the world took a sigh of relief as a serious global threat had been defeated. Unfortunately, a new threat would quickly emerge as former Allies, the United States and the Soviet Union, would become bitter adversaries.
Although the United States and the Soviet Union were able to find common ground against a common enemy during World War II, ideologically they were very different. In the wake of the victory of over the Axis powers, it became clear that the United States and the Soviet Union were headed in different directions. The relationship between these two nations was rocky from the very beginning when President Woodrow Wilson refused to recognize the newly formed Soviet Union. Ideologically, the communist world and the democratic world would have difficulty seeing eye to eye. This became apparent shortly after the end of World War II when the Soviet Union and the other Allies could not agree on how to deal with Germany. What resulted was a divided Germany and a former alliance split regarding the direction of the future of Europe. The Soviet Union under the leadership of Josef Stalin sought to expand communism in Europe and throughout the world. The United States promptly developed a foreign policy meant to contain communism. The post-World War II reality would be a cold war that would last from 1945 until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
The Cold war would include an arms race, espionage, a space race, and attempts to win over the hearts and minds of people in third world countries. After the United States developed the Atomic bomb, the Soviet Union was not far behind. Next came the larger Hydrogen bomb and the race to build a larger, more powerful arsenal was on. Both nations worked to develop their military capabilities and to ensure that they did not fall behind their adversary. More nuclear weapons were built and more airplanes were built in order to deliver these destructive weapons. By 1954, the United States nuclear arsenal far out matched the Soviet arsenal. Also, in 1954, President Dwight Eisenhower established a massive retaliation policy that appeared to push the two nations to the point of brinkmanship. As the 1950’s began to come to a close, The United States Cold War concerns would continue. By the end of the decade, communism had spread throughout Europe, Asia, and even into the western hemisphere. 1957 would become a pivotal year as the Soviet Union successfully launched the first missile and satellite into space. The United States would soon follow with successful missiles of their own.
At this point, there began a shift in military capabilities. No longer did the two nations have to rely on airplanes to deliver a nuclear attack, now missiles could get the job done more efficiently. By 1960, the United States’ nuclear arsenal far outnumbered that of the Soviet Union with an estimated arsenal of 18,638 compared to 1,627. By 1962, the year of the Cuban Missile Crisis, the United States had 203 Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) compared to the Soviet Union’s 36. Both nations also had strategic bomber planes in their arsenal; the United States with 1,306 and the Soviets with 138. Lastly, each nation had an arsenal of Intermediate Range Ballistic Missiles (IRBMs) and Medium Range Ballistic Missiles (MRBMs). The United States had a clear advantage heading into the decade of the 1960’s.
In 1962, the Soviet Union made the decision to move missiles into Cuba. When the United States received intelligence reports clearly showing Soviet missiles in Cuba, President Kennedy was forced to deal with the reality of a serious cold war threat. My interactive map will layout a timeline of events that led to this crisis and chronical the important events that led to the resolution of the possibility of nuclear war.
Further background information is helpful in understanding the Soviet escalation of nuclear missiles into Cuba. The relationship between the United States and Cuba took a major turn in 1959, when Fidel Castro assumed power after a 6 year revolution. Problems would escalate quickly as the new Castro government embraced communism. In early 1960, the Soviet Union sent diplomats to Cuba to successfully establish diplomatic relations with the new Cuban government and attempt to decrease Cuba’s dependence on the United States. Shortly after this meeting the United States would end foreign aid to Cuba. Next under President Eisenhower, the United States ended the importation of Cuban sugar and in August of 1960 the United States would impose a trade embargo on the island nation. Weeks after the imposition of the embargo, John F. Kennedy would win the presidency and inherit the difficulties between the United States and Cuba. JFK’s inauguration would be quickly followed by the Kennedy administrations first serious dealing with Cuba.
On April 17, 1961, a group of U.S. backed Cuban exiles attempted an invasion and overthrow of the Castro regime. The Bay of Pigs invasion turned out to be a major failure and resulted in heightened tension between the United States, Cuba and the Soviet Union. Shortly after the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, JFK approved Operation Mongoose. This covert CIA operation would attempt to destabilize Cuba through acts of sabotage and attempted assassinations attempts on Fidel Castro. In January of 1962, the United States successfully lobbied the nations of the Organization of American States to exclude Cuba from the organization, effectively isolating them from their neighbors in the region. These actions prompted the Cuban government under Fidel Castro to improve their relationship with the Soviet Union. Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, in order to further support Cuba and create more nuclear balance between the U.S.S.R and the U.S., puts together a plan to move medium range and intermediate range missile into Cuba. In May of 1962, Khrushchev sent a diplomatic team to Cuba to meet with Cuban officials to discuss moving missiles onto the island. Khrushchev believed that the ability to move missiles into Cuba would benefit the U.S.S.R.by countering the U.S. missiles in Turkey and closing the gap between the nations ICBM’s. Placing missiles in Cuba could also ensure that the Unites States would not invade Cuba in the future.
All of these developments would come to a head during 13 days in October of 1962. Newly elected President John F. Kennedy would by thrust into a crisis of massive proportions that would go on to be a defining moment in his presidency and in Cold War history.
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