The Cuban Missile Crisis

I chose the subject of the Cuban Missile Crisis because I have always been interested in the Cold War and especially the relationship between President Kennedy and Premier Khrushchev. The missile crisis seemed to be the perfect topic as I already had several books on Kennedy, which contained information on the crisis. My original question was “Who played the most important role in bringing about a peaceful conclusion to the Cuban Missile Crisis, President Kennedy or Premier Khrushchev. ” Therefore my early reading centred on this question. The sources I studied were all secondary, either books or videos.

I wanted to produce a highly analytical study and started by making detailed notes on three relatively new books. I purchased One Hell of a Gamble by Fursenko and Naftali, A Question of Character by Thomas Reeves and The Dark Side of Camelot by Seymour Hersh. I started my research by reading One Hell of a Gamble. After making substantial notes I found that this book contained more factual than analytical information and was disappointed by its content. I then read large sections of the biographies, The Dark Side of Camelot and A Question of Character.

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The three books I had read all contained useful information on the build-up to the crisis and the events of the crisis itself. However, all three books took different viewpoints on who played the most crucial role in bringing about a peaceful conclusion to the Cuban Missile Crisis. I knew that many western historians took the view that President Kennedy saved the world and was by far the most crucial player in the ending of the missile crisis. Therefore I decided that one of my chapters would centre on this view of “Kennedy the hero. ” On reading these three books I then decided on the headings of my other chapters.

The Dark Side of Camelot by Seymour Hersh took the view that President Kennedy was by no means the most influential leader involved in achieving peaceful settlement to the Cuban Missile Crisis. Hersh criticises President Kennedy for his actions during the crisis labelling him as incompetent rash and reckless. He firmly believes that it was Premier Khrushchev who brought this “superpower game of chicken to an end1. ” Hersh puts forwards a well argued and convincing view, which questions the traditional opinion held by many western historians.

The book was useful in that it contained more analytical rather than factual information, which would prove extremely useful when writing up my study. Hersh, who says he is an admirer of President Kennedy, uncovers some new and interesting evidence to back up his opinion. He does not sensationalise Kennedy’s role in the Cuban Missile Crisis and sticks to his argument throughout. However, although Hersh’s argument caused me to question my own view that it was President Kennedy who played the most crucial role in the ending of the missile crisis, I felt his arguments seemed slightly exaggerated.

The second biography by Thomas Reeves took a slightly different view on roles of Kennedy and Khrushchev in the ending of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Although Reeves questions some of Kennedy’s actions during the crisis, he believes that in the end it was President Kennedy who was the most willing to find a peaceful solution to this terrifying crisis. For me, Thomas Reeves gives the most balanced and convincing view. He praises Kennedy whilst conceding that he did make some mistakes that gave the Soviets the initiative.

Again, Reeves is not afraid to put his opinion across and much of the information on the missile crisis is analytical, which pleased me a great deal. Out of the first three books I read One Hell of a Gamble was the most disappointing. I felt that although the book did contain a large amount of factual information, it was hard to find much opinion. However the view it presented, when it was evident, was a very new and convincing idea. The authors Fursenko and Naftali put forward the view that both John Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev were taking a huge risk when they brought the world to the brink of a nuclear war.

They even speculate that the missile crisis inspired President Kennedy’s assassination and brought Khrushchev’s political career to an end. Although this book was useful it is my belief that it did not contain enough relevant information. The view put forward is certainly a new and interesting opinion, but it is one that does not convince sufficiently. There is no doubt that both Jack Kennedy and Premier Khrushchev were taking a risk when they brought the world to the edge of a nuclear holocaust, but it would be unfair to label them both incompetents.

After reading these three books I decided to look for a book which took the traditional view on the Cuban Missile Crisis. I obtained The Kennedy Crises from my history department. The book is based around what the press thought of Kennedy’s policies and actions. It contains an array of opinions from journalists on Kennedy’s handling of the crisis many of which take the view that it was indeed the President who played the most crucial role in bringing about a peaceful conclusion to the crisis. The book proved very useful when writing my first chapter entitled “Kennedy the Hero.

Although many of the opinions held by American journalists seem slightly exaggerated the book nevertheless contained a body of useful information and opinion, which I could easily use when writing up my study. The Kennedy Crises along with A Question of Character and The Dark Side of Camelot proved the most useful books when it came to “putting pen to paper”, simply because they contain a vast amount of pertinent information and opinion. After thoroughly reading and making notes on the four aforementioned sources, I read sections of two other books The Kennedy Clan by J. Davis and Kennedy by Ted Sorensen one of President Kennedy’s speechwriters. Although these books do not contain huge amounts of opinion concerning the Cuban Missile Crisis, they were still useful. Kennedy gives a very overstated view of President Kennedy’s handling of the crisis and Sorensen firmly believes that the President was a hero, who was instrumental in the ending of the crisis. It is easy to understand why Sorensen puts across this view as he was so closely linked to the President.

However, one could say that Sorensen was next to Kennedy at every point during the crisis, and therefore would be a good judge of how the President handled the situation and whether he played the most crucial role in bringing about a peaceful conclusion to the Cuban Missile Crisis. I used The Kennedy Clan very little. Once to quote Harold Macmillan, the British Prime Minister at the time, and once to quote the authors view of the crisis. From the section of the book I read, Davis does seem to take a stance on the crisis but does say that President Kennedy’s willingness to go to nuclear war was to some observers disturbing.

The other sources I used in my study were two videos of BBC programmes, which I obtained from my history department. The first was a Cold War documentary, which contained information on the build-up and the events of the crisis. The video contained interviews with Fidel Castro, Ted Sorensen and the former Soviet Ambassador Dobrynin. Although the documentary contained a lot of factual information, it did not contain much opinion and did not prove particularly useful when writing up my study. The second video was a Timewatch documentary.

This contained recent evidence which shows that Fidel Castro was given tactical nuclear weapons by the Soviet government to use at will on invaders. This information was particularly useful and challenged the opinions of many other historians. Timewatch concludes that President Kennedy’s decision not to invade Cuba “saved the world2. ” After making notes on all of the sources I had obtained I decided the initial structure of my study.

* Background information and the causes of the crisis * The Western View – Kennedy the Hero * The Revisionist View Were President Kennedy and Premier Khrushchev both irresponsible gamblers? The three books I initially read helped me to decide how to structure my study. The Dark Side of Camelot and A Question of Character gave a revisionist view of President Kennedy’s handling of the crisis and how important he was to its conclusion. Therefore I decided that one of my chapters would centre on this view. I already knew that books such as Kennedy and The Kennedy Crises gave the traditional view of Jack Kennedy’s role in the ending of the missile crisis, and decided that one of my chapters would be entitled The Traditional Western View.

My final chapter would be based around the book One Hell of a Gamble and the view that both President Kennedy and Premier Khrushchev were gambling incompetents. I found it relatively easy to select information from the sources I had acquired. Most of the books I used had sections on the missile crisis from which I could extract views and information. My first draft was six hundred words below the limit which enabled me to add in more views and information that I had previously discarded. However after reading my draft study I found that I had not only answered my original question.

I found I had talked in some depth about the two leaders handling of the crisis and therefore decided to modify my question to “Who played the most crucial role in handling the Cuban Missile Crisis and achieving its peaceful conclusion, President Kennedy or Premier Khrushchev”. I also decided to add to my first chapter using extracts from Nikita Khrushchev’s memoirs. I changed the original title of the chapter to Kennedy the Hero – The Traditional Western View vs. the Soviet View and added views from the book Khrushchev Remembers.

There is, however somewhat of a question mark over this book, which some historians believe the Russian Premier did not write. It was, however, still relatively useful and provided one aspect of the Soviet view. I found the writing of my conclusion relatively easy. The book I agreed with most was A Question of Character by Thomas Reeves. I felt he gave the most balanced and convincing view much of which came through in my conclusion. The other books I studied gave well argued views, but I simply felt that they were exaggerated in some cases.

After finishing my study I was able to listen to the Kennedy tapes, which are recorded extracts of President Kennedy in meetings with EX-COMM. After extensive listening I felt that the tapes reinforced my view that it was the President who played the most crucial role in the handling and eventual ending of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Kennedy seems calm and in control of the situation throughout the meetings, and is at no point overcome by the seriousness of the crisis. I feel that I have learnt a great deal by researching this topic.

Both leaders have always interested me and the process of reading many different books and watching documentaries was certainly a fulfilling experience. Nearly all of the material used in my study was of a western origin and the only reservation I have is that I could not find more material produced by Russian historians. However I think that I managed to answer the question thoroughly even without these sources. If I had a little longer on my study I would have developed the traditional Soviet view and also my final chapter, which asked whether both John Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev were irresponsible gamblers.

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