The Crisis Years Essay - Critical Essays

Michael R. Beschloss

The Crisis Years

Michael Beschloss is a TV journalist who appears regularly on CNN, and the author of an important study of Eisenhower’s Soviet policy entitled MAYDAY: EISENHOWER, KHRUSHCHEV, AND THE U-2 AFFAIR (1986). In writing THE CRISIS YEARS: KENNEDY AND KHRUSHCHEV, 1960-1963 Beschloss has made extensive use of newly declassified material including tapes of White House conversations, records from Soviet archives, and interviews with key figures such as Richard Helms, former CIA Director.

This volume examines U.S.-Soviet relations from 1960 to 1963, a period which Beschloss appropriately labels the “crisis years” because it was a period in which the two great powers came closer to nuclear war than at any other time in history. Although President Kennedy became a capable crisis manager Beschloss suggests that in part because of his inexperience Kennedy bore substantial responsibility for creating many of the crises which dominated his presidency. Beschloss claims that Khrushchev desired rapprochement with the U.S. so that he could cut Soviet military spending and use the funds for consumer goods. Kennedy, Beschloss argues, consistently misjudged Khrushchev, pursuing policies which unnecessarily brought the U.S. and the Soviet Union to the brink of war.

John Kennedy’s relations with women have attracted considerable attention, and Beschloss carefully spells out the political implications this issue. During World War II, Kennedy had an affair with a woman who he knew was suspected of being a Nazi spy. As president, he had affairs with an East German woman and with the mistress of a Mafia boss. These affairs exposed Kennedy to potential blackmail from various groups—and from J. Edgar Hoover, who had proof of these relationships.

Kennedy’s reputation among historians has declined dramatically in recent years. Although Beschloss attempts to be fair to Kennedy, and does acknowledge his successes, THE CRISIS YEARS will reinforce this historiographical trend. This is an excellent study of an important period in U.S. and world history.

Sources for Further Study

Chicago Tribune. June 2, 1991, XIV, p. 1.

Foreign Affairs. LXX, Fall, 1991, p. 174.

London Review of Books. XIII, October 10, 1991, p. 8.

Los Angeles Times Book Review. June 23, 1991, p. 1.

New Statesman and Society. IV, August 30, 1991, p. 46.

The New York Times Book Review. XCVI, June 16, 1991, p. 3.

The New Yorker. LXVII, August 26, 1991, p. 77.

Publishers Weekly. CCXXXVIII, April 19, 1991, p. 50.

Time. CXXXVII, May 6, 1991, p. 17.

The Wall Street Journal. August 1, 1991, p. A10.

The Washington Post Book World. XXI, June 9, 1991, p. 1.