What was the Cuban Missile Crisis?

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larrygates eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Cuban Missile crisis was the closest the United States came to nuclear war. President John Kennedy had recently met with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev in Paris when the Soviet leader browbeat him unmercifully. Because Kennedy acted so cowed in the encounter, the Soviets placed OFFENSIVE nuclear weapons in Cuba aimed at strategic points in the United States.  The United States had previously placed an embargo on Cuban sugar and tobacco in an attempt to eliminate the Cuban leader, Fidel Castro. Castro's response, probably at Soviet urging, was to declare himself a communist and to accept aid from the Soviets.

 Soviet missiles in Cuba were discovered by flyovers from U-2 Airplanes. The discovery was kept top secret; so much so that when President Kennedy ended a planned trip early, the public was told that he had a cold and needed to return to Washington. Later, Kennedy informed the nation in a nationwide address that Soviet Missiles were place in Cuba aimed at the U.S.; and that should the missiles be launched, the U.S. would retaliate. The entire world held its breath.

Kennedy blockaded Cuba to prevent further missiles or Soviet supplies from entering Cuba. He did not refer to his action as a blockade, as this would have been an act of war; rather he called it a "quarantine." After several very tense days, a deal was struck by which the Soviets withdrew their missiles from Cuba, and the U.S. withdrew missiles it had based in Turkey aimed at the Soviet Union.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Cuban Missile Crisis was an incident that happened in October 1962.  It involved the United States and the Soviet Union.  The two countries came into conflict when the US discovered that the Soviets had placed nuclear missiles in Cuba.  At that time, the Soviets had no missiles that could reach the continental US from Soviet territory.  By placing the missiles in Cuba, they would have gained the capability of hitting major US cities with nuclear weapons.

Because of this, Pres. Kennedy eventually decided to blockade Cuba.  This was a big risk because there were Soviet ships headed for Cuba with more missiles.  If the ships did not voluntarily turn back, there might have been war between the two countries.  As it turned out, the Soviets backed down, turned the ships back, and removed the missiles from Cuba.

This incident is seen as the closest the world ever came to nuclear war between the US and the Soviets.

readerofbooks eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Cuban missile crisis took place during the heyday of the cold war with the Soviet Union (1962). More specifically, under the leadership of President John F. Kennedy, Cuba and the Soviet Union decided to put tactical missiles in Cuba to strengthen the cause of communism around the world. I should note that these were nuclear missiles. The Soviet Union reacted in this way partially due to the allied powers in Europe who were nuclear threats.

When the United States found out about this, they told the Soviet Union to pull out their missiles. In fact, the United States created a naval boycott. They did not want an Soviet ships to enter in Cuba. This was an extremely tense situation, which almost escalated into another war. In the end, the Soviet Union backed down and the tensions eased.

fact-finder | Student

The Cuban Missile Crisis was a confrontation that took place in 1962 between the United States and the Soviet Union over the Soviet Union's sending of nuclear missiles to Fidel Castro (1926– ), the Communist leader of Cuba, an island nation 90 miles south of Florida. (Communism is a system of government in which the state controls the economy and only one political party holds power.) On October 14, 1962, an American U-2 spy plane photographed the missile sites the Soviets were building on Cuba. Some 40,000 Soviet soldiers were on the island, as were 20 missiles tipped with nuclear warheads. Such missiles would be able to reach the continental United States. The belief was that the Soviet Union and the United States were on the brink of nuclear war. U.S. President John Kennedy (1917–1963) demanded that the Soviets remove the missiles from Cuba, and he ordered a naval quarantine (forced confinement) of the country. American ships would stop any incoming vessels and search them for weapons before allowing them access to Cuba. Kennedy negotiated with Soviet premier (leader) Nikita Khrushchev pronounced (1894–1971), who also wanted to resolve the crisis short of nuclear war. The Soviet Union agreed to move its missiles from Cuba in return for a U.S. pledge that it would not attack Cuba. Secretly the United States also agreed to remove missiles from Turkey, although Kennedy had actually ordered their removal prior to the crisis because the missiles were outdated.

Further Information: Broderick, Jim. "Berlin and Cuba, Cold War Hotspots." History Today. December, 1998, p. 23; Garnett, John. "Face to Face with Armageddon." History Today. March, 1999, p. 34; Gow, Catherine. The Cuban Missile Crisis. San Diego: Lucent, 1997; Kort, Michael G. The Cold War. Brookfield, Conn.: Millbrook Press, 1994; Tegnell, Geoffrey, and Thomas Ladenburg. Revolution and Intervention: U.S.–Cuban Relations in the Twentieth Century. Boulder, Colo.: Social Science Education Consortium, 1992.

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