Friday, February 2, 2007

The Cuban Missile Crisis

Tonight in my Spirit of the 60s class we had a very disjointed and unfortunate discussion about the Cuban Missile Crisis. The problem with these roundtable-type discussions is that the varying views are not at all met, or joined together, prior to the class meeting. I was in a group of students presenting on the crisis--a presentation that lasted twenty or so minutes--and I was quite disappointed.

Twenty minutes can't even skim the surface of the Cuban Missile Crisis. The aspect of the presenation that was my responsibility was U.N. Ambassador Stevenson's presentation to the Security Council and with a four minute audio clip, I wasn't even able to address the entire issue of the U.N. and public opinion in respect to the crisis.

Nobody mentioned the Ex-Comm. To name a few: McGeorge Bundy, Secretary Rusk, Director McCone, Generals Taylor and Curtis "Blow them off the map" LeMay, Stevenson, McNamara, LBJ, JFK, and of course Bobby Kennedy. How can an entire group of students completely miss this essential aspect of the Kennedy administration at that particular time in history? It happened.

There was little discussion of Khrushchev and his opinions on the crisis that are widely recognized since the publishing of his meoirs. There was no discussion of Castro's popularity and his motivation, the very motivation that allowed the missiles to enter Cuba in the first place. There was no mention of the thriving and intimidating relationship between Bobby and John Kennedy. No mention of Kenny O'Donnell. No Operation Mongoose. Very little mention of the telegrams/transmissions between the U.S. and U.S.S.R. No mention of how little involvement Vice President Johnson had in the entire situation. We should have watched Kennedy's speech to the nation. We should have seen the U-2 photographs of the missile sites. There is so much that was not even mentioned.

I suppose I know too much about this particular topic to be satisfied with a twenty minute discussion. After all, I have read the memoirs of Premier Khrushchev, Secretaries Rusk and McNamara, Cronkite, and Bobby Kennedy (his book Thirteen Days). Realizing this, it doesn't make any less frustrating to sit in a discussion like this one.

I could go on and on as it bothers me immensely that the discussion went so poorly, but then again I could talk about the Cuban Missile Crisis for days on end. Instead, on my already mentioned topic of the day--political leadership and courage--I'd like to comment on Adlai Stevenson.

When U.N. Ambassador Stevenson went into the U.N. Security Council meeting on October 25, 1962, expectations were low. Bobby Kennedy wanted to pull him out. Everyone viewed him as an old washed-up politician who didn't have it in him to be aggressive with the Soviets and Cubans. He may have been on his way out the political door (and would die no more than three years later), but his actions on the floor of the United Nations were courageous, necessary, and world changing.

In my humble opinion, Adlai Stevenson is the most underestimated and unfortunately unrecognized political figure of 20th century American history who in his two campaigns for President, his one term as governor of Illinois, and his service as ambassador to the United Nations exhibited nothing but political courage.

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