In the fall of 1962, at the height of the Cold War, the Soviet Union found an unexpected opportunity to expand its communist influence into America's backyard. The new government in Cuba, headed by Fidel Castro, was feuding with the United States, which prompted Castro to open his nation's doors to Soviet military intervention. The Russians, anxious to firmly entrench communism in a country less than 100 miles from the United States, responded enthusiastically. The Soviet Union proceeded recklessly to install guided missiles in Cuba with the capacity to deliver hydrogen warheads to both North and South America.
On the morning of Tuesday, October 16, President John F. Kennedy was presented with photographs, taken by an American U-2 spy plane, revealing the clandestine Soviet missile sites. Immediately, the President created an Executive Committee of the National Security Council (Ex Comm) to handle the situation. On the advice of Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, Kennedy ordered a naval blockadea "quarantine" of Cubato prevent any further arms build-up.
While a fleet of American warships moved south to form the blockade, additional military preparations were underway. B-52s, armed with hydrogen bombs, filled the skies at all times; additional bombers, also loaded with nuclear weapons, were dispersed to airfields around the globe. Several Polaris submarines carrying nuclear missiles were dispatched toward the coast of Russia. America's Guantanamo Bay Naval Base (located on Cuban soil) was reinforced. Further, "Operation Scabbards," the top-secret invasion of Cuba with 90,000 troops, was scheduled for October 30.
In a brief televised address on the evening of October 22, the President informed anxious American citizens that the Soviet Union was preparing offensive missile sites in Cuba. Kennedy publicly called on Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev to dismantle the missile bases and immediately remove all weapons capable of striking the United States. Khrushchev balked, calling Russia's action a defensive measure against potential Cold War attacks launched by the United States.
For several days the world teetered on the brink of nuclear disaster as the two military superpowers squared off. Kennedy and Khrushchev exchanged calculated correspondence, government advisors feverishly issued recommendations, military commanders readied their troops for nuclear war, and both heads-of-state searched their mind and soul for purpose to their next action.
On October 27, several events accelerated the crisis. FBI agents learned that Soviet officials in New York City were burning documents. A U-2 plane was shot down over Cuba. Work on the missile sites was notably hastened. Another Khrushchev letter arrived in Washington with tougher demands than before. By nightfall, the prevailing tone was foreboding; war with Russia seemed ready to commence.
The high drama of the Cuban Missile Crisis is recounted moment-by-moment, blow-by-blow in the movie Thirteen Days, released in 2000. It features Bruce Greenwood as President John F. Kennedy, Steven Culp as Attorney General Robert Kennedy, Dylan Baker as Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, and Michael Fairman as United States Ambassador to the United Nations Adlai Stevenson. The film's central character is Special Assistant to the President Kenneth P. O'Donnell, played by Kevin Costner. Predictably, his role in defusing the Cuban Missile Crisis is overstated.
The title of the film is copied from Robert Kennedy's 1967 book, a compilation of his personal recollections and diary entries about the event. The filmscript is drawn from several books (Kennedy's not included), historical documents, Oval Office tapes, and interviews with O'Donnell conducted in the 1970s. As a result, Thirteen Days presents a generally accurate, but definitely Hollywood-enhanced account of the harrowing Cuban Missile Crisis.
The movie's most apparent chief flaw is the inflated status of Costner/O'Donnell. O'Donnell and Robert Kennedy were close friends, dating back to 1947 when they crossed paths at Harvard University; both were football players and members of the debate team. During the 1950s, O'Donnell served as an election campaign operator for the Kennedys. His loyalty and skillfulness earned him a position within JFK's White House administration. Even though O'Donnell was apparently involved in some minor policy-making decisions from time to time, and despite the fact that he and Bobby Kennedy were the President's closest confidants, O'Donnell's actual part in the October Crisis was negligible. Indeed, the younger Kennedy mentions O'Donnell just three times in his entire book, none of which come at particularly significant junctures.
The other major distortion in Thirteen Days is less specific, but more important overall. Dean Acheson, based on his experience as Secretary of State under President Harry S Truman, was summoned before Ex Comm meetings to provide insight concerning Khrushchev's Cold War philosophy and to offer conjecture about Russia's actions in the days ahead relative to its placement of missiles in Cuba. A hard-liner who openly favored American military retaliation against the Soviets, Acheson later privately evaluated Kennedy's success in the crisis as "plain dumb luck." Acheson's sour grapes comment might not have been too far off the mark. The perception of Kennedy as cool, calm, and collected is the result of overbaked American pride. In fact, the American government's handling of the affair was anything but deft; accidents, near misses, and misinformation almost created doomsday.
The entire Cuban Missile Crisis has been often reduced to confrontation between Kennedy and Khrushchev, understood as a sort of potential modern-day gunfight at the O.K. Corral that was defused at the very last instant as both sides were about to draw their guns and blast away. This image of the crisis, so firmly planted in many Americans' minds, was unintentionally created by Dean Rusk, JFK's Secretary of State. When a preliminary report reached the White House on October 24 indicating the Russian ships had stopped dead in the water (apparently because of the imposed blockade), Rusk confided to a network television newsman, "We're eyeball to eyeball, and I think the other fellow just blinked." Rusk's allegoric stare down between Kennedy, representing law and order and everything right, and the cold and calculating Khrushchev, out to conquer the world and impose communism throughout, ended when the Soviet leader lost his nerve.
JFK's personal interpretation of what happened was understandably energetic; he told some close friends, "I cut his _____ off." The President's exuberance was justified, to a certain extent. He survived the threat of nuclear war (whether genuine or perceived) and in the process, America swapped places with the Soviet Union as the Cold War's bad guy. Still, in order to necessitate peace, Kennedy was forced to abandon his preoccupation with overthrowing the Castro regime and to dismantle American missiles in Turkey. The Soviets, on the other hand, gave up nothing (notwithstanding some injury to their global credibility). The Soviet attempt to position missiles in Cuba similar in fashion to what the United States had already placed in Turkey was an act of Cold War reciprocity. In other words, the move indicates recognition of military weakness on the part of the Soviet Union rather than serious hemispheric aggression. Khrushchev was well aware that nuclear war would be suicidal; evidence simply does not support the idea that the Soviets were designing war against the United States in 1962. Hence, the true analysis of the Cuban Missile Crisis reflects artful deal-making, not sheer American omnipotence.
Thirteen Days is laced with bits of archival video, and quite a few pieces that have been made to appear like actual preserved footage. According to New Line Cinema spokesman Steve Elzer, "Every ship, plane, truck, and craft that moves in the film is absolutely authentic to the time period." The rating is PG-13. There is intermittent strong language, but hardly more than what one typically hears today at restaurants or ballgames.
Select the best response for each item according to information learned by viewing Thirteen Days, as well as through lecture and assigned reading.
Choose one of the following. Your response should be 3-5 typed, double-spaced pages and include a list of sources used (minimum of two required).