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Transcript of History Extension
Depth Study: The Missile Crisis
JFK & Cuba
Why Study JFK?:
This will include:
Representations of Kennedy – man and myth
The Public and private figure
Role in the Cuban missile crisis
Relationship and dealings with Khrushchev.
We will be looking at some of the most debated aspects of JFK's life and presidency.
On 22nd November 1963 President Kennedy was shot in the back of the head riding through the streets of Dallas Texas.
His death at a young age, and relatively early in his Presidency, reinforced a number of views and myths about JFK's presidency, and would be perpetuated long after his death.
This has resulted in substantial debate regarding his successes/failures as President.
14th October, 1962
Case Study: JFK
Man or Myth?
So what will we look at?
Kennedy was a capable world leader, able to deal with Khrushchev, and was able to improve relations between the US and Soviet Union, despite rising tensions over the arms race and conflict over both Cuba and Berlin.
Kennedy never really came to grips with Khrushchev, a fierce political contender, and rather than improve relations, brought the world to the brink of war over what appeared to be relatively trivial matters.
Kennedy and Khrushchev (Bastian, 2004)
Kennedy was convinced of the need to oppose communism before it reached America, but was also keenly aware of the issues in developing states like Indochina (having toured the region personally), furthermore he was considering and willing to pull out of the conflict if necessary.
Kennedy had literally no idea what he was doing (e.g. he was extremely ill for most of his
visit to Asia), was inconsistent in his approach to policy, and left Lyndon Johnson (his successor), in an extremely difficult situation, undermining America's position as a global leader.
Cuban Missile Crisis
Kennedy and Indochina (Bastian, 2004)
Kennedy was an academic from a well-adjusted family, and was himself a family man and a war hero.
Kennedy came from a dysfunctional family, married for convenience, was intelligent but with little imagination or interest in academia and was an incompetent captain.
Kennedy - Private and Public Figure (Bastian, 2004)
In October 1962, US intelligence reported the presence of Soviet Missile sites, causing a major international crisis.
Experts at the time could not agree on the purpose of the missiles, whether defensive or offensive.
Domestically Kennedy could not be seen to tolerate missiles in Cuba (i.e. with earlier embarrassment from Bay of Pigs etc).
Resolving Crisis - The Letters
A series of letters between Khrushchev and the Kennedys resolved the crisis, with both sides agreeing to remove missiles.
Kennedy would always publicly deny that any deal had been made over Cuba
How did Kennedy react?
Despite being urged to launch a air strike, Kennedy opted for a naval 'quarantine' of Cuba.
Pressure mounted however when a U2 spy-plane was shot down over Cuba, killing the pilot.
So why might JFK be so well remembered?
-Consider the scandals and controversies that plagued these presidents while they were in office.
Representations of Kennedy - Man & Myth
JFK been remembered?
JFK be remembered?
Lyndon Johnson - Vietnam
Richard Nixon - Watergate
Bill Clinton - Monica Lewinsky/Impeachment before a grand jury
Arthur Schlesinger - 'Camelot School'
A close friend and aid of JFK during his time in office.
Largely based his work off his own recollections and those of others close to Kennedy.
Published in 1965, two years after Kennedy's death.
Largely focuses on the positive aspects of Kennedy’s presidency.
Seymour Hersh - 'Revisonist School'
Journalistic background, with an inclination towards skepticism and a greater weight on oral evidence.
Largely a criticism of Schlesinger’s work, focusing as its title bluntly suggests, on the 'darker' aspects of JFK's presidency.
Frequently accused of being unable to substantiate many of his claims in this book.
Robert Dallek - 'Post-Revisionist' School
Experienced in writing histories of American presidents.
Encouraged a more balanced perspective on Kennedy’s presidency, noting both the positive and negative aspects.
Had access to documents and records that previous writers did not.
Bastian, P. (2004).
John F. Kennedy & The Historians
. History Teacher's Association of NSW: Wareemba.
Dallek, R. (2003).
An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy 1917-1963
. Little Brown and Company: Boston.
Hersh, S. (1997).
The Dark Side of Camelot
. Little Brown and Company: Boston.
Reeves, R. (1993).
President Kennedy: A Profile of Power
. Simon & Schuster: New York.
Reeves, T.C. (1991).
A Question of Character: A Life of John F. Kennedy
. Free Press, New York.
Schlesinger, A. (1965).
A Thousand Days: John F Kennedy in the White-House
. Andre Deutsch: London.
Historians are generally divided into three different camps regarding their views on JFK. These 'schools' are general terms which the writers themselves dispute, and that do not necessarily overlap:
The 'Camelot School':
These historians generally emphasize the positive qualities of JFK, and generally portray him as a glamorous President. This view became very popular shortly after JFK's death.
Was Kennedy responsible for bringing the world to the brink of nuclear war?
What do images like this intend to convey about Kennedy's handling of the crisis?
Food for Thought:
How do you think this might have influenced later interpretations of earlier presidents like Kennedy?
A Thousand Days - 1965
The Dark Side of
Camelot - 1997
An Unfinished Life - 2001
Before we begin....
What do we know about John Kennedy, APART from his assassination?
So taking away this information overload... what sort of questions could be asked about how JFK is remembered?
i.e. If you were a historian, how would you approach the debate as it exists?
Remember... the focus is not on how well you remember the content, but on the effectiveness of your analysis of the debates
What is your opinion on the titles of each book? What do you think they might hint about the contents?
Look at the dates of publication - at what point do more critical publications begin to come out?
Food for thought
...With such polar opposite views, do we still have a recognizable individual? i.e. Is there a 'real Kennedy'?
Viewed the crisis as Kennedy's greatest triumph, describing him as controlled yet constrained 'dazzling the world'.
-You will have to decide this for yourself through examination of the historians and the debates.
How do we approach this?
-Consider what this event meant for each historian:
For historians such as Schlesinger, this represented the growth of the President since the Bay of Pigs fiasco.
For Hersh, it is seemingly another indicator of JFK's recklessness and irresponsibility.
For historians such as Reeves and Dallek, it was a signal of Kennedy's maturing into the role of President, which he had not always handled well... and still made mistakes.
"a terrifying game of nuclear chicken" (Hersh 1997)
The 'Schools' of Thought On JFK
E.g. Consider the 'hype' surrounding Barack Obama's early years as President.
The 'Revisionist School':
With growing information about JFK's administration and affairs coming to light, many writers began to question both his public and personal life.These writers tend to be far more critical.
The 'Post-Revisionist School':
This group attempts to reconcile both Camelot and revisionist historians by examining the complex situation Kennedy faced, while also remaining critical of aspects of his character and career.
This group is still revisionist, but attempts to emphasize both positive and negative aspects of Kennedy's Presidency.
The missiles made little difference to the threat against America. Despite this the President, angered by Khrushchev's lies, shunned diplomacy and played a terrifying game of nuclear chicken.
Dallek/T. Reeves -
Though JFK might have been unnecessarily militant, his actions revealed a deeper concern for the nation (e.g. Dallek cites JFK's firm preference for a 'quarantine' than an air-raid).
Two serious options were an air strike to take out the missile sites, or a naval blockade.