Freedom: A History of US

Webisode 14. Segment 5
Cuba and the Cold War

The new president soon learns that the CIA (the Central Intelligence Agency) has been secretly training refugees from Cuba as warriors and is planning an invasion of that island. Cuba has had decades of problems. For years, a corrupt government fostered crime and ignored poverty. Then Fidel Castro See It Now - Fidel Castro took charge and brought reforms. But he is a dictator and there is no freedom in Cuba. The CIA believes that with its help the Cuban people will rise up and overthrow their Communist leader. President Kennedy agrees to go ahead with the plan.

But the invasion, at a place called the Bay of Pigs, is a fiasco Check The Source - The Bay of Pigs. The invaders are captured; the Cuban people don't rise up; America—and Kennedy—look foolish Check The Source - John F. Kennedy Writes to Nikita Khrushchev See It Now - Bay of Pigs Cartoon. The President takes the blame. He says, Hear It Now - JFK "This administration intends to be candid about its errors. For as a wise man once said, 'an error doesn't become a mistake until you refuse to correct it Check The Source - Nikita Khrushchev Responds to John F. Kennedy'."

Around the world people wonder if this president is strong enough to be a world leader. Russia's leader, Nikita Khrushchev is sure he is not. Angered at American efforts to interfere with Cuba, and determined to prevent another invasion of the island, Khrushchev decides to put nuclear missiles in Cuba and aim them right at America's most important cities and military targets See It Now - Cuban Missile. It will become known as the Cuban Missile Crisis Check The Source - The Cuban Missile Crisis, in which the wrong move could start World War III. Our military leaders urge the President to bomb Cuba See It Now - John F. Kennedy and "Excom" Advisors. He says no. He will not drop the first bomb. But he is firm with the Russians. He tells them the missiles must be removed Check The Source - Another Letter to Nikita Khrushchev See It Now - British Newspaper Headlines. For six long days the world holds its breath. Will there be a nuclear war Check The Source - "Toward the Abyss"? Americans ready nuclear fall-out shelters in case of an attack See It Now - A Fallout Shelter. Then, all of a sudden Kennedy's unflinching firmness pays off Check The Source - Khrushchev Blinks. The Russian ships turn around and take their missiles home Check The Source - Behind The Scenes. And in the aftermath of the crisis, Kennedy changes his tone and begins to talk about disarmament. He wants both Russia and the United States to stop testing and stockpiling nuclear bombs. He says: "Some say it is useless to speak of world peace. I realize that the pursuit of peace is not as dramatic as the pursuit of war, but we have no more urgent task. We all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children's future. And we are all mortal Check The Source - A Test Ban Treaty."

A few weeks after Kennedy makes this speech, and just a year after the Cuban Missile Crisis, Khrushchev accepts the U.S. proposal for a test-ban treaty. "This treaty is particularly for our children and grandchildren," says Kennedy, "and they have no lobby in Washington."

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