Cuban Missile Crisis
On August 6, 1945, the world changed forever. The United States had sent a B-29 bomber plane named “Enola Gay” to fly over the industrial city of Hiroshima, Japan and drop the first atomic bomb ever – “Little Boy” . The world had never experienced anything like it. One hundred thousand died almost instantly — most of them were civilians.
Three days later, in Nagasaki, another bomb – “Fat Man” – was dropped. This time roughly forty thousand died. The people of the world were glad to see that the bombs ended most destructive war ever, but over the course of the forty years the world feared a nuclear battle that could wipe out all humankind off of the face of the Earth. The images that were coming from the aftermath of the bomb in Hiroshima and Nagasaki affected almost every person in the world in all aspects. The image of the mushroom-shaped cloud and the desolate city would remain in every person’s mind as an image of destruction and as a warning of the danger of a nuclear war.
The Manhattan Project was the code name for an effort to create an atomic bomb during World War II. It was named for the Manhattan Engineer District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers because most of the early research was done in New York City . Refugee physicists sparked the project soon after German scientists had discovered nuclear fission in 1938. Many American scientists feared that Hitler and the Germans would produce a nuclear bomb; consequently, they contacted Albert Einstein to write a letter to United States President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to help the production of the first nuclear bomb. Roosevelt agreed to assist the scientists and they began the Manhattan Project. The development took place at laboratory at Los Alamos, New Mexico, located on an isolated mesa. The project was to be kept classified under all circumstances. The scientists working at the plant could not even tell their wives about their work, unless they worked there themselves. All the mail in the town was censored; everybody was restricted to a two hundred mile radius and residents were forbidden to tell their friends where they lived. No one in the community had a name; rather everyone was either a “sir” or “mister”.
The most serious threat to the security of the project was the hiring of Klaus Fuchs who was found guilty of obtaining top-secret documents and sending them to the Soviet Union. He allowed for the Soviets to create their own atomic bomb and caused fear among the American people. The decisions to actually use the bomb the first time were critical. Firstly, President Roosevelt never lived to see the final product of the Manhattan Project. He died on April 12, 1945 at Warm Springs, GA, at the age of 63 and Harry S. Truman became his successor. All the responsibilities were soon placed on the new president. Truman knew nothing about the bomb and its effects, but decided quickly to use it on the Japanese. The president was warned that the bomb was very powerful and that it should not be used unless the Japanese refused to surrender. Nevertheless, Truman decided to go along with his plan and bomb Japan until they surrendered. Truman wanted revenge from the surprise bombing of Pearl Harbor, except that it would be one hundred times as devastating.
On August 6, 1945, the aircraft Enola Gay flew over Hiroshima and dropped the first atomic bomb ever. At approximately 8:15 AM the bomb exploded about two thousand feet above ground, where today a building stands, called the “A-Bomb Dome”. It took almost a minute for the bomb to explode after its descent from the plane. The world would be changed forever. The pilot of the Enola Gay, Lt. Col. Paul Tibbets, wrote, ” A bright light filled the plane we turned back to look at Hiroshima. The city was hidden by that awful cloud boiling up, mushrooming.” . Many people who saw the bomb say that it was like “another sun”; the heat released burned everything in its path, including people. The winds from the blast tore down houses and buildings in a 1.5-mile radius. Three days later, another bomb – the “Fat Man” – was dropped on the Japanese city of Nagasaki. Although the energy created by this bomb was greater than the “Little Boy” dropped in Hiroshima, the damage was slighter. Approximately forty thousand died outright and seventy thousand in total had died by the end of the year due to radiation.
An estimated two hundred thousand people died in total due to the effects of the bombings. Many people still argue whether the bombings were necessary or not. The devastation became more real in 1996, when new video footage was released in 1996. The footage was found by accident in a Tokyo film vault. It shows images of people walking through the rubble with trees stripped of their leaves, babies with their entire bodies covered with burns and men whose hair had been burned off and skin had melted from their heads. Shortly after the war was over, the relation between the United States and the Soviet Union started getting tense. During the Manhattan Project, the Soviets started looking into the building of their own nuclear Bomb. The Soviets tested their own bomb four years after the United States dropped the first one on Japan.
The United States and Russia were already engaged in the Cold War, and both countries were now in a race to build up their armed forces. The Arms Race was a competition between both countries to scare each other by creating bigger, more powerful missiles and bombs. Usually the United States was more advanced than the Soviet Union in technology and the Soviets tried to catch up as quickly as possible and neither stopped. The American people thought that the Russians had more, better missiles than the United States had because of Soviet Premier Khrushchev boasting over his country’s status. Eventually, American officials show this to be false. As the Cold War continued, the fear of a nuclear holocaust grew and proposals for arms reduction began, but the fear still remained. In 1961, the United States formed the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, which dealt with the government policy concerning nuclear testing and arms control. In May of 1972 the first Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT I) came to an end and a treaty had been signed by United States and the Soviet Union to limit the production of anti-ballistic missile systems. Since then, many arms control treaties have followed, but nuclear arms were still being built.
Throughout the Cold War people feared nuclear war, but the world was never closer to one then during the Cuban Missile Crisis. There would be no winner in a nuclear war; only destruction would remain. For fourteen days in October of 1962 American and Soviet troops were prepared to attack one another and were ready to use nuclear weapons. This was probably the peak of tension during the Cold War.
In 1962, the Soviet Union was behind the United States in the arms race. The missiles that the Russians had were powerful enough to attack other European nations, but did not have enough distance to travel to the United States, but American missiles were capable of hitting any part of Russia because the Americans had already placed their own missiles in Turkey clandestinely.
In late April, 1962, Soviet Premier, Nikita Khrushchev then devised the plan to install mid-range missiles in Cuba, ninety miles off the coast of the United States. This plan would double Soviet arsenal and would surprise the Americans completely.
Meanwhile, the Cuban dictator, Fidel Castro was looking for a way to defend his island nation from any attack. After the failed Bay of Pigs on Cuba of 1961, by the United States, Castro believed that a second attack was certain. To provide some protection for his country, he approved Khrushchev’s plan to place missiles in Cuba. By the summer of 1962, the Soviet Union was working quickly and secretly to build the missile installations on the island.
For the United States the crisis began on October 15, 1962 when reconnaissance photographs were taken of Soviet missile installations under construction in Cuba. The next morning, President John F. Kennedy was made aware of the situation in Cuba and quickly assembled a group of twelve advisors, called EX-COMM, to help him throughout the crisis. After seven days of intense discussion with government officials, he ordered a naval quarantine of Cuba to prevent any more weapons form arriving at the island. On October 22, 1962, President Kennedy made the events public and tensions rose throughout the world. Kennedy demanded that all Russian arms be removed from Cuba immediately. During the crisis Kennedy ordered low-level missions over Cuba every two hours to keep watch over the progress. On the twenty-fifth Kennedy moved the quarantine line back and raised the military readiness level. Then on the twenty-sixth the United States’ government received a letter from Soviet Premier Khrushchev promising that the Soviets would retreat form Cuba under the condition that the American government would not plan another attack on Cuba, but the next day was worse. A plane was shot down over Cuba and another letter arrived from Khrushchev. This time the Soviet Premier asked for more in return for the removal of arms from Cuba. Khrushchev now asked that the United States remove all missiles from Turkey in return for the Soviet missiles in Cuba. Attorney General Robert Kennedy suggested that the government ignore the new letter and agree only to the first. On the twenty-eighth tensions began to ease when Khrushchev agreed to remove the missile installations in Cuba confiding in the United States’ assurance that they would not attack Cuba. The tensions during the crisis were extremely high and Soviet General and Army Chief of Operations Anatoly Gribkov described it best – “Nuclear catastrophe was hanging by a thread and we weren’t counting days or hours, but minutes.”
As the tension from the missile crisis subdued, the Cold War continued and the fear of a nuclear holocaust lingered while the United States and the Soviet Union were still engaged in the Cold War with one another. The two countries still tried to find ways to get closer to the other with their nuclear arms. Now the countries tried to launch
missiles from submarines near the coast of the opposing country, but the plan did not work because of closeness to the country. The submarines would get detected too
easily, so the plans continued. The “Space Race” also began to take place. The Russians launched “Sputnik”: he first man-made satellite to space, but it was not only a
satellite, but a spy camera as well. It could take pictures of license plates on cars and it was illegal to shoot down anything outside the atmosphere. So the Soviets were
able to see what the Americans were doing without violating any law.
In Russia, after the death of Russian General Secretary Konstantin Chernenko in 1985, a great change was going to occur for Russia and for the world. One of the great
reformers of the time, Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev, would slowly rise to the power in Russia. Between 1985 and 1990, Russia progressed dramatically. By 1990,
Communism had died in Russia and General Secretary Gorbachev was now President Gorbachev. The Cold War had been going on since 1945 and the tension between
the United States and Russia escalated more each day. No one knew what to expect from either country at any given time.
The nuclear arms build-up and lack of negotiating caused for the Cold War to reach the heights that it did, but Russian President Gorbachev and United States President
Reagan were set to compromise and allow the fear of the world to be suppressed.
Reagan, at the beginning of his presidency, changed America’s view on the arms race. The country was trying to produce less nuclear arms during the Nixon era and after,
but Reagan started to buildup arms once again. He believed that this way he would scare the Soviets into “Westernizing”. The arms race that Reagan started was much like
that which occurred in the period of time between the end of World War II (1945) until Stalin’s death in 1953. He began building MX missiles and started B-1 bomber
programs once again, and started the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), also known as the “Star Wars” defense program.
People now began to fear a “Nuclear Winter” after the renewed arms race of the early Reagan administration. People believed that the sky would turn gray from ashes
remaining from the bombs and no sunlight would get through. The sky would remain dark for a very long time and the earth would slowly become lifeless and desolate.
Reagan’s administration began its early years with an ardent objective to produce more arms quickly to scare the Russians, but towards the later years of his command, his ideas changed, much to the disarray of his loyal supporters. For the preceding thirty years the United States and Russia were at competition trying to manufacture the most nuclear arms possible, but Reagan and the world were aware at the end of the 1980’s that the arms race was not only between the two countries anymore. More than twenty nations had now entered the arms race and they posed a threat to international security. Many people believe that Reagan was responsible for the end of the Cold War, but others disagree and say that Russian President Gorbachev was the one that put more towards the end of the Cold War and helped end the fear of war between the
United States and Russia.
Some believe that the United States “won” this war not because of Reagan’s military buildup and the fear imposed on the Soviets and Gorbachev, but because the Soviet President knew the situation in which the Soviet Union was economically. He had no other choice but to act upon it correctly. Then it can be said that Gorbachev “won’ the war, but a true winner for the Cold War cannot be named. In all wars there are decisive battles fought and at the end one party will emerge victorious, but the Cold War was distinct and a winner cannot be determined clearly. Many people say that the true “victor was democracy”.
Since the end of the Second World War and the blasts at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the United States and the Soviet Union have been rivals at everything. Their battle was most evident through the Cold War and the most important aspect of it – the arms race. Both countries built missiles, spied on each other and advanced themselves hoping for the other to give in. But no one really knew what reason the war had for carrying on so many years except the fact that both countries were struggling to be the most powerful in the world. A nuclear war could not be won by anyone. The aftermath of a nuclear war would leave nothing and no one to retell the story.
The events that occurred during the Cold War taught the world of the effects of a possible nuclear war and made people afraid enough to help elude nuclear war at all costs. “Any nuclear war would have inevitably caused death, disease, and suffering of pandemic proportions and without the possibility of effective medical intervention. The only hope for humanity is prevention of any form of nuclear war”