Hey, it’s blog post time.
Recently in PLP humanities, we’ve been studying the 1960’s closely. We started this year with the Second World War, and continued on through the fifties, and now have finished the sixties. We have now completed the Cold War as well, something that turned out to be way more interesting than I had first thought. And our final assignment was an essay.
This essay would be written by us, and the goal was to convince the reader that one point in the Cold War was the closest the world has ever been to nuclear destruction. So we needed to choose a decision, event, person, interaction, etc, that we thought was the height of the Cold War. We had to choose a specific topic that wasn’t too broad, for example, the Cuban Missile Crisis Of 1962 was too broad and wouldn’t be as strong as a more focused topic. I decided to write my essay on the decision JFK made to quarantine Cuba to try to stop the Soviets from importing more nuclear weapons into Cuba. This is what I thought to be the closest the world has ever been to nuclear war.
World War Two is now finally over. Everyone should be happy, but America is scared. A rival nation superpower has just installed missiles too close to home. This brought on the very real possibility that millions of Americans could be dead in just 5 minutes. And this was not acceptable. America, one of the greatest nations on the globe, is threatened and running out of time. President Kennedy had to make a decision, and it needed to work. He was facing intense public fear and the possibility of nuclear war as retaliation. Ultimately, if it went wrong, the world’s population would pay the price. The American decision to quarantine Cuba in 1962 brought the whole world the closest it has ever been to nuclear war.
The knowledge of nuclear missiles being installed in Cuba intensified the already growing American public fear and was an influence on JFK’S decision to quarantine Cuba. Since 1949, when Americans found out they weren’t the only ones with nuclear weapon capabilities, there was fear. Home bomb shelters were available as a product, but were widely dismissed as paranoia. Then when the close proximity of Soviet nuclear missiles was known, bomb shelters seemed a viable solution to imminent war. In an article, Marta Schaff discusses how in a span of 3 years, the number of constructed bomb shelters rose from a mere 1,500 to 200,000, but the more impressive fact is how 40% of the entire American population was considering building their own shelter. At the least, people were scared, “and families possessed shelters that were stocked with food, water, and in many cases, a shotgun.” Extreme public fear was real and surely factored in Kennedy’s decision. In his televised speech in 1961, President Kennedy states that even though America is a peaceful nation, during the Cold War, the country has unfortunately adapted to living with a soviet bullseye on their backs. Once the nuclear weapons are found in Cuba, the president says that, “aggressive conduct, if allowed to go unchecked and unchallenged ultimately leads to war.” He knows that the situation has been escalated, and so he must make a more agressive decision to keep his country safe. President Kennedy’s decision, no matter what he decided, could very well end in nuclear retaliation from the Soviets, and it was a risk Kennedy had to take. The longer he waited, the more nuclear weapons were made active in Cuba.
Results from American U2 spy photography planes revealed escalations in construction of missile silos and military infrastructure in Cuba. This information proved the Soviets wrong when they said, "the armaments and military equipment sent to Cuba are designed exclusively for defensive purposes," which shows the Americans that the Soviets were hiding their true motives. President Kennedy then states how America has never moved or transferred missiles of that capacity “under a cloak of secrecy and deception,” or with the intent “to dominate or conquer any other nation.” The Soviet Union has committed an act of war. Kennedy then orders the quarantine. This physical action by the Americans, putting naval battleships in front of Cuba, could have triggered nuclear retaliation. The Soviet ships could have not stopped at the blockade, prompting the Americans to open fire upon their ships, and likely setting off a nuclear answer. In that moment, the world was at its closest to nuclear war between two superpower nations on opposite sides of the globe.
President Kennedy faced an impossible dilemma but as history shows, he made the right decision. By “quarantining” Cuba, the Soviet Union was forced to recall their fleet of ships from Cuba, or attack and start a nuclear war. America put the starting gun in the Soviets hand, and no rounds were fired. An intense and dramatic build up to the this moment made families construct bomb shelters and hoard food, just in case. It was as close to nuclear war as our world has ever been. All because of one decision.
And that was my essay. At first, I knew what I wanted to write about. I got my topic, and finished my thesis, introduction and conclusion, but once it got to the body paragraphs, I lost all direction. I was confused about how I would get my point across, and I didn’t know where to start. I worked through all my information and checked my notes, and eventually I found a beginning. Then once I got writing and found good quotes, I was able to finish my essay strong. And then, I had finished the final project.
I usually don’t mind writing essays, as I am a confident writer, but this essay really stumped me. I hit a big writers block halfway through and it was a really slow process for about 4 days. But I did learn more about being specific and meticulous in order to have a stronger argument, and how different types of writing get different points across. Overall the essay was not too bad for me, and I realized how much history I had learned when talking about my essay to my parents. I could explain the timeline of the Cold War pretty accurately and the political standpoints of each side of the war as well.
But before all of this, we had a unit to get through. And the very first thing we did was watch a movie. It’s called Thirteen Days.
This movie follows closely the events of the Cuban Missile Crisis, and tells the story from the perspective of the American government. It was actually a way better movie than what I thought it would be, other than random shots of fake explosions happening here and there. It went through the events of the 13 days where the missile crisis was at its height, and showed what it was like to be an American at that time. It really showed me personally how the country really thought they could get blown up ant any minute. It was really interesting, and set the tone for the rest of the unit.
Most of the research and learning we did in this unit was through films, like YouTube videos and CNN’s TV series, “The Sixties,” as well as in class discussions and lectures. We went over topics like the U2 Spy Plane Incident, the Space Race, the Bay Of Pigs, the Vienna Meeting, and of course the Cuban Missile Crisis.
But specific to this post, we had to create a visual after researching a social change in the 1960’s. I chose to write about Cesar Chavez, who was an American Civil rights activist and co-founder of the United Farm Workers Union in 1962. Below is my visual and my paragraph.
My visual is a combination of four images, from the fields, through his many protests. And the Spanish text is a phrase he often said, it means “Yes, it can be done.” I overlayed that to show how over his lifetime, he completed what he set out for, even through hardships.
To finish off my post, I’ll say what I thought of it. For the most part, the Cold War was way more interesting than I thought it would be, and I feel I learned a lot. I’d always heard about the Cold War, without knowing what it really was, and just thought it was where America was really mad at the Russians for something that happened in WWII. But, it turns out, that’s only scratching the surface, if you consider it correct at all. I enjoyed this unit, but not so much the final product. We usually end a unit with a video to show out understanding, which is more my forte. But this time we had an essay to write, which I guess wasn’t the end of the world. I feel I did well. So, that’s that. Onto the next decade of American history. Bring it.