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Through the Eye of the Needle:
Five Perspectives on the Cuban Missile Crisis
The fortieth anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis has produced a wealth of thought-provoking works that examine "the event that might have triggered WWIII." In October 1962, an American U-2 reconnaissance plane recorded photographs of Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba. Ongoing tension between President Kennedy and Soviet Premier Khrushchev concerning both Berlin and the placement of Soviet weapons in Cuba motivated the president to act. He selected a group of seasoned advisors, referred to as the Executive [End Page 133] Committee (ExComm). ExComm, with the participation and leadership of President Kennedy, created the strategies and tactics of diplomacy that averted potential nuclear catastrophe.
This review essay offers a collection of variegated viewpoints. First, The Presidential Recordings: John F. Kennedy: Volumes 1–3, The Great Crises, edited by Philip D. Zelikow, Timothy Naftali, and Ernest R. May, noted scholars and professors of public affairs and history, includes declassified presidential transcripts from July 30 through October 28, 1962. A CD with audio recordings of meetings accompanies the publication. Volume 3 covers transcripts of President Kennedy and the ExComm. The transcripts capture decision makers navigating their way through the quicksands of international diplomacy, escalating tension, and the management of public information. Examples of problem definition, reframing, and consensus building provide rich resources for rhetoricians, public policy analysts, and graduate students.
This three-volume collection provides a captivating and comprehensive sense of the presidency as an institution. Civil rights, South American regime changes, currency fluctuations, along with lesser ceremonial responsibilities, convey the multifaceted tasks the chief executive faces daily.
Next, Sheldon M. Stern's Averting 'The Final Failure,': John F. Kennedy and the Secret Cuban Missile Crisis Meetings provides a narrative approach to the ExComm transcripts. Stern, as an historian, chief librarian of the Kennedy Library for over two decades, and a compelling storyteller, captures personality and contextual nuances, adding rich dimensions to the collective wisdom on this topic. The author, having studied the Kennedy tapes for decades, conscientiously retranscribes and reinterprets a number of the transactions presented in The Presidential Recordings.
In Awaiting Armageddon: How Americans Faced the Cuban Missile Crisis, historian Alice L. George details a social history of Middle America's world during the Cold War. As a unique contribution to the available literature, she provides a diorama of children's lives as they experience the attempts of government, schools, and the media to manage and communicate the threat of nuclear war.
Then, retired navy captain Peter A. Huchthausen's October Fury breaks new ground by dramatically recounting moment-by-moment decision making and lifestyles of both the Russian and American naval crews aboard submarines and ships participating in maneuvers during the crisis. The author effectively builds the case that a combination of exceptional political and naval leadership, plus superior American naval power, determined the outcome of events.
Finally, Sad and Luminous Days: Cuba's Struggle with the Superpowers After the Missile Crisis, authored by international...