GCSE and IGCSE History Revision

Brigade 2506

The Bay of Pigs invasion: an overview

The Bay of Pigs Invasion was launched by the CIA-sponsored paramilitary group Brigade 2506.

The invasion saw over 1,400 American-trained Cuban exiles attempt to overthrow Fidel Castro. Castro had come to power in 1959 during the Cuban Revolution which toppled the previous president, General Fulgencio Batista. The new government quickly began introducing agrarian reforms and nationalising US-owned interests. These actions led to the USA imposing a trade embargo against Cuba from late 1960, after which Castro began to further develop his relationship with the USSR.

As concerns grew over these developments, US President Dwight D. Eisenhower authorised the CIA to begin devising a way to overthrow Castro. He allocated $13.1 million for them to begin training counter-revolutionary Cuban exiles and, on 4 April 1961, his successor John F. Kennedy authorised the final invasion plan.

While the seaborne invasion force gathered in Guatemala, a smaller group of Cuban exiles attacked Cuban airfields on 15 April using CIA-obtained B-26 bombers painted to appear like they were captured Cuban planes. That evening the Cuban government tabled a motion to the United Nations, accusing the United States of being behind the attacks. Consequently a series of airfield attacks planned for the early hours of the 17 April were cancelled by Kennedy.

The amphibious assault went ahead as planned but quickly began to go wrong. The exiles from Brigade 2506 were pinned on the beach by a counterattack from the Cuban Army and assorted militiamen, leading to 114 exile deaths and the capture of over a thousand others. In the aftermath, Cuba developed even closer links with the USSR that led to the Cuban Missile Crisis the following year.

Cuban Missile Crisis – Mr Kennedy and Mr Khrushchev

US break relations with Cuba

Causes of the Cuban Missile Crisis

A chronological overview of the events leading to the Cuban Missile Crisis.

The Cuban Missile Crisis

In 1962 the world came closer than it had come before to a ‘hot war’ in the nuclear age.  Cuba, a small island about 90 miles from the coast of Florida in the USA, was the focus of the world’s attention for 13 nerve-wracking days in October.

This podcast begins with an overview of Cuba’s revolution led by socialist rebel Fidel Castro against the right-wing Batista and explains how the USA’s subsequent trade embargo led Cuba to begin a relationship with the USSR.  The episode then goes on to describe the failed Bay of Pigs invasion a year before a U2 spy plane revealed that the USSR was helping Cuba to develop bases for nuclear missiles.

The second part of the podcast presents the different options offered to President Kennedy, and how his decision to mount a naval blockade against any more Russian ships coming to Cuba led to both sides settling the dispute via a series of telgrams.

The episode concludes with a consideration of whether either side ‘won’ the crisis.  Evidence is presented on both sides of the argument.

     

End of Cuban Missile Crisis

The end of the Cuban Missile Crisis

At 9:00 am on the 28th October 1962, the Cuban Missile Crisis ended when Soviet Premier Khrushchev agreed to remove Russian nuclear missiles from the island of Cuba.

Cuban President Fidel Castro had met with Khrushchev in July 1961, where the two men had agreed to station short-range nuclear missiles on Cuba. America already had a number of nuclear missiles in Italy and Turkey that threatened the USSR, and had supported the failed Bay of Pigs Invasion of Cuba in April 1961.

Although the missiles were identified by American reconnaissance on October 15th, the Thirteen Days of the crisis officially began when President John F. Kennedy was informed on the morning of the 16th.

Threatened by the discovery of the missiles on Cuba, which lay barely 90 miles from the coast of Florida, the USA responded by enforcing a naval blockade around the island in an attempt to stop any more missiles being delivered. Although the Soviet Union initially refused to recognize the blockade, the ships carrying missiles turned back while Kennedy and Khrushchev continued a series of tense negotiations.

Eventually an agreement was struck in which the USSR would publicly remove the missiles from Cuba while the USA would secretly remove its own from Turkey and Italy. The Soviet Union broadcast its intention to remove the missiles on Radio Moscow on the morning of the 28th October, and the first dismantled missiles were shipped out of Cuba on the 5th November.

Because America’s part of the agreement was kept secret, Khrushchev appeared to have ‘lost’. The reality is that both sides made concessions.

Ich bin ein Berliner

Overview of JFK’s ‘Ich bin ein Berliner’ speech, 26th June 1963

On the 26th June 1963 American President John F. Kennedy declared US support for West Berlin with the phrase, “Ich bin ein Berliner” – I am a Berliner – 22 months after the Soviet-supported DDR, more commonly known as East Germany, built the Berlin Wall.

Berlin had been a focal point for Cold War tensions ever since the Yalta and Potsdam conferences in 1945 divided the city – and the rest of Germany – between the four victorious powers at the end of the Second World War. When the USSR imposed the Berlin Blockade from 1948-49, the Western allies made it clear that they were not willing to back down in their support for West Berlin by airlifting supplies into the city.

Although the airlift secured West Berlin’s survival, it further increased tensions between the USSR and its former allies as East Germans crossed the border in order to defect to the West. This placed an enormous economic strain on the East, which began suffering labour shortages. In response, the government of East Germany erected a barbed wire fence around West Berlin that eventually developed into the imposing Berlin Wall, although the government claimed that it was to keep out spies and agitators rather than stop people from leaving.

It was against this background of heightened tension that Kennedy delivered his rousing speech on the steps of the Rathaus Schöneberg, the seat of the state senate of West Berlin. While the speech effectively recognised East Berlin as part of the Soviet Bloc, it also reaffirmed America’s commitment  to defend West Berlin against Communist expansion.

American involvement in Vietnam

This revision podcast addresses the Vietnam War in the context of the Cold War, and is broadly split into three sections: reasons for the war and America’s involvement, the way the war was fought, and reasons for American withdrawal.

The first section looks at why the war began, and why the USA got involved.  This is done by presenting an overview of 5 key causes: containment, the Domino Theory, the division of Vietnam after the Treaty of Geneva, US support for the South Vietnamese government against the Viet Cong, and the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution.  I then provide an example of how to structure an essay essay to explain why the USA got involved.

The second part of the podcast addresses the way the war was fought.  It assesses how the guerrilla tactics of the Viet Cong were developed as a response to the vastly superior American firepower, and ways in which the USA similarly responded to this new style of warfare.  American tactics described in the podcast include the Strategic Hamlets Programme, Operation Rolling Thunder, the use of Agent Orange, and Search and Destroy missions.

The episode concludes with an overview of the various factors that led to the withdrawal of American troops from Vietnam, concluding with a short comment on the lasting effect of the Vietnam War on American attitudes to the Cold War.

     

Gulf of Tonkin Resolution

Causes and effects of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution

On the 7th August 1964, the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution was passed by the United States Congress.

The joint resolution granted powers to President Lyndon B. Johnson to use military force to assist countries in Southeast Asia facing so-called “communist aggression”. Many critics of the war condemned Congress for granting Johnson a “blank cheque” to escalate American military involvement in the Vietnamese conflict. At the time, however, it passed unanimously through the House of Representatives and only two Senators opposed the resolution.

The Resolution was a response to the Gulf of Tonkin Incident that had taken place just a few days earlier, in which the North Vietnamese Navy was blamed for attacking US ships on two separate occasions. While it is accepted that the USS Maddox did exchange fire with three enemy torpedo boats on the 2nd August, the claim that it was attacked again on the 4th August is now known to be false.

Even at the time it was acknowledged that the second attack may not have actually happened. Captain John J. Herrick, the commander of the Maddox, had spent four hours firing at enemy ships picked up on radar. However, he sent a message just a few hours later saying that no enemy boats had actually been sighted and so the radar may have malfunctioned. However, the President was not informed of this before going on television to announce that US ships had been attacked. Johnson’s desire to retaliate led to the Resolution, and this in turn led to the USA escalating its involvement in the Vietnam War.

Viet Cong Captain Bảy Lốp executed by General Loan

Cause and consequence: Captain Bảy Lốp executed by General Loan

On the 1st February 1968, American photojournalist Eddie Adams took a photograph of South Vietnamese National Police Chief General Nguyễn Ngọc Loan executing Viet Cong officer Nguyễn Văn Lém in Saigon. The photograph’s publication in the New York Times rallied US citizens to the anti-war movement and earned Adams a Pulitzer Prize for Spot News Photography in 1969.

The Tet Offensive had begun on the 30th January, and saw over 80,000 communist troops carry out a series of surprise attacks against South Vietnamese forces and their allies. It’s reported that, two days later, in the early morning of the 1st February Lém led a troop that attacked a South Vietnamese base and killed South Vietnamese National Police officers and their families. He was later captured near a mass grave containing 34 civilian bodies, and soon brought before General Loan in Saigon. While still handcuffed, Loan shot Lém with his Smith & Wesson revolver in front of photographer Eddie Adams and an NBC News television cameraman.

The photograph was printed in the New York Times, and appeared alongside a now-forgotten image of a child killed by the Viet Cong in an attempt to achieve balance. However, the immediacy of the image made an enormous impact in America where it became strongly associated with the anti-war movement. Adams later spoke out many times in defence of General Loan, declaring that the photograph does not present the whole story. He later visited Loan many times, and apologised in person for the effect the photo had on his life. On hearing of Loan’s death in 1998, Adams called him “a hero”.

Story behind the photo of Kim Phuc running from napalm attack

On the 8th June 1972 one of the most iconic photographs of the Vietnam War was taken of Phan Thị Kim Phúc, a nine-year-old girl from the South Vietnamese village of Trang Bang. In the photograph, she is shown running away from a napalm attack, having stripped off her clothes after being severely burned.

The photograph, which went on to win a Pulitzer Prize, was taken by Nick Ut, a Vietnamese photographer for the Associated Press. He was one of number of press photographers who were with the group of fleeing civilians after the village had been bombed South Vietnamese planes. He took Kim Phúc and other injured children to a hospital in Saigon before delivering the film to be developed, and maintained contact with her throughout her recovery despite being told that her burns were so severe she was unlikely to survive.

The photograph was initially rejected by Associated Press due to the full-frontal nudity. However, the image was deemed to capture such a powerful news story that these concerns were put aside. When the picture appeared on the front page of the New York Times four days later, it had such a dramatic impact that President Nixon discussed with his chief of staff whether the shot had been ‘fixed’.

Kim Phúc stayed in hospital for 14-months, and underwent 17 surgical procedures and skin transplants before she was able to return home. However she did survive and – having sought political asylum in Canada during an aircraft refuelling stop on her honeymoon – she now lives in Ontario.