Tag Archives: Kennedy

Kennedy’s announcement of a plan for manned moon landing

On the 25th May 1961, American President John F. Kennedy made the announcement to a joint session of Congress that he had set his sights on a manned moon landing before the end of the decade.

To many people, including some personnel at NASA, Kennedy’s address seemed ridiculous. The USA had only sent its first man into space 20 days earlier and, although Alan Shepard’s spaceflight aboard Freedom 7 was a huge success, the USSR’s Yuri Gagarin had already become the first man in space three weeks before that. Taking on the USSR at a technological game that they were already leading appeared reckless.

An underlying issue was that, as part of his election campaign, Kennedy had promised to outperform the Soviet Union in the fields of space exploration and missile defence. In his famed television debate with Richard Nixon, Kennedy had mocked the fact that Nixon was proud of the USA being ahead of the USSR in terms of colour television while trailing in terms of rocket thrust. Gagarin’s flight had proved to the world that the USSR was currently ‘winning’ the Space Race, and so put pressure on Kennedy to increase spending on the Apollo space program.  Having received a memo from Vice-President Lyndon B. Johnson in which he reported that the USA was unlikely to ever outperform the USSR under the current spending arrangements, Kennedy launched the largest peacetime financial commitment ever made.

The $24 billion dollars did work, however, and Apollo 11 achieved Kennedy’s goal by landing on the moon on 20th July 1969.

US break relations with Cuba

Why the USA cut diplomatic relations with Cuba in 1961

On the 3rd January 1961, the United States of America severed its diplomatic relationship with Cuba and closed the American embassy in Havana. The move came in the wake of the nationalisation of industries in Cuba that were owned by US citizens, which increased as the American government gradually introduced a trade embargo.

The overthrow of President Fulgencio Batista by Fidel Castro’s 26th of July Movement heralded a dramatic change in US-Cuban relations. American President Dwight D. Eisenhower initially recognised the new socialist government, but the situation quickly deteriorated as Cuba introduced agrarian reforms and the nationalisation of US-owned interests.

In response the USA stopped buying Cuban sugar and banned the sale of oil, so Castro’s government turned to the USSR for assistance. This led to a further deterioration of relations with America. However, a complete trade embargo only came about after Cuba nationalised the three American-owned oil refineries in the country in October 1960.

Further nationalisations over the next three months – including that of private property owned by Americans – led the Eisenhower administration to cut all diplomatic ties with Cuba on the 3rd January. Meanwhile, a group of Cuban exiles in the USA, known as Brigade 2506, were being trained by the CIA to overthrow Castro’s government. This plan, which resulted in the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, was followed through by John F. Kennedy after he became the 35th President of the USA less than three weeks after the closure the embassy.

Diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States were finally restored on the 20th July 2015, although a trade embargo still exists.

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.

US break relations with Cuba

Causes of the Cuban Missile Crisis

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

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.