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Session 03: Only 90 Miles Away: The Cuban Missile Crisis

October 20, 2010 Dr. Robert Waters began by providing some background to the crisis, including the Cuban Revolution, the Eisenhower and Kennedy Administration's attempts to overthrow the Castro regime, and superpower relations between the United States and the Soviet Union. He told the audience of a few of the Kennedy Administration's efforts to get rid of the communist regime in Cuba, which sometimes degenerated into the bizarre, such as plans to make Castro's beard fall out, denying him of his charisma, and a proposal to put explosives in a seashell so that when the dictator picked it up, it would blow his head off.

ImageSession THREE: Dr. Robert Waters - Only 90 Miles Away: The Cuban Missile Crisis
Date: October 20, 2010
Location: Dicke Forum
Time: 7:00PM


Summary: Dr. Waters began by providing some background to the crisis, including the Cuban Revolution, the Eisenhower and Kennedy Administration's attempts to overthrow the Castro regime, and superpower relations between the United States and the Soviet Union.  He told the audience of a few of the Kennedy Administration's efforts to get rid of the communist regime in Cuba, which sometimes degenerated into the bizarre, such as plans to make Castro's beard fall out, denying him of his charisma, and a proposal to put explosives in a seashell so that when the dictator picked it up, it would blow his head off.  Relations between the U.S. and USSR faced difficulty because Nikita Kruschev, the Soviet leader, wondered how he could speak as equals with the very young American president.

Much of the content of Water's talk focused on how historians writing in the early years after the crisis got the story wrong, often obscuring the true history of the event.  For instance, Arthur Schlessinger's Pulitzer and Bancroft Award winning work A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House contained several innacuracies, particularly concerning Attorney General Bobby Kennedy's role as a "dove" during the crisis.  Despite Schlesinger's contention that Bobby continually advocated for a peaceful resolution, the eventual release of recordings made of the Executive Committee's (XCOM) meetings revealed that the Attorney General had early made repeated calls for an invasion of the communist island.  Water's also maintained that President Kennedy set out a position during the crisis that was eerily similar to the Bush Doctrine of preventive war.

At the conclusion of his talk, Waters' maintained that his experience in writing his dissertation on the Cuban Missile Crisis caused him to lose his faith in history.  He argued that absent the recordings, our knowledge of the events would be wildly innacurate, because of the vested interests of the historians records of the events, which caused them to write mythology designed to celebrate the principal's roles, rather than history.

Water's took questions after his remarks, and the recording of his talk can be found at a couple of locations.  The best overall presentation (both video and audio) can be found here.  A better audio version, taken from a different camera angle, can be found here.  We are still working on another recording that will likely improve both audio and video.  It will be posted here as soon as it is available.