This activity is designed to help students gain a thorough understanding of the events that constituted the Cuban Missile Crisis.  Prime Minister Diefenbaker hesitated when President Kennedy told him to raise Canada’s military status to DEFCON 3, drawing a variety of responses from the public.  Students will have the opportunity to examine letters addressed to the Prime Minister that express both support for and criticism of his decision. This activity also provides an ideal forum in which students can discuss current events related to the nuclear issue. Consult the online primary documents and website text as resources.

Introduction

  • Begin by having students discuss what they already know about NATO and NORAD agreements
  • Encourage students to investigate the Cuban Revolution, including the conditions under Batista's government. Review Fidel Castro's biography.
  • Introduce students to JFK’s famous presidential address
  • Review the “Cuban Missile Crisis Timeline” handout
    • Outline important events and people.
    • Outline the various responses that the Ex Comm considered; discuss the pros and cons of each.
    • Outline the Soviet reaction and how the conflict was resolved
  • Discuss the Canadian response
    • Distribute primary sources
    • Discuss Diefenbaker’s reasoning for hesitating to aid the U.S.
    • Outline / discuss the consequences for Diefenbaker’s decision
    • Optional: Discuss the United Nations role in the event or discuss how Castro benefited after the event

Refer to the following links:

  • JFK Presidential Library – Cuban Missile Crisis
  • Homeland Security Emergency Pamphlet
  • Office of Civil and Defense Mobilizations (United States). "The Family Fallout Shelter (1959)".
  • Office of Civil Defense (United States). "Ten for Survival: Survive Nuclear Attacks (1961)"
  • Meserve, Jeanne. "Duct Tapes Rise Amid Terror Fears." CNN (Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2003)
  • Chang, Kenneth and Judith Miller. "Threats and Responses: Protective Devices; Duct Tape and the Plastic Sheeting Can Offer Solace, if Not Real Security." New York Times (Feb. 13, 2003).

Activity

  • With students working in small groups, evenly distribute the primary documents. Each student should have a different document.
  • Give the students 5-10 minutes to read the article.  Have them fill out the primary document question sheet. (pdf)
  • After the students have finished reading the article, have them assemble into their groups.  Have each partner share / discuss / share notes on the article they read.  (5-10 minutes)
  • Have each group brainstorm the reasons for Diefenbaker’s decisions.
  • Encourage each group to share their comments and participate in a class discussion.
  • To conclude, discuss:   
    • Why do you think John Diefenbaker hesitated to raise Canada’s military status to DEFCON 3?
    • What would you have done if you were Prime Minister during the Cuban Missile Crisis?  Would you have acted the same?  Why or why not?
    • Diefenbaker often used his public correspondence (letters) as a way to gauge the public opinion of his decisions as a Prime Minister. Do you think this was effective?  Why or why not?

Optional Activities

  • Encourage your students to research public reactions to current decisions made by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.  After this, have them write a letter to Prime Minister Harper expressing their opinion on a matter.
  • Additional resources available upon request from the Diefenbaker Canada Centre for extended learning opportunities.

John Diefenbaker and John F. Kennedy seated and chatting in the Oval Office, White House, Washington, D.C.
John Diefenbaker with John F. Kennedy

Media and Document Gallery

Images

John G. Diefenbaker and Olive Diefenbaker with the Kennedys
John Diefenbaker and John Kennedy
Formal photo of John G. Diefenbaker
John Diefenbaker talking with John Kennedy
John Diefenbaker with John Kennedy
John Diefenbaker with John Kennedy
John Diefenbaker with John Kennedy

Audio

Telephone conversation between John Diefenbaker and President John F. Kennedy, Whitehorse, Yukon Territory

Creator: Unknown

Subject: Canada – Head of Government | United States – Head of State | Communication Systems – Canada and the United States | Yukon Territory

Description: John Diefenbaker, from the ceremony opening the Whitehorse Microwave System, shares a telephone conversation with United States President John F. Kennedy, who is in the Eastern United States; both men praise the partnership between their two countries which made the Microwave System possible

Date Created: 22 July1961

Identifier:MG01/XVIII/T58-JGD57

Speech by John Diefenbaker to open 1957 federal election campaign at Massey Hall, Toronto

Creator: Unknown

Subject: Canada – Parliamentarians | Canada – Personalities | Canada – Election Campaigning | Canada – Opposition to International Communism | Canada – Relationship with the United States

Description: John Diefenbaker explains the Progressive Conservative Party’s policies in regards to freedom from communism and the leadership the United States provides, internationally, in ensuring the survival of freedom

Date Created: 25 April1957

Identifier:MG01/XVIII/T134-PAC6a

Documents

Confidential memo from the Prime Minister

Creator: Mr. Diefenbaker

Subject: Canada – Cold War

Description: Regarding statements made by Deane Finlayson, leader of Progressive Conservative Party of British Columbia, who made discouraging remarks about actions taken by the government.

Date Created: 26 October1962

Identifier:MG01/XII/C/120 Volume 56 (038976 – 038978)

Secret Memo from E. Davie Fulton to John Diefenbaker

Creator: E. Davie Fulton

Subject: Canada – Cold War | Canada – RCMP | Canada – International Relations | International Situation – Cuba | Soviet Union – Nuclear Weapons

Description: Extracts from a Communist Convention infiltrated by RCMP in October 1960.

Date Created: 12 December1960

Identifier:MG01/XII/C/120 Volume 56 (038859 – 038861)

“Certain General Views of the Government” regarding Cuba

Creator: Unknown

Subject: Canada – Cold War | Canada – International Relations | Canada – Relations with United States |

Description: Outlines policy of Canadian government regarding the threat of Cuba.

Date Created: 12 December1960

Identifier:MG01/XII/C/120 Volume 56 (038867 – 038869)

Message from Harold MacMillan to John Diefenbaker

Creator: Rt. Hon. Harold MacMillan

Subject: Canada – Cold War | Canada – International Relations | International Situation – Cuba | International Relations – United Kingdom

Description: Message in which MacMillan supports Canadian stance of utilizing the United Nations as a forum for solving problems in Cuba.

Date Created: 30 October1962

Identifier:MG01/XII/C/120 Volume 56 (038996)

Message from Khrushchev to Kennedy

Creator: Nikita Khrushchev

Subject: Canada – Cold War | Canada – International Relations | International Situation – Cuba | Soviet Union – Nuclear Weapons

Description: Outlining the reasons for assisting Cuba in attaining defensive weapons

Date Created: 21 October1962

Identifier:MG01/XII/C/120 Volume 56 (038985 – 038987)

Letter from John Diefenbaker to J.W. Murphy

Creator: John Diefenbaker

Subject: Canada – Cold War | Canada – International Relations | Canada – Relations with United States | United States – Senate | International Situation – Cuba

Description: Statements by American Senator Kenneth Keating on 07 February CBC Broadcast.

Date Created: 8 February1962

Identifier:MG01/XII/C/120 Volume 56 (038870 – 038871)

Printed transcript from Parliamentary debate

Creator: Unknown

Subject: Canada – Head of State | International Situation – Cuba | Canada - Parliamentary Debate | Canada – Relations with United States | United States – Head of State

Description: John Diefenbaker makes official statement on Cuban issue, following the television broadcast by the President of the United States.

Date Created: 22 October1962

Identifier:MG01/XII/C/120 Volume 56 (038902 – 038903)

Statement by Diefenbaker

Creator: John Diefenbaker

Subject: Canada – Head of State | Canada – Cold War | Canada – International Relations | International Situation – Cuba

Description: Diefenbaker announces an end to the potential conflict with Cuba.

Date Created: 28 October1962

Identifier:MG01/XII/C/120 Volume 56 (038993)

Transcript of Parliamentary Debate

Creator: Unknown

Subject: Canada – Cold War | International Situation – Cuba | Soviet Union – Nuclear Weapons | Canada – Parliamentary Debate | Canada – House of Commons

Description: Debate in which Mr. Diefenbaker makes official statement on “Cuban Situation”.

Date Created: 25 October1962

Identifier:MG01/XII/C/120 Volume 56 (038971 – 038973)

Secret Memo

Creator: Unknown

Subject: Canada – Cold War | Canada – International Relations | International Situation – Cuba | Soviet Union – Nuclear Weapons

Description: Secret memo outlining Soviet intentions and reactions during Cuban situation.

Date Created: 26 October1962

Identifier:MG01/XII/C/120 Volume 56 (038979 – 038982)

Document outlining Canadian trade with Cuba

Creator: Unknown

Subject: Canada – Cold War | Canada – Trade with Cuba | Canada – International Relations | Canada – Relations with United States | International Situation – Cuba

Description: Brief document outlining stance on international trade with Cuba regarding American trade sanctions.

Date Created: 23 December1960

Identifier:MG01/XII/C/120 Volume 56 (038862 – 038865)

Letter from Ivan B. White to Howard Green

Creator: Ivan B. White

Subject: Canada – Cold War | Canada – Relations with United States | United States – Head of State | International Situation – Cuba | Soviet Union – Nuclear Weapons

Description: Text of President Kennedy’s Proclamation on “Interdiction of the Delivery of Offensive Weapons to Cuba” made on 23 October 1962.

Date Created: 24 October1962

Identifier:MG01/XII/C/120 Volume 56 (038925 – 038929)

“Your Emergency Pack”

Creator: Civil Defence, Department of National Health and Welfare

Subject: Canada – Cold War | Canada – Civil Defence

Description: Instructions for creating proper emergency preparedness and survival kit.

Date Created:1959

Identifier:MG01/XII/C/120 Volume 56 (042309 – 042316)