Cuban Missile Crisis
Following the Second World War, suspicions of growing Soviet influence engulfed the Western world. Winston Churchill famously declared that an “iron curtain” had descended and the world had been divided between two ideologies. An ideological battle between democracy and communism ensued while the world was both captivated and terrified by the new nuclear age.
The ideological threat of communism became a reality when Fidel Castro overthrew dictator Fulgencio Batista and declared Cuba – located a mere 90 miles from American soil – a revolutionary socialist nation.
The Cuban Missile Crisis began 14 October, 1962, when an American U2 spy plane flying over Cuba photographed the construction of several missile deployment sites. Kennedy did not begin consulting with world leaders until a few days into the crisis, and when Diefenbaker was informed about the situation he initially doubted the intelligence that he was provided - asking for more photographs of the missile sites in Cuba. Diefenbaker was supportive of American action during the crisis, but did not give them the unequivocal support that Kennedy had expected.
Much to Kennedy’s annoyance, Diefenbaker recommended that independent United Nations inspectors should go into Cuba and survey the nuclear sites.
Diefenbaker refused to put Canadian troops on alert, and deliberated for several days over raising the military awareness level to DEFCON 3 as Kennedy had requested. Personal animosity may have influenced Diefenbaker’s delay during the crisis, as relations between the Canadian leader and American President were particularly uneasy.
Following a meeting with Kennedy in May 1961, the Prime Minister discovered a paper left behind by an American advisor. The infamous “Rostow Memo” outlined several desired results that the United States hoped to “push” Canada toward during the meeting. Diefenbaker was livid, as this incident reaffirmed his nagging belief that the United States wished to dominate Canada. The Kennedy camp was equally enraged: Diefenbaker refused to return the memo even though proper diplomatic decorum required him to do so. Their relationship would never fully recover from this incident.
Eventually Diefenbaker did agree to put Canadian troops on alert, as all other NATO members supported a proposed blockade and agreed to aid the United States if an attack occurred. However, due to his reluctance to respond to the situation, Diefenbaker acted only after the crisis’ climax had passed. Also, under the guidance of the Department of Defence, the Canadian military had taken informal steps to put itself on alert. Ultimately, Diefenbaker believed that Kennedy’s “arrogance” had endangered North America and could have resulted in nuclear war.
The Cuban Missile Crisis was the most heated moment of the Cold War. As these two hegemonic superpowers struggled for ideological dominance, the world lived in fear of nuclear annihilation. International alliances were challenged, great leaders arose and were broken, and life-threatening decisions were made during thirteen uneasy days in October. The Crisis was the crux of nuclear terror and continues to be referenced as nuclear questions are once again at the forefront of international debates over North Korea, Israel, Iran, and the Indian subcontinent today.