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.



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
Creator: Unknown

Subject: Canada – Head of Government | United States – Head of State | Parliament Hill

Description: John and Olive Diefenbaker with John F. and Jackie Kennedy on Parliament Hill Date Created: [1961]

Date Created: [1961]

Identifier: MG01/XVII/JGD6587XC

John Diefenbaker and John Kennedy
Creator: Unknown

Subject: Canada – Head of Government | United States – Head of State

Description: John Diefenbaker and John Kennedy walking outside the White House, Washington, 1961

Date Created: 1961

Identifier: MG01/XVII/JGD2210XB

Formal photo of John G. Diefenbaker
Creator: Ashley and Crippen

Subject: Canada – Head of Government

Description: John G. Diefenbaker in formal pose sitting on chair, hands on back of chair Date Created: [ca. 1958]

Date Created: [v./ca. 1958]

Identifier: MG01/XVII/JGD1966XC

John Diefenbaker talking with John Kennedy
Creator: Dominion-Wide Photographs

Subject: Canada – Head of Government | United States – Head of State

Description: As crowd looks on, John Diefenbaker and John Kennedy walk down street in Ottawa, 16 May 1961

Date Created: 16 May 1961

Identifier: MG01/XVII/JGD1400

John Diefenbaker with John Kennedy
Creator: Unknown

Subject: Canada – Head of Government | Canada – Head of State | United States – Head of State

Description: John and Olive Diefenbaker with John and Jackie Kennedy and George and Pauline Vanier

Date Created: 16 May 1961

Identifier: MG01/XVII/JGD1388

John Diefenbaker with John Kennedy
Creator: Unknown

Subject: Canada – Head of Government | United States – Head of State | 24 Sussex Drive

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

Date Created: 20 February 1961

Identifier: MG01/XVII/JGD1378

John Diefenbaker with John Kennedy
Creator: Unknown

Subject: Canada – Head of Government | United States – Head of State | 24 Sussex Drive

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

Date Created: 20 February 1961

Identifier: MG01/XVII/JGD1378


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:22July1961

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:25April1957

Identifier:MG01/XVIII/T134-PAC6a


Documents

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