Kennedy's Handling of Cuban Missle Crisis. Cowards Way Out or Heroic Effort?

Cuban missles becoming operational.

Invade or Blockade?

Appease?, Compromise?, Expand the Conflict?
All the stuff that makes a movie good.
Well… your opinions please.
Was Kennedy’s handling of the Cuban Missle Crisis the Cowards way out or was it a Heroic effort?

Maybe you need to be a little more clear. Kennedy met his established goal, didn’t he? How could that be cowardice?

Why would anyone call it the “coward’s way out”? On what points did JFK back down?

He blockaded the island and used nuclear brinkmanship to get the Soviets to publically back down, after which, as part of a last minute deal, he removed US nuclear missles from Turkey. The man was willing to get into a shooting war with the Soviets over this. Whether you think he acted correctly or not, in what way could you describe his actions as “cowardly”.

I was given the impression that the US was going to remove the Turkish missles soon anyway.

I am honestly lost. Some people have accused JFK of playing a reckless game of chicken with the Soviets. What part of his policy and actions would have you bring the word Coward into the discussion?
I think you left something out of the Op.


If it had been Nixon we would not be having this discussion since the survivors would still be out in the woods trying to rebuild a minimal existence from the devastation of world nuclear war. None of us would be alive to participate.

We were, but the Russians didn’t know that, and Kennedy didn’t want them getting the idea that thye were using an acceptable tactic to get the US to change policy. It wasn’t so much about the missiles as it was about maintaining the respect of the other superpower. If you’re over 35, BTW, this makes perfect sense to you. It’s how the US and the USSR interacted for 40 years.

While Nixon definitely demonstrated a serious failure of personal ethics and a fair amount of hubris, claiming that he was not sufficiently astute to have avoided a shooting war with the Soviet Union is silly. I have no idea whether Nixon would have pursued the same policies that JFK did, but I can think of no reason to believe that he would have gone nuclear like some trigger-happy cowpoke kid.

I agree. My understanding is that Curtis LeMay wanted a more aggressive response, but he was far to the right of Nixon - who, if you remember, went to China. Now what the current crowd would have done is a far scarier question.

As I undestand it the thing that broke the impass between the two countries was Bobbie Kennedy (with his brothers approval) making a “backroom” deal meeting with the Soviet Ambassador.

The deal was NOT to replace the Jupiter missiles in Turkey (once the US retired the old ones)

A Qid Pro Quo

Appesement and / or Compromise to some, hence coward. Certainly to Lemay I would think.

Also there was no public knowledge of this deal (as I understand it)

According to MacNamara and others, the JCS all wanted an invasion to take the regime and missiles out. The only one who spoke against it was Marine Gen. Shoup. The US did not know that the Soviets had tactical nukes on the island and the Soviet commander had authorization to use them. That little item is what got Krushchev canned when the Politburo found out.
JFK resisted the enormous pressure of his military staff to invade. I doubt Nixon would have been so stalwart.

PS W Bush is not in any way shape or form a cowpoke. As we say in Texas, he is all hat and no cattle. He has no cattle on his so called ranch and does no farming either. He is just a fake on that score as he was being a pilot. He bailed on that gig too and hasn’t flown a plane ever since he got out of the Guard. He doesn’t even have a pilots license now or ever.

In my opinion, Kennedy handled this “crisis” rather badly . most of his direction came from his brother, who was neither a trained diplomat or a deep thinker. what it amounted to was this: Kruschev was under increasing pressure by communist hardliners and major generals of the Red Army. he (Kruschev) was just beginning to fail as a kremlin strongman-he was losing control of the Politburo, and his disastrous :virgin lands" agricultural program was going awry. In a desperate show of strength, he agreed to send missiles to cuba. Now, the CIA (Allen Dulles) knew all of this, but allowed the reckless bobby kennedy to jump to his own conclusions. So, instead of offering Kruschev a face-saving way out, Kennedy allowed his brother to spin the thing into a major confrontation. Don’t think that the US was shy about provoking the russians-a US Navy task force had forced a Russian submarine to surface after tracking it for days. Bobby Kennedy was a hotheaded man, who would NEVER take counsel from older, more experienced state dept. diplomats.
kennedy managed to bring two very bad things to happen:
-he very nearly touched off a war
-he precipitated the fall of N. S. Kruschev, who was quite amenable with setting up detente with the west.
Heck the whole regime of brezhnev and Kosygin could have been avoided, had kennedy had any brains.!

Also the US didn’t know that the USSR had 3 subs armed with nuke torpedos which would have wiped out all of our ships in the area - not just tactical nukes but the really loud type. After a while we found the subs and forced them to surface (subs were battery powered and ran out of juice), but we still didn’t know about the nuke aspect till years later. Again the soviats were authorized to use them, and the sub commanders agreeded if one used them they all would.

Didn’t Kennedy just follow the basic ideas set forth by George Keenan who said that the Soviets were weak internally and would back down from a real fight? Brinkmanship doesn’t strike me as cowardly and it looks to me as if Kennedy did a fine job.


Invasion and/or tactical bombing would have almost certainly led to immediate retaliation by the Soviet Union. If not directly against the United States, then against West Berlin or any of a dozen other hot spots.

Sinking a Soviet ship would have led to at least tit-for-tat retaliation, which would have led to escalation.

Either one of those scenarios would have led to the use of nuclear weapons, so I don’t think terms like “cowardice” or appeasement make a lot of sense.

I was 10 years old during the Cuban crisis, and I remember Kennedy’s TV speeches and Stevenson’s appearance at the U.N. But what I most vividly remember is my father, who was on a business trip that week. He had been in Arkansas, and had seen ICBM sites that were fully activated, and troop convoys headed for the Gulf Coast. He was a World War II vet and was absolutely scared shitless that we were going to end up vaporized.

To me, that period is a little too personal to describe as “all the stuff that makes a movie good.”

How would the career State Department people have handled it?

If you believe that Nixon was lacking in resolve, then you seriously misread the man while he was in the public eye.

So? Don’t introduce the red herring of an attack on Bush when no such attack was launched. “Cowboy” and related terms, (particularly when modified by adjectives implying youth), have long been a metaphor in the U.S. for people who are too quick to shoot (their mouths or their guns) without sufficient consideration for the results.

If I wished to bash GWB, I would have done so explicitly, and I am well aware that his whole “rancher” schtick is a façade.

We had a VERY capable State Department, with many diplomats who knew the true state of Russian weakness. I get the distinct impression that Bobby Kennedy thought he was dealing with a bigger version of Jimmy Hoffa-when in fact he was dealing with a man (Kruschev) who was quite capable of starting WWII.
As I say, what qualifications did Bobby Kennedy have? He was just a graduate of a 3rd-rate law school, and didn’t speak Russian.