The Munich Analogy - The cuban missile crisis




The 1960s provided a classic situation in which the Munich analogy was called into play. During the Cuban Missile Crisis, President John F. Kennedy pointedly used the analogy in his speech of 22 October 1962, when he announced that he would implement a quarantine on communist Cuba in response to the discovery that the Soviet Union had been placing offensive weapons there. Explaining his decision, the president reminded the nation that "the 1930s taught us a clear lesson: Aggressive conduct, if allowed to grow unchecked and unchallenged, ultimately leads to war." The transcripts of the Executive Committee of the National Security Council (ExCom) show that the Munich analogy was extensively used in governmental discussions during the crisis. In a meeting with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, at which the president explained that he was leaning toward implementing a blockade rather than more aggressive military action, General Curtis LeMay exclaimed: "This blockade and political action, I see leading into war. I don't see any other solution. It will lead right into war. This is almost as bad as the appeasement at Munich." The president was at a loss for words.

The lessons of Munich had particular meaning for Kennedy. His father, Joseph Kennedy, had been Roosevelt's ambassador to Britain at the time of the Munich Conference, and John Kennedy had been a twenty-one-year-old university student. The elder Kennedy had been a longtime supporter of Britain's policy of appeasement and continued to be throughout the war. John Kennedy, however, formed his own beliefs with the coming of World War II. He disagreed with appeasement so fervently that his honors thesis at Harvard was entitled "Appeasement at Munich." This was published after his graduation under the title Why England Slept (1940) and became a bestseller. The book argued that appeasement was a weak policy that the United States should avoid at all costs. One can therefore imagine the effect on Kennedy of being labeled a "Municheer."

This damaging term was also applied to Kennedy's ambassador to the United Nations, Adlai Stevenson, in the wake of the crisis. There had been a confrontation during talks before the crisis on what to do about the Soviet threat. Stevenson had suggested that the president "should consider offering to withdraw from the Guantánamo naval base as part of a plan to demilitarize, neutralize and guarantee the territorial integrity of Cuba …[and offer] to remove the Jupiter [missiles in Turkey] in exchange for the Russian missiles from Cuba." Kennedy vehemently disagreed with these proposals, saying that this was not the right time for concessions that could divide the allies and sacrifice their interests.

Stevenson's suggestion met with a strong reaction from other members of ExCom, leading to the subsequent charge that Stevenson had "wanted a Munich." This accusation appeared in a postmortem article by the journalist Joseph Alsop, who attributed the statement to a "nonadmiring official." It turned out that President Kennedy was actually the "non-admiring official" whose comments were used to discredit Stevenson. As a result, the article made Stevenson's arguments for trading the Turkish bases seem less rational than they really were. This charge of being a "Municheer" was especially damaging to Stevenson's political reputation. The irony, of course, was that the Jupiter missiles did play a secret role in resolving the crisis.

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