Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum

Cuban Missile Crisis
John Frazier
World History or American History
Time Frame:
one ninety minute class
Soviet Union versus United States

Grade Levels:
9, 10, 11, 12

Classroom/Homework Activity to be performed:
  • Cooperative learning and primary resources
  • This lesson is intended to be taught after students have gained knowledge on the Cuban Missile Crisis.  Students will read a document of Kennedy-Khrushchev exchanges.  Students will take notes, write a summary, and answer questions on a primary resource.  They will also take the role of Kennedy and write a response to Khrushchev.  Unless a computer is available for each student, a copy of the document will be needed for every pupil.

  • The Cuban Missile Crisis was a turning point in the relations between the United States and the Soviet. Students need to understand that decisions on both sides prevented a potential nuclear nightmare. I also want students to gain an appreciation for diplomacy.

District, state, or national performance and knowledge standards/goals/skills met:

  • SS 6. relationships of the individual and groups to institutions and cultural traditions
  • SS 2. continuity and change in the history of Missouri, the United States and the world
  • SS 7.  the use of tools of social studies inquiry (documents)



Benchmark 3: The student uses a working knowledge and understanding of individuals, groups, ideas, developments, and turning points in the era of the Cold War (1945-1990).

3. (A) evaluates the foreign policies of Truman and Eisenhower during the Cold War (e.g., establishment of the United Nations, containment, NATO, Truman Doctrine, Berlin Blockade, Korean War, Iron Curtain, U-2 incident).

Benchmark 5: The student engages in historical thinking skills.

1. (A) analyzes a theme in United States history to explain patterns of continuity and change over time.

2. (A) develops historical questions on a specific topic in United States history and analyzes the evidence in primary source documents to speculate on the answers.

3.(A) uses primary and secondary sources about an event in U.S. history to develop a credible interpretation of the event, evaluating on its meaning (e.g., uses provided primary

4. (A) compares competing historical narratives in United States history by contrasting different historians’ choice of questions, use of sources, and points of view, in order to demonstrate how these factors contribute to different interpretations.


Benchmark 4: The student uses a working knowledge and understanding of individuals, groups, ideas, developments, and turning points of the World Since 1945.

(A) analyzes the Cold War as the competition between two competing ideologies or world views and its impact on various regions of the world. (e.g., roots in WWII, Mao’s China; the Cold War in Europe; NATO, Warsaw Pact, and the competition for nonaligned nations; collapse of Communism in Europe)

Benchmark 5: The student engages in historical thinking skills.

(A) analyzes a theme in world history to explain patterns of continuity and change over time.

2. (A) develops historical questions on a specific topic in world history and analyzes the evidence in primary source documents to speculate on the answers.

3. (A) uses primary and secondary sources about an event in world history to develop a credible interpretation of the event, forming conclusions about its meaning (e.g., use provided primary and secondary sources to interpret a historical-based conclusion).

Secondary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed:

This is a brief secondary source teachers and students can use for background information on the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Primary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed:

The exact document is # 68. Letter from President Khrushchev to President Kennedy. October 28, 1962.

Full description of activity or assignment.

§  The teacher should have previously taught a lesson on the Cuban Missile crisis before starting this lesson. §  The teacher should have the students read the document posted below, individually and take notes while reading. The document is number 68, from the website listed in the primary resources. Further instructions will follow the document listed below.

68. Letter From Chairman Khrushchev to President Kennedy

Moscow, October 28, 1962.

//Source: Department of State, Presidential Correspondence: Lot 66 D 204. No classification marking. Other copies of this letter are ibid.: Lot 77 D 163, and in the Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Countries Series, USSR, Khrushchev Correspondence. The Russian-language text is in Department of State, Presidential Correspondence: Lot 66 D 204. Also printed in Documents on Disarmament, 1962, vol. II, pp. 995-999. This "informal translation" and an "official translation" prepared by the Department of State are printed in Department of State Bulletin, November 19, 1973, pp. 650-654. According to a footnote in the Bulletin this message was broadcast in English over Moscow radio at 5 p.m. Moscow time, October 28, and a Russian text delivered to the Embassy at 5:10 p.m. the same day.

DEAR MR. PRESIDENT: I have received your message of October 27/1/ I express my satisfaction and thank you for the sense of proportion you have displayed and for realization of the responsibility which now devolves on you for the preservation of the peace of the world.

/1/See Document 67.

I regard with great understanding your concern and the concern of the United States people in connection with the fact that the weapons you describe as offensive are formidable weapons indeed. Both you and we understand what kind of weapons these are.

In order to eliminate as rapidly as possible the conflict which endangers the cause of peace, to give an assurance to all people who crave peace, and to reassure the American people, who, I am certain, also want peace, as do the people of the Soviet Union, the Soviet Government, in addition to earlier instructions on the discontinuation of further work on weapons construction sites, has given a new order to dismantle the arms which you described as offensive, and to crate and return them to the Soviet Union.

Mr. President, I should like to repeat what I had already written to you in my earlier messages--that the Soviet Government has given economic assistance to the Republic of Cuba, as well as arms, because Cuba and the Cuban people were constantly under the continuous threat of an invasion of Cuba.

A piratic vessel had shelled Havana. They say that this shelling was done by irresponsible Cuban emigres. Perhaps so, however, the question is from where they shot. It is a fact that these Cubans have no territory, they are fugitives from their country, and they have no means to conduct military operations.

This means that someone put into their hands these weapons for shelling Havana and for piracy in the Caribbean in Cuban territorial waters. It is impossible in our time not to notice a piratic ship, considering the concentration in the Caribbean of American ships from which everything can be seen and observed.

In these conditions, pirate ships freely roam around and shell Cuba and make piratic attacks on peaceful cargo ships. It is known that they even shelled a British cargo ship. In a word, Cuba was under the continuous threat of aggressive forces, which did not conceal their intention to invade its territory.

The Cuban people want to build their life in their own interests without external interference. This is their right, and they cannot be blamed for wanting to be masters of their own country and disposing of the fruits of their own labor.

The threat of invasion of Cuba and all other schemes for creating tension over Cuba are designed to strike the Cuban people with a sense of insecurity, intimidate them, and prevent them from peacefully building their new life.

Mr. President, I should like to say clearly once more that we could not remain indifferent to this. The Soviet Government decided to render assistance to Cuba with the means of defense against aggression--only with means for defense purposes. We have supplied the defense means which you describe as offensive means. We have supplied them to prevent an attack on Cuba--to prevent rash acts.

I regard with respect and trust the statement you made in your message of October 27, 1962, that there would be no attack, no invasion of Cuba, and not only on the part of the United States, but also on the part of other nations of the Western Hemisphere, as you said in your same message. Then the motives which induced us to render assistance of such a kind to Cuba disappear.

It is for this reason that we instructed our officers--these means as I had already informed you earlier are in the hands of the Soviet officers--to take appropriate measures to discontinue construction of the aforementioned facilities, to dismantle them, and to return them to the Soviet Union. As I had informed you in the letter of October 27,/2/ we are prepared to reach agreement to enable United Nations Representatives to verify the dismantling of these means.

/2/Document 66.

Thus in view of the assurance you have given and our instructions on dismantling, there is every condition for eliminating the present conflict.

I note with satisfaction that you have responded to the desire I expressed with regard to elimination of the aforementioned dangerous situation, as well as with regard to providing conditions for a more thoughtful appraisal of the internal situation, fraught as it is with great dangers in our age of thermonuclear weapons, rocketry, spaceships, global rockets, and other deadly weapons. All people are interested in insuring peace.

Therefore, vested with trust and great responsibility, we must not allow the situation to become aggravated and must stamp out the centers where a dangerous situation fraught with grave consequences to the cause of peace has arisen. If we, together with you, and with the assistance of other people of good will, succeed in eliminating this tense atmosphere, we should also make certain that no other dangerous conflicts which could lead to a world nuclear catastrophe would arise.

In conclusion, I should like to say something about a detente between NATO and the Warsaw Treaty countries that you have mentioned. We have spoken about this long since and are prepared to continue to exchange views on this question with you and to find a reasonable solution.

We should like to continue the exchange of views on the prohibition of atomic and thermonuclear weapons, general disarmament, and other problems relating to the relaxation of international tension.

Although I trust your statement, Mr. President, there are irresponsible people who would like to invade Cuba now and thus touch off a war. If we do take practical steps and proclaim the dismantling and evacuation of the means in question from Cuba, in so doing we, at the same time, want the Cuban people to be certain that we are with them and are not absolving ourselves of responsibility for rendering assistance to the Cuban people.

We are confident that the people of all countries, like you, Mr. President, will understand me correctly. We are not threatening. We want nothing but peace. Our country is now on the upsurge.

Our people are enjoying the fruits of their peaceful labor. They have achieved tremendous successes since the October Revolution, and created the greatest material, spiritual, and cultural values. Our people are enjoying these values; they want to continue developing their achievements and insure their further development on the way of peace and social progress by their persistent labor.

I should like to remind you, Mr. President, that military reconnaissance planes have violated the borders of the Soviet Union. In connection with this there have been conflicts between us and notes exchanged. In 1960 we shot down your U-2 plane, whose reconnaissance flight over the USSR wrecked the summit meeting in Paris. At that time, you took a correct position and denounced that criminal act of the former U.S. Administration.

But during your term of office as President another violation of our border has occurred, by an American U-2 plane in the Sakhalin area. We wrote you about the violation on 30 August. At that time you replied that that violation had occurred as a result of poor weather, and gave assurances that this would not be repeated. We trusted your assurance, because the weather was indeed poor in that area at that time.

But had not your planes been ordered to fly about our territory, even poor weather could not have brought an American plane into our airspace. Hence, the conclusion that this is being done with the knowledge of the Pentagon, which tramples on international norms and violates the borders of other states.

A still more dangerous case occurred on 28 October, when one of your reconnaissance planes intruded over Soviet borders in the Chukotka Peninsula area in the north and flew over our territory. The question is, Mr. President: How should we regard this. What is this: A provocation? One of your planes violates our frontier during this anxious time we are both experiencing, when everything has been put into combat readiness. Is it not a fact that an intruding American plane could be easily taken for a nuclear bomber, which might push us to a fateful step? And all the more so since the U.S. Government and Pentagon long ago declared that you are maintaining a continuous nuclear bomber patrol.

Therefore, you can imagine the responsibility you are assuming especially now, when we are living through such anxious times.

I should like to express the following wish; it concerns the Cuban people. You do not have diplomatic relations. But through my officers in Cuba, I have reports that American planes are making flights over Cuba.

We are interested that there should be no war in the world, and that the Cuban people should live in peace. And besides, Mr. President, it is no secret that we have our people in Cuba. Under such a treaty with the Cuban Government we have sent there officers, instructors, mostly plain people: specialists, agronomists, zoo technicians, irrigators, land reclamation specialists, plain workers, tractor drivers, and others. We are concerned about them.

I should like you to consider, Mr. President, that violation of Cuban airspace by American planes could also lead to dangerous consequences. And if you do not want this to happen, it would [be] better if no cause is given for a dangerous situation to arise.

We must be careful now and refrain from any steps which would not be useful to the defense of the states involved in the conflict, which could only cause irritation and even serve as a provocation for a fateful step. Therefore, we must display sanity, reason, and refrain from such steps.

We value peace perhaps even more than other peoples because we went through a terrible war with Hitler. But our people will not falter in the face of any test. Our people trust their Government, and we assure our people and world public opinion that the Soviet Government will not allow itself to be provoked. But if the provocateurs unleash a war, they will not evade responsibility and the grave consequences a war would bring upon them. But we are confident that reason will triumph that war will not be unleashed and peace and the security of the peoples will be insured.

In connection with the current negotiations between Acting Secretary General U Thant and representatives of the Soviet Union, the United States, and the Republic of Cuba, the Soviet Government has sent First Deputy Foreign Minister V. V. Kuznetsov to New York to help U Thant in his noble efforts aimed at eliminating the present dangerous situation.

Respectfully yours,

N. Khrushchev/3/

/3/Printed from a translation that indicates Khrushchev signed the original Russian-language text.

§  The students will now work with a partner, together writing a brief ½ to one page summary based off their notes.  Students should alternate writing sentences so that both are involved.  After the summary, the students will answer these questions on their paper.   1.    What has Khrushchev agreed to pack up and remove to the Soviet Union? 2.    What kind of attacks does Khrushchev say have been happening to Cuba lately?  Do you think he means to implicate the United States in these attacks?      3.  Do you feel their are any propaganda messages implied in this letter           from Khrushchev?  If yes, briefly explain.      4.  What do you feel would have occurred if Nuclear Weapons had not              been removed from Cuba? 5.    Place yourself in President Kennedy’s shoes and write a two         paragraph response to Khrushchev, based on the primary source       you have just worked with.

Full explanation of the assessment method and/or scoring guide:

Assessment: fully explain your assessment method in detail or create and attach your scoring guide:   §  In the scoring guide, the teacher should use his or her knowledge about the level of students they teach, matching student achievement with an appropriate score.  §  Let the students have a copy of the scoring guide before the assignment so they are aware of the grading process.       Scoring Guide is on the Next Page                       Name ___________________                 Block _____  

Notes Summary Answering Questions # 1-3 Answering Questions #   4 & 5.
5 or 6 points: notes are clearly written and can be understood.  They cover the main points in the document. 5 or 6 points: summary is clearly written and can be understood.  The summary uses complete sentences.   5 or 6 points: all questions were correctly answered and were clearly understood. 5 or 6 points: creativity and the seriousness of the situation were expressed in the answers.
3 or 4points:  notes are somewhat confusing and do not cover all the main points   3 or 4 points: summary is written but can not be understood at all points. 3 or 4 points: all questions were answered but many of the descriptions were not clearly written and or some of the answers were incorrect. 3 or 4 points: creativity was average and seriousness was not completely displayed in most of the answers.
2 points:  student attempted to take notes 2 points: student attempted summary.  2 points: all questions were attempted.  2 points: attempted to answer questions 4 and 5.
Teacher comments: Teacher comments: Teacher comments: Teacher comments:


Total Points _____/24