Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum


Cuban Missile Crisis
Author:
Valerie Schrag
Course:
Survey U.S. History II
Time Frame:
one 90 minute seminar period
Subjects:
Soviet Union versus United States

Grade Levels:
11

Classroom/Homework Activity to be performed:
  • The students (in groups) will work through a series of primary source documents related to the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962.  In using the primary sources, the students will confront the difficulties of negotiating at the highest levels in this crisis that brought the world to the brink of nuclear war.  They will also assess the aftermath of the crisis and the continuing legacy of nuclear arms.

Rationale:
  • I want the students to have the opportunity to interact with primary sources regarding the critical decisions made during the 13-day Cuban Missile Crisis.  I want them to appreciate the nuances of diplomacy, as well as how close the world was to the brink of nuclear conflict.

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


  • Kansas State Social Studies Standards – High School U.S. History - Benchmark 3, Indicator 4: “Evaluates the foreign policies of Kennedy and Johnson during the Cold War (e.g., Cuban Missile Crisis, Berlin Wall, Vietnam War, Peace Corp).”
  • Kansas State Social Studies Standards – High School U.S. History - Benchmark 5, Indicator 3: “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 and secondary sources to interpret a historical-based conclusion).”

 

SHOW ME STANDARDS

2. Continuity and change in the history of Missouri, the United States and the world

 

6. Relationships of the individual and groups to institutions and cultural traditions

 

 

7. The use of tools of social science inquiry (such as surveys, statistics, maps, documents)

 

Secondary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed:
  • The Americans: Reconstruction to the 21st Century (McDougall Littell) - Chapter 20, Section 1

Primary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed:
  • Life magazine (September 15, 1961) – issue entitled “How You Can Survive Fallout” (distributed at the 2010 Truman Library Teacher Conference)
  • photographs (available from the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library website (www.jfklibrary.org) and distributed at the 2010 Truman Library Teacher Conference)
    • MRBM Field Launch Site 1 (14 October 1962)
    • Soviet Military Build Up in Cuba (October 1962)
    • Top Secret Missile Range Map of North America
  • excerpt from an audio recording from President Kennedy, ca. midnight on October 18, 1962 (distributed at the 2010 Truman Library Teacher Conference)
  • John F. Kennedy, “Radio and Television Report to the American People on the Soviet Arms Buildup in Cuba,” October 22, 1962 (audio and transcript available from the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library website (www.jfklibrary.org))
  • Soviet documents and telegrams related to the Cuban Missile Crisis
    • telegram from Nikita Khrushchev to John F. Kennedy, October 23, 1962 (available from the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library website (www.jfklibrary.org) and distributed at the 2010 Truman Library Teacher Conference)
    • minutes of the Presidium, October 27, 1962 (distributed at the 2010 Truman Library Teacher Conference)
    • letter from Chairman Khrushchev to President Kennedy, October 27, 1962 (available from the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library website (www.jfklibrary.org) and distributed at the 2010 Truman Library Teacher Conference)
  • letter from President Kennedy to Chairman Khrushchev, October 28, 1962 (available from the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library website (www.jfklibrary.org) and distributed at the 2010 Truman Library Teacher Conference)

Full description of activity or assignment.

All activities, though performed in small groups, will be guided by the teacher.  Each group will be given a set of primary sources to analyze together.  Before moving on to the next set of documents, the students and teacher will discuss the sources and draw conclusions about the Cuban Missile Crisis.  All groups will be working with the same set of documents at the same time, necessitating 5-6 complete sets of documents (given the size of your class and the size of your groups).

 

All documents will be analyzed using a modified version of the APPARTS strategy, a primary source analysis approach advocated by the College Board for Advanced Placement history classes.  For this lesson, the students (in groups) will answer the following key questions for each set of documents:

 

  • Who created the source?  What was his point of view?
  • Who was the intended audience?  How might knowing this information affect the reliability of the source?
  • Why was the source produced?
  • What is the main idea of the source?  Give 2 examples to support the main idea.
  • Why is this source important for understanding the Cuban Missile Crisis?

 

  1. Divide the students into groups of 4-5 students.  Write the key questions on the whiteboard so that all students can refer to them throughout the activity.
  2. Give each group a copy of the Life magazine article from September 15, 1961.  Read President Kennedy’s letter together, and then allow the students to examine the remainder of the magazine.  Ask students to look for evidence of the civil defense program, and what Americans could do to protect themselves from nuclear fallout.  How does this knowledge help to explain the attitudes in the nation shortly before the Cuban Missile Crisis?
  3. Next, distribute the three photographs and documents related to the discovery of missile sites in Cuba.  Allow the students to examine the photographs & maps.  What concerns the students?  Is the evidence strong enough to warrant a response?  Remind students about the transition away from delivering nuclear weapons by aircraft to delivery by missile, a transition that took place in the late 1950s.
  4. Give a copy of the excerpt from President Kennedy’s midnight recording of October 18, 1962 to each student group.  Read the excerpt together.  What issues did President Kennedy raise?  Where else in the world were there tensions between the US and USSR?  What action(s) was he leaning toward at this time?
  5. Listen to President Kennedy’s address to the nation on October 22, 1962.  How does he make this announcement to the American people?  What should the American people do?  How does he present the options, both to the American people and the Soviets?  Ask the students to evaluate the chance of success of each of President Kennedy’s proposed options.
  6. Distribute the three documents related to the Soviet response to the crisis and the telegrams from Chairman Khrushchev.  Read the documents together.  How did the Soviets respond to the crisis in Cuba?
    1. At this time, ask the students to consider what they would have done had they been advisors to President Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis.  What evidence would have been the most significant?  What course of action would they have recommended to President Kennedy for the resolution of this crisis?
    2. Hand a copy of President Kennedy’s letter to Chairman Khrushchev (dated October 28, 1962) to each group.  Discuss the resolution of the crisis.
    3. Finally, allow the students to examine some documents published in the aftermath of the Cuban Missile Crisis.  First, hand each group a copy of the Herblock cartoon entitled “How About One More Try?” published on May 29, 1963 in the context of the debate over the Limited Test Ban Treaty.  Next, hand each group a copy of 2 pages from Doomsday Clock website, maintained by the journal The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (http://www.thebulletin.org/content/doomsday-clock/timeline).  Allow the students to read about the history of the Doomsday Clock and to trace the timeline of when the clock was moved toward or away from the proverbial midnight of nuclear annihilation.  The students will note that the clock did not move during the Cuban Missile Crisis.  Engage them in a discussion of the possible reasons why no movement occurred at that time.

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

Each student will write a 2-3 paragraph response to the following question:  How would you have advised President Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962?  In the response, each student should cite 2-3 key pieces of evidence that would have influenced his/her advice to President Kennedy, and explain why those were the critical pieces of information.  The paragraph will be evaluated upon the traits of ideas and organization, two of the six traits of writing. 

The student will hand in both his/her 2-3 paragraph response, and the notes he/she took during the activity using the modified APPARTS strategy.  Half of the student’s grade will be determined by his/her essay and the other half will be determined by the quality of his/her modified APPARTS notes.