Adlai Stevenson II & The Cuban Missile Crisis

Instructor: Mary Ruth Sanders Bracy

Mary Ruth teaches college history and has a PhD.

In this lesson, we will learn about Adlai Stevenson the II and his response to the Cuban Missile Crisis. Stevenson was U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. during the Crisis and a key figure in the Kennedy administration's response.

Who Was Adlai Stevenson II?

It's 1962, and there is a face-off going on across the Atlantic. President Kennedy and his administration believe that the Soviet Union is putting nuclear missiles in Cuba, only 90 miles off the coast of Florida. For the first time, it looks like the Cold War is about to get very hot. One of the most important men during the Cuban Missile Crisis was Adlai Stevenson II, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, and he played an important role in resolving the conflict. Let's learn more about Stevenson and his actions during this time.

Adlai Stevenson II was a prominent Democratic politician in the mid-1900s. He was the governor of Illinois from 1948-1952, ran for president (unsuccessfully) in 1952 and 1956, and was appointed as Ambassador to the United Nations in 1961. There, his job was to advocate for American interests in the international community.

Adlai Stevenson II
Adlai Stevenson II

The Cuban Missile Crisis

In October 1962, the Cuban Missile Crisis dominated American foreign policy. This was a dangerous confrontation between the United States and its Cold War enemy, the Soviet Union.

In the 1950s, Cuba had been taken over by Fidel Castro, a Communist with allegiances to the Soviet Union. This was unacceptable to the United States because Cuba was geographically very close to the United States. In 1961, the Central Intelligence Agency secretly sponsored an attempt to overthrow Castro known as the Bay of Pigs Invasion. This was a massive failure and only succeeded in angering Castro and his Soviet allies.

In response to the Bay of Pigs, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev signed a secret agreement with Castro to place Soviet missiles in Cuba to deter any future U.S. invasion. When the United States found out about the missiles, it triggered a major international crisis. Some of Kennedy's advisers told him to launch a military strike against Cuba; he decided instead to create a naval blockade to keep any new Soviet missiles from reaching the island. This gave the government time to negotiate a peaceful end to the crisis, which it did by the end of November. The Soviet Union removed its missiles from Cuba, and the United States agreed not to invade the island nation and quietly pulled its own missiles out of Turkey.

Adlai Stevenson's Role

As Ambassador to the United Nations, Stevenson played a major role during the Cuban Missile Crisis. It was his job to force the Russian Ambassador to admit that the Soviet Union was threatening the United States by putting missiles in Cuba.

Many thought Stevenson would not be able to do this. During his time in politics, he had gained a reputation as someone who avoided confrontation. But in this instance, he surprised his critics by harshly calling out Russia on the floor of the United Nations.

Stevenson opened his statement on October 25, 1962 by saying that he would present evidence of the Soviet Union's wrongdoing. He then proceeded to directly ask the Russian Ambassador, Valerian Zorin, an important question: ''Do you, Ambassador Zorin, deny that the U.S.S.R. has placed and is placing medium- and intermediate-range missiles and sites in Cuba? Yes or no--don't wait for the translation--yes or no?''

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