This week in history: Adlai Stevenson and the Cuban Missile Crisis
While many of Kennedy's advisers recommended a tough stand against the Soviets, Stevenson alone counseled negotiation and compromise, leading many in Kennedy's circle to believe Stevenson wanted to appease the Soviets as British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain had done with Hitler in 1938. With Kennedy's backing, on Oct. 25 Stevenson went before the UN and confronted the Soviet ambassador. Despite his reluctance to take the Soviets head on, however, Stevenson proved the perfect man to make America's case before the world.
In his book “An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963,” Robert Dallek writes: “(Kennedy) watched a television confrontation at the U.N. between Stevenson and Soviet Ambassador Valerian Zorin. When Stevenson pressed Zorin to say whether the Soviets had put offensive missiles in Cuba, he replied, 'I am not in an American courtroom, and therefore I do not wish to answer a question that is put to me in the fashion which a prosecutor puts questions.' Stevenson would not let him evade the question. 'You are in the courtroom of world opinion right now, and you can answer yes or no,' Stevenson shot back.”
When Zorin stated that Stevenson would have his answer “in due course,” Stevenson famously stated, “I am prepared to wait for my answer until hell freezes over.”
Stevenson then had the U-2 photographs placed upon easels for all the assembly to see, clearly illustrating the brazen Soviet dishonesty. Back at the White House Kennedy said, “I never knew Adlai had it in him. Too bad he didn't show some of this steam in the 1956 campaign.”
Stevenson's dramatic, forceful exposure of Soviet lies ensured increased international pressure for the Soviets to back down. After a few more tense days of negotiation, which ultimately ended with Kennedy agreeing to dismantle American missiles in Turkey, Khrushchev announced that the offensives missiles in Cuba would be removed.
Cody K. Carlson holds a master's degree in history from the University of Utah and currently teaches at Salt Lake Community College. He is also the co-developer of the popular History Challenge iPhone/iPad apps. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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