President Richard M. Nixon (1960 - 1968)

Part IV
The German Border Crisis� (contd.)

President Nixon�s arrangement with Chairman Mao had the desired effect almost immediately. Within a week of the end of Sino-American negotiations (late March, 1962), Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev was forced to pull Soviet units off the line in East Germany and ship the into Siberia, to face down a new, potentially hostile foe. Soviet commanders began complaining about a lack of supplies and their Chinese counterparts felt emboldened enough to probe the Soviet lines, unleashing a few barrages of light artillery and sporadic firefights.

The scheme worked brilliantly. By mid-April, Soviet dissenters were beginning to question Khrushchev�s decisions and his will. Soviet allies in eastern Europe, notably East Germany, decided that, with more Soviet soldiers being withdrawn from the front lines in Europe every day, there was no point in sending soldiers to stare down the American troops. Without major Soviet backing, the will of eastern Europe crumbled. 

In May of 1962, Nixon finally got the phone call he�d been waiting for: Khrushchev was ready to sit down at the bargaining table. The crisis was both a tactical and strategic defeat for the Soviet Union, who found that relations with their former European allies had cooled considerably. In the years since the crisis, more details about the incident emerged from declassified U.S. and Soviet files; from conferences involving those who participated in the crisis, including some Soviet officials; and from the release of secretly recorded White House tapes of the meetings involving Nixon and his advisers, both political and military.

As it turns out, both sides were ready, willing, able to bring nuclear weapons to bear if the need be, both strategically and tactically. Had either side pulled the trigger, not only would cities across the globe have been wiped out, but massive numbers of soldiers and civilians in both western and eastern Europe would have perished in the nuclear holocaust, as well. Any American or Soviet incursion would have faced nuclear resistance.

The German Border Crisis was a very dangerous episode, bringing the world�s major military powers to the brink of nuclear war. Nixon has been criticized for such policies as the Bay of Pigs invasion, which embroiled the United States in a war and caused Khrushchev to flood East Germany with Soviet soldiers. Yet most historians agree that it was Nixon's good judgment, and the prudence Khrushchev displayed once the crisis intensified, that helped avert catastrophe.

The apparent capitulation of the USSR in the standoff was instrumental in Khrushchev's being deposed as leader of the USSR in 1963. The younger Soviet leaders who ousted Khrushchev perceived his action during the crisis as weak and indecisive. This perception, combined with other foreign policy setbacks and difficulties meeting his goals for domestic programs, contributed to his removal from power.

The German Border Crisis marked a short period of d�tente between the two great nations. Both sides had peered over the precipice of nuclear war and wisely decided to retreat. Khrushchev eventually accepted the status quo in West Berlin, and the originally predicted conflict there never materialized. The thaw also led to the signing of the Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty in 1963 by Britain, the United States, and the USSR. The treaty outlawed nuclear test explosions in the atmosphere or underwater, but allowed them underground.

The Cuban War� (contd.)

Khrushchev announced to the world that the Soviet Union would, in no way, shape, or form, support the Republic of Cuba in any further action against the United States in June of 1962. This move won him vilification from all corners of the Communist world. Soviet hardliners criticized it as a further showing of weakness, as did the People�s Republic of China, who were angered when the United States once again sided with Taiwan over possession of the islands of Quemoy and Matsu. And, finally, in Cuba, Fidel Castro unleashed large amounts of propaganda slandering the Soviet Premier as a traitor against Communists everywhere.

However, with support coming from neither the Soviet Union, nor the People�s Republic of China, Castro�s days in Cuba were numbered. The number of American soldiers in Cuba had swelled to nearly 120,000 with more arriving every day. With seven whole divisions present, and the eastern two-thirds of the island under American occupation, US soldiers pressed onwards past the city of Matanzas on the northern coast.  

Finally, in November of 1962, United States Marines and Airborne soldiers landed just outside of Havana. After a grueling fight for the capital, the last remaining Cuban general surrendered to the US forces on November 21. Three days later, soldiers manning a roadblock twenty miles from Havana saw a familiar face in the herd of people crowded into the back of a pickup truck. Less than two months later, the new, democratic, capitalist government in Cuba executed Fidel Castro.
Body of Fidel Castro (on left)
The Cuban War lasted one year, seven months, and four days, culminating in a victory for the United States, CIA, Cuban rebels, and, above all, the Cuban people. Eleven thousand American soldiers would never return from the island of Cuba. It is estimated, although records are inaccurate, that seven thousand Cuban rebels died, and a further forty-one thousand Cuban conscripts died fighting for Communism.

By far the most important thing to be gained from the Cuban War, however, was valuable, hard-won experience. At the beginning of the war, the United States Army was, essentially, no different from that which fought in World War II and Korea. However, by the end of the war, the US soldiers, and, more importantly, their commanders had won the lessons needed to fight a guerilla style war. The lessons would prove valuable beyond belief in the years to come.
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