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The Missiles of October

This paper shall examine the accuracy and inaccuracies between the events portrayed in the film The Missiles of October (1974) and the historical events of the Cuban Missile Crisis as they have been documented from our text book, transcripts and recordings made in the Executive Mansion in the fall of 1962. It will do this by comparing and contrasting the role of the major personalities involved in the crisis, between the film and historical events.

The Missiles of October (1974) and The Cuban Missile Crisis: Factual Accuracy and inaccuracies in the Docudrama Dramatizations of historical events have always been fraught with the possibility of factual inaccuracy. After all, the primary goal of these docudramas as they have come to be called is entertainment more than a desire to inform. Nevertheless there are a few works in this particular format that have risen above the usual fare to define it in its highest form. The Missiles of October (1974) is one such program.

Starring William Devane and Ralph Bellamy, the film, based on a play that was itself anchored in a best-selling book by Robert Kennedy, is a brilliant, exhaustive look at the Kennedy Administration’s response to the Soviet attempt to install offensive nuclear weapons on the island of Cuba in the fall of 1962. The film spent much of its time addressing the motivations and emotions involved in decision making. From one of the first scenes Khrushchev’s views about Kennedy’s weakness, surrounding actions and behaviors displayed at the Vienna summit, were revealed as a determinate of the Premier’s actions.

In June of 1961 the Vienna summit addressed cold war confrontations between the U. S. and Soviet Union involving East and West Berlin. Kennedy was seen as weak and lacking in the power or support to negotiate concessions (Twentieth century and beyond, 2008). Khrushchev fueled by concerns about the US armed presence in Turkey, and criticism of being insufficiently aggressive in cold war confrontations with the US turned to Cuba to gain a foothold. (Twentieth century and beyond, 2008). Cuba was looking for an Ally to defend them from potential US attack following the failed Bay of Pigs Invasion in 1961.

Khrushchev approached Premier Fidel Castro in the spring of 1962 and by summer began building an arsenal on the island (Think Quest, 1997). The core of the film dealt mainly with the rising tensions between factions. It addressed the views, issues and feelings developing between opposing governments, world organizations, political heads, the military and the press, politicians and citizens they vowed to protect. It also brought to light how these rising tensions influenced strategic choices in how the United States and the Soviet Union would handle the conflict.

It portrayed accuracy in correlating dates of major meetings of figure heads, NATO, the OES vote. However, even more important than detailed historical accuracy was the emotional accuracy portrayed in the film during such a volatile situation. For example, though it is uncertain that President Kennedy specifically referenced The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman in an actual meeting during the heart of the crisis its inclusion appropriately demonstrated the internal struggle of U.

S. officials and accurately likened the crisis and war in general as being ‘stumbled’ into by ‘mistake’ (Missiles of October, 1974). Whether or not the mentioning was historically accurate it emphasized the far more crucial and mainly focused upon emotional accuracy of the film. Tackling the motivation behind actions appropriately rather than strictly adhering to the historical details lends to the film’s credibility to help further its message.

The film’s greatest strength lies in its accurate portrayal of the chain of events leading to the end of the Cuban Missile Crisis. The most dangerous moment of the crisis was the evening of October 27th 1962 where the resolution, war or peace, hung in the balance (Hershberg, 1995). The film addressed the content of both of the letters received by Kennedy from Khrushchev accurately, as well as the shooting down of the U-2 plane by Cuban’s earlier that day.

The only grey area was with the secret meeting between Attorney General Robert Kennedy and Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin. That could simply be due however to the continuing controversy surrounding that meeting as to whether the US conceded to trading the removal of Jupiter missiles from Turkey for the removal of Soviet missiles from Cuba. Whether or not that was a concession the film did address how the public should not be apprised of the decision, though in reality Jupiter missiles were removed from Turkey in the months following the Crisis.

Although the Missals of October have been held in high esteem over thirty years now, it, like any narrative film, is not as historically accurate as its reputation might suggest. This is perhaps most evident when one compares the film itself and the private conflicts within the administration with the actual events as they have been recorded. In the book The Kennedy Tapes, an extensive account of the recordings of actual sessions of the Presidents Executive Committee (ExComm), editors Ernest R. May and Phillip D.

Zelikow detail through transcripts just how far from the truth the film was. “October 1962 American U-2s discovered the missiles sites in Cuba, the Kennedy administration gave the Soviet Union time to voluntarily remove bombers and missals. Lack of compliance would cause the United States to take action and destroy them by invasion or airstrike. It was clear that if this occurred the United States would go to war. Kennedy imposed “quarantine” a peace time naval blockade of Cuba that prevented additional missiles from reaching Cuba.

On October 22, Kennedy appeared on TV to demand that the Soviet Union eliminate this threat to world peace. There was a six day lag in the decision for war or peace. A decision was reached by Kennedy and Khrushchev and Kennedy that the bombers and missals would be removed if the United States made a public pledge not to invade Cuba” (Goff et. al, 2008). Perhaps the most noticeable discrepancy between the film and historical events involves Attorney General Robert Kennedy’s opinions regarding the possibility of an invasion of Cuba, and the opinions of the men around him regarding them.

In the film, Bobby refers to such an invasion, which was being urged by members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as being another Pearl Harbor (Da Silva et. al, 2001). The transcripts however say otherwise. George Ball, an advisor to President Kennedy wrote a impassioned memo that raised the specter of national shame should such a surprise attack might bring upon the country and argued very strongly against it (May & Zelikow, 2002). It was only then that Bobby Kennedy was said to have picked up the Pearl Harbor reference, though even it was not considered nearly as serious a proposition as it is given in the film.

Marshall Carter, Special Assistant to the President, is another who voiced concern, stating “This coming in there, on Pearl Harbor [kind of surprise attack], just frightens the hell out of me as to what goes beyond” (May & Zelikow, 2002). The Attorney General is quoted as saying that an attack like Pearl Harbor “was not in our traditions” (May & Zelikow, 2002). In the film, many of the participants who played key roles during the ExComm meetings are not there or mention at all.

Vice-president Lyndon Johnson does not appear at all in the meetings, while the transcript of The Kennedy Tapes, and indicate very Clearly that he was there in all of them (May & Zelikow, 2002). He spoke out often and forcefully when the President and the Attorney General were absent and “when one or both are there” (May & Zelikow, 2002). It has always been somewhat of an American ‘tradition’ to glorify the drama surrounding pivotal historical events in our favor, particularly when political leaders are victorious in their efforts to protect citizens and our nation’s ideals.

However, The Missiles of October is a rare exception to this trend. Emotions ran high during this two week crisis by political heads on both sides and the film made quite an effort to illuminate the struggles and fears of all players. Classic American filmmaking would illustrate Khrushchev and the Soviets as the ‘bad guys’ and the Kennedys and US officials as the ‘good guys’, but the filmmakers did a nice job of showing a more revealing view of the emotional struggle of all those involved.

In this way historical films can send a powerful message by not sensationalizing events. Emotional dramatization can make the viewer feel closer to an event and help them empathize with people and histories with which they are unfamiliar. This connection is vital to protect us from detrimental repetition and indifference that is often created by Hollywood propaganda mimicking political sympathies in films.

The choice of the ending speech portrays this intention clearly by pointing out that “in the final analysis” we all want the same things, “breathe the same air” and “we are all mortal”. By avoiding the typical Hollywood trend, the film is effective in serving as both a storied account and a cautionary tale. References Da Silva, H. , Devane, W. , Sheen, M. , Page, A. (2001). The Missiles of October [videorecording]. Goff, Richard, Moss, Walter, Terry, Janice, Upshur, Jiu-Hwa, Schroeder, Michael J. (2008). The twentieth Century and Beyond 7th ed.

McGraw Hill Hershberg, Jim. (1995). Anatomy of a Controversy. The Cold War International History Project Bulletin, Spring 1995, Issue 5. Retrieved March 05, 2009, from http://www. gwu. edu/~nsarchiv/nsa/cuba_mis_cri/moment. htm May, E. R. , Zelikow, P. (2002). The Kennedy tapes : inside the White House during the Cuban missile crisis (Concise ed. ). New York. ThinkQuest Team 11046. (1997). Fourteen Days in October: The Cuban Missile Crisis. Retrieved March 05, 2009, from http://library. thinkquest. org/11046/index. html

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