Tag Archives: John F. Kennedy

Videos for the Classroom: Adlai Stevenson’s finest moment – The 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis

This is really commemorated about a month later than now, but it leads to a great teachable moment I had with my kids.

We’re studying the powers of the President, and I thought it would be fun if the students worked on a case study of an event that involved Presidential action.  I picked the Cuban missile crisis, and I laid out a dossier of the facts of the case: missiles were discovered in Cuba by an American spy plane.  The United States is under pressure from the Soviet Union to withdraw missiles from Turkey.  The Russians are not saying for certain that there are missiles.  The United States is prepared to escalate with possible military action. 

I had the class divide into groups, take the facts and create a course of action.  Amazingly, their plans mirrored the plans created by Kennedy’s cabinet and Pentagon officials in 1962.  One group favored a military option, a direct strike on the Cuban missiles.  Another group favored a covert operation to disable the missiles.  Still another favored a unilateral pullout from Turkey as a sign of goodwill.

What was most astonishing was my last group.  They actually said, “Maybe we should get other countries on our side by showing them what we have.”  By doing so, they figured, it would make the Soviets look like the bad guy, the aggressor.  I was floored.  These were barely teenagers and they tackled delicate foreign policy like a pro.

The videos today illustrate what happened, which is what my last group of students drew out in their own way.  The first video is actual footage of the Oct 25, 1962 meeting of the United Nations Security Council, where US ambassador Adlai Stevenson confronts Soviet ambassador Valerian Zorin about the missiles in Cuba.  A two-time presidential loser, Stevenson won me over with this, his finest hour.  In a clear, lucid voice, he tells Zorin he is willing to wait “until Hell freezes over” for an answer to his questions about the missiles. 

And then came the photos.  Zorin didn’t have a chance.

I also included the fictionalized version from the film Thirteen Days.  It isn’t that fictionalized, as the dialogue in the UN is almost verbatim from the real thing.  These are both gems to use with your students.  They illustrate how delicate and complex foreign policy can be–yet incredibly direct when we’re in the right.

At the very least, it shows a time when both Republicans and Democrats can conduct foreign policy with a pair of brass ones.


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This Day in History 7/2: The Civil Rights Act of 1964

Independence Day is around the corner, and we’re in a giddy mood here in the Neighborhood.  It’s fitting that on the day that the Second Continental Congress passed the resolution calling for independence, another piece of paper almost equally important came into being.

Today is the anniversary of the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  Coupled with its partner, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, these bills were the culmination of decades of struggle to extend the Revolution’s promise of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” to every American, regardless of race or gender.  It outlawed segregation in public places, in employment, in schools, in housing, in government and in politics, effectively invalidating the infamous “Jim Crow” laws that kept people of color as second class citizens since the Civil War.

This legislation, the brainchild of John F. Kennedy, could not have been enacted without years of struggle.  Groups such as the NAACP, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Congress for Racial Equality had clamored for federal action on segregation since the shameful Plessy v. Ferguson case legitimized “separate but equal” in 1896.  W.E.B. Du Bois, Thurgood Marshall, Martin Luther King, Jr. and countless others brought the struggle to public attention.  Lyndon Johnson, who knew he would alienate his southern base in enacting this bill, nonetheless made sure this legacy of his predecessor succeeded.

The Civil Rights Act was not without its problems.  It did not initially include women–“sex” discrimination was put in as a cynical measure to ensure defeat.  Nor was the bill very direct in its methodology to enforce the legislation.  Title II of the act, which “encouraged” desegregation of public schools and empowered the Attorney General to enforce it, would prove especially problematic in the 1970s and 1980s.  “Forced” busing of students to maintain racial quotas led to ugly rioting and disturbances in Boston and other localities.  Finally, the desegregation of employment has often been a crutch for the hiring of non-qualified personnel based simply on race. 

Yet in spite of these setbacks, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was a watershed in our history.  Many see the bill as the end of the civil rights movement, although its implementation and focus would cause conflict well into our own time.  It finally codified into law the true meaning of Jefferson’s words that “all men are created equal.”  For the first time in our history, the promise and ideals of the Revolution would extend to all Americans. 

Because of the Civil Rights Act, July 4 is Independence Day for all of us.


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