Tag Archives: Thirteen Days

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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