Cuban missile crisis impact on American citizens
If there is anything that kept many people in America and the world at large worried since the Second World War and during the Cold War, it must be the Cuban missile crisis. This crisis started in October, 15 1962 when an American spy plane noticed and reported the presence of Soviet SS-4 Nuclear Missiles in Cuba. Although these were medium range missiles, the proximity of Cuba, 90 miles off the cost of the US, meant that such a missile could perfectly hit any town or city in American continental land (McConnell, 12). Although the Soviet Union, which was entangled in a cold war with the US, denied any intentions of installing offensive weapons in the Western Hemisphere, the mere presence of the missiles and the news of more being shipped from USSR to Cuba betrayed any honest they may have harboured. The US quickly placed its defence on alert, to wad of any invasion or aggression. Tension between US and the Soviet Union rose to enormous proportions, and many people became weary of a Third World War which would be devastating due to the use of nuclear weapons. For fourteen days in that month, “October 1962, humanity stood on the precipice of a nuclear war as the US demand for withdrawal of the weapon” (McConnell, 17). Any miscalculation on either of the sides, the Kremlin and the White house could have orchestrated a catastrophe. During this time, the Americans experience a great feeling of panic, fear, anxiety and an anticipation of an Armageddon.
Julia Álvarez, story is the first good example of the panic and anxiety the American had. People had their hearts in their mouths since it was only a matter of time before their lives came to an end cutesy of nuclear warheads. Any mention of a bomb was enough to cause confusion among the people. For instance, when the narrator in Alvarez book saw snow flakes and shouted “Bomb! Bomb!” everyone was very frightened and even the girls in her class started crying (Álvarez 184). Sister Zoe who was in charge of the girls was also shocked. She rose and rushed to Alvarez side, her action betraying her fear and panic. Alvarez states that the shock on the Sister Zoe’s face faded away after she saw what made the narrator shout “Bomb! Bomb!” certainly signifying the Zoe was relieved to know that there was no bomb around. The relief she exhibit after realisation that the young girl had confused snow flakes for bombshells is symbolic of the relief the American had after fourteen days when the crises came to an end.
Due to the fear of contamination of food and water resources by nuclear poisoning, most American made early preparation to avoid the contaminations. According to George (69) some citizens bought all bottled water and food from retailers exhibiting their desire not to feed on food contaminated by radiations or drink contaminated water. Most retailers ran out of theses products. The other products that the Americans wiped for the retailers shelves include guns and transistor radios. It seems that the citizens wanted to know what was happening at all time and were ready to engage in the war to protect themselves if the war reached the mainland. This move, which clearly indicated planning for war, shows that the Americans expected the crisis to end in a Third World War, and they did not want the be found flat footed. With the nuclear missiles as close as Cuba, the citizens’ faith in their country defence system to defend them was certainly undermined.
The absence of protection from nuclear radiations encouraged the citizen to move from one place to another in search for safety. Although, the government had shelter the could protect people from long-term effects of radio active radiations resulting from nuclear bombs, the shelters were not enough and were mostly preserved for government official and politicians such as the congressmen. Only a few other citizens could be accommodated because the government had no appropriate plans for its citizens. As a result, most urban dwellers migrated to rural areas that were believed would survive nuclear attacks. This was a product of the belief that if a nuclear attack was launched against the country, cities and large metropolis and towns would bare the brute of the destruction (McConnell, 12). The rural areas would generally be safe and; therefore, most people chose to remote areas far away from urban centres. Ironically, some citizens remained ambivalent and took no preparations to defend themselves or avoid the effect of a nuclear attack. They did this due to the conviction that the nuclear war would not become a reality or that take any precaution to protect one against nuclear attacks was an exercises in futility. This group went on with business as usual.
Children of a school going age were also negatively affected. Juts as Álvarez writes, children had no understanding of nuclear weapons and only learned about them for their parent and the mushroom like structures their teachers. For instance, the narrator in Alvarez story states “Sister Zoe explained how it would happen. She drew a picture of a mushroom on the blackboard and dotted a flurry of chalk marks for the dusty fallout that would kill us all” (Álvarez, 184). This means that all the news they got came from the senior member of the society, despite the trust they had in their senior counterparts, the information was not enough to stop their anxiety. According George (139) children learned about the nuclear war from parents, teachers and media and could include the drawing of nuclear mushroom in their doodles. The information was just not enough and served to increase the fear in both older members of the society and in children. Álvarez narrator states that when she picked up English and could understand some conversation, she quickly learned about the crisis. She vividly reports what she saw on TV: President Kennedy’s worried look, informing the nation that the country might be on the verge of a war against the communists (Álvarez 184). Such image sowed fear in the hearts of the young ones, and compounded by the information they received from the adults such as Sister Zoe, it is not surprising that the young girl was freaked and shouted “Bomb! Bomb!” when she saw the snow through the window. George (139) also reports similar encounter for children. According to her account, the information children receive denied them the innocence children experience in their homes (George139). The stories of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki nuclear bombs had given children nightmares. According to George “by the end of 1950s, 60% of children had reported nightmares about nuclear wars” (139). Now that the reality of a nuclear war that could eliminate them, was obvious to them, the anxiety and emotional torment they experienced was great.
Under the panic and threat, American adults too had to accept a fact that had all along shunned-an all nuclear war on their land. The preparation of those who moved away from urban centres and those who purchased consumer goods from sellers is an indication of the acceptance of the reality. After the Hiroshima and Nagasaki nuclear bombing, newspaper articles, novels among others had propagated an idea of an all nuclear war that would be totally devastating to the world as we know it (George 19). Most people looked at them as comics and myths that had no foundation. This disregard was also reported by the Director of Civil Defence Administration in Eisenhower government. He stated that, “Most American people have simply not accepted yet the possibility of an enemy attack on the United States from the Skies by intercontinental bombers carrying these tremendous nuclear weapons. It is also something that still appears fantastic” (George 19). The director also felt the Americans imagination of a nuclear war portrayed it as fantastic fantasy. However, the prospect brought about by the Cuban Missile Crises changes their believe system. The government, which had also shared the citizen believe had no means of providing protection to the citizens in case of an attack other than retaliating and engaging the enemy. This is why all citizens other that the government officials, and politician who had bankers, had to rush to the rural areas to protect themselves.
The preparation of the government to engage the enemy also served to add the fear. The narrator in Álvarez story notes that they heard air drills while at school. During the drills “an ominous bell would go off and we’d file into the hall, fall to the floor, cover our heads with our coats, and imagine our hair falling out, the bones in our arms going soft” (Álvarez, 184). Clearly, the citizens remained in a state of uncertainty for fourteen days.
In conclusion, the Cuban Missiles Crisis placed the American citizens in fear, panic and anxiety with some of them not understanding what would become of them as some hungered for information about the attack. Any single alarm was enough to throw people in confusion. Most people took precaution stocking food and water as others rushed to places that were believed to be safe, certainly indicating their acceptance that the possibility of a nuclear assault was a reality and not a myth from comic books and novels. Children too were also tormented with the information they received from the older members of the society and the media. The end of the crisis was a relief to the citizens. However, the crisis made a clear statement to the American, that the possibility of a nuclear was a reality and not a fantastic fantasy.Work Cited
Álvarez, Julia. “Snow” Literature: A World of Writing. Ed. David L. Pike and Ana Acosta. London: Longman Publishing Group, 2011. P.184-P.185. Print.
George, Alice L. “Awaiting Armageddon: How Americans Faced the Cuban Missile Crisis.” Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003. Print.
McConnell, William S. “The Cuban Missile Crisis.” San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 2005. Print.