Posted 26 October 2008 - 09:19 AM
I think there's a difference between:
Why did they resolve the crisis without going to war?
Why were they able to resolve the crisis without going to war?
They resolved the crisis without going to war because they alternative - a nuclear holocaust - was unthinkable ... ie the nucelar deterrent worked!
They were able to do so because:
1. Both Khrushchev and Kennedy (although in public they 'struck a pose') backed down - Khrushchev turned the ships around and didn;t push the second letter; Kennedy ignored the U2 shot down and gave way in private on the Turkish bases.
2. Although there was no official 'hot line' between the two sides, there turned out to be hundreds of other informal contacts - businessmen, ambassadors, spies who knew each other - which the two sides used to keep negotiations open throughout the crisis, and which eventually led to the compromise.
My own personal interpretation of the event is that Khrushchev never meant to go to war I think he was just (in a Khrushchev kind of way) 'pressing the boundaries', and he got taken by surprise by the scale of the US response. From that time on, he was looking for a way out without being seen to be defeated ... and in the end Kennedy gave him the key principles which allowed him to say that he had won (Cuba was left alone and the Turkish missile bases were dismantled).
If I were asked 'resolve the crisis without going to war?' I would answer because Khrushchev - thank God - and perhaps alone of the two - had his head screwed on right.
Khrushchev was just playing politics, and he knew when to back down.
Kennedy - who at the time and still for many people - came out of it as the hero of the hour - in my opinion took us all to the edge of annihilation. For Kennedy, the matter was an ideological issue of survival - personally, his own career, as well as internationally, American freedom - and that made him VERY dangerous. I don't think he played much part in the 'why were they able' matter, except that - when Khrushchev gave hom a way out - he was able to seize it.