Students probe the complex relationship between the U.S. and Cuba, and examine the crisis that brought the world to the brink of war. The unit incorporates groundbreaking research on the Cuban missile crisis.
In this lesson, students will:
- Understand the significance of the Cuban Missile Crisis
- Assess the roles of Kennedy, Khrushchev, and Castro in the crisis
- Analyze primary and secondary sources
- Consider lessons from the missile crisis for today
Resources – Student Handouts
Resources – Short Films
These four short films (see YouTube playlist below) were produced by The Armageddon Letters, a project devoted to engaging the public in an examination of the missile crisis. The phrase “The Armageddon Letters” refers to the unprecedented exchange of letters and other communications among Kennedy, Khrushchev and Castro, before, during and after the crisis. The Armageddon Letters website is a rich transmedia resource of information, graphic novels, podcasts, and short films on the Cuban Missile Crisis—all based on decades of research on perhaps the most dangerous moment in human history. There is a wealth of material that teachers might find useful for their classrooms.
In the Classroom
1. What was the Cuban Missile Crisis?
Briefly remind students of the historical context of the Cold War, the Bay of Pigs Invasion, and the tensions between the United States, the Soviet Union, and Cuba. Distribute the handout “October 1962” to students and ask them to read it. Watch the short film (4:16) “Who Cares About the Cuban Missile Crisis?” As a class, write at least five descriptive words about the missile crisis on the board.
2. Analyzing a Source
Break the class into groups of 3-4 students. Distribute “Castro’s Letter to Khrushchev” to each student and have the groups read the letter and answer the questions that follow. Review the answers as a class. What do students think Castro is asking Khrushchev to do? What are the implications of his request for Cuba, the United States, the Soviet Union, and the world?
3. Comparing the Leaders
This can be done as class or in small groups. Distribute a copy of “Graphic Organizer: Castro, Kennedy, and Khrushchev” to each student. Watch the short films, “Be Castro,” “Be Kennedy,” and “Be Khrushchev.” Have students record information on the handout as they watch. What surprising or interesting information did they discover? What do students think the filmmakers are trying to show in these films? What are the primary characteristics of each leader that come through?
4. Making Connections: What are the Lessons of the Cuban Missile Crisis?
Distribute the handout “Aftermath.” What factors do students believe contributed to the crisis? (ideology, animosity, military insecurity, etc.) What factors contributed to ending the crisis without a war? What role did leadership play? What other groups or interests did these leaders have to consider (e.g., public opinion, the military)?
Are there situations in the world today where factors that could lead to a nuclear crisis exist? How can countries minimize the risk of nuclear war?