Case Study 1: Wise Leadership During the Cuban Missile Crisis
This chapter presents the first of the case studies examining the processes related to the existence of wisdom in strategic decision-making. The situation explored is one the most well-known incidents during the Cold War: the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. Of particular interest here is the conduct of the US president John F. Kennedy in the midst of heightened uncertainty and security risks over the discovery of the installation of nuclear missiles in the island of Cuba. Relying on the published transcripts of the conversations between the members of the crisis group, the chapter seeks to demonstrate the discussions, deliberations and judgement of President Kennedy in the unfolding of events during the crisis. A detailed description of the different phases of this crisis provides gives rise to a more general interpretation regarding the elements of wisdom in John F. Kennedy’s leadership during the confrontation. His ability to read the situation without prejudice, to try to understand the motives and fears of the opposing side as well as the willingness to learn from the failures of the preceding Bay of Pigs operation helped to circumvent the escalation of the crisis into a major military conflict. Apart from these capabilities, it was Kennedy’s insistence on the foremost ethical principle of trying to avoid the use of military power at any cost that proved to be the critical commitment that helped him to navigate through several more extreme opinions in the group and among the army. In this sense, Kennedy embodiment of a moral absolute could be seen as manifesting a case of philosophical wisdom in leadership action.
KeywordsCuban Missile Crisis John F. Kennedy Political leadership Wisdom
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