The Traditional and Revisionist Interpretations Reevaluated: Why Was Cuba a Crisis?

  • Richard Ned Lebow


For more than a quarter of a century, there have been two diametrically opposed points of view about why Cuba was a crisis and why it was resolved. The traditional interpretation, enshrined in the writings of Theodore C. Sorensen, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., and Elie Abel, describes the Cuban missiles as an intolerable provocation.1 President John F. Kennedy had to compel the Soviet Union to withdraw the missiles to defend the balance of power, preserve NATO, and convince Nikita S. Khrushchev and the world of American resolve. Sorensen, Schlesinger, and Abel laud the “quarantine” as the optimal strategy, depict the outcome of the crisis as an unqualified American triumph, and attribute it to Kennedy’s skill and tenacity. The revisionist interpretation, primarily associated with the writings of I. F. Stone, Ronald Steel, and Barton J. Bernstein, contends that Kennedy needlessly risked war for domestic political gain. Revisionists condemn the blockade as irresponsible and explain the resolution of the crisis as the result of Soviet moderation and American good luck.2


Foreign Policy Central Intelligence Agency Domestic Politics Ballistic Missile Traditional Interpretation 
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Copyright information

© James A. Nathan 1992

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  • Richard Ned Lebow

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