Historian Stern Speaks on Cuban Missile Crisis

When studying the Cuban Missile Crisis, scholars have an opportunity to act as “flies on the wall” in the secret ExComm meetings of President John F. Kennedy and his senior staff, according to Sheldon M. Stern, a former historian at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston, Mass. Dr. Stern came to U.S. History students in Instructor in History and Social Science Ed Quattlebaum’s two sections. A personal acquaintance of Dr. Quattlebaum for 14 years, Dr. Stern has visited PA annually since 1984. Since the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962, all research on the Crisis has came from U.S. sources – mainly Kennedy’s meetings taped during the 13 days in October 1962. Revealed in 1983 and declassified slowly until 1987, the tapes have allowed modern historians to eavesdrop on secret ExComm meetings between President Kennedy and his senior staff decades later. The tapes revealed that in 1989 the USSR had placed 165 nuclear warheads in Cuba – more than in the USSR itself. However, the Russians had told the U.S. that Cuba held only missiles, not warheads. This information would have changed the Kennedy administration’s response, according to Dr. Stern. Dr. Stern further explored the changing perceptions of former U.S. Presidents and the Cuban Missile Crisis in light of new evidence. For example, many contemporary observers believed that President Dwight Eisenhower removed himself from the problems of government; he was portrayed as a dull, ineffective, and incompetent President. When Ike’s Presidential Library opened in 1982, however, records proved that he was a “very shrewd politician,” according to Dr. Stern. Dr. Stern said to the audience members, “You’ve got to be skeptical…nobody gets elected president if they’re stupid.” He applied the same logic to President George W. Bush ’64, stating that his legacy may well be reevaluated once his papers are declassified in 2016. He cited a recorded telephone conversation in the late 1990s between President Bush and his advisor in which the President discussed America in a very intelligent and discerning manner.