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“The Week the World Stood Still” by Sheldon Stern Essay

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Updated: Sep 5th, 2020


There were numerous conflicts in the history of humanity that changed the way it evolved and resulted in the appearance of new features, unique tendencies, and even states. These conflicts were cruel, devastating, and impacted different nations across the world. The WWI and WWII resulted in millions of deaths, and devastations humanity had never known before. However, even those conflicts were not able to destroy the whole planet and condition the mass extinction of the human race. Though, the discovery of the power of the atom and the creation of a weapon that explores it to make the destructive effect stronger had altered the approach to warfare radically and introduced the threat of a nuclear war that could wipe our civilization off from the face of the Earth. Besides, the opposition of leading states of the 20th century and the use of the nuclear armory to obtain a certain competitive advantage triggered the conflict known as the Caribbean crisis. Having found itself on the verge of using nuclear power, humanity was able to destroy itself. That is why there are numerous attempts to analyze the conflict and provide a detailed description of how the world avoided collapse.

The Week the World Stood Still

The book The Week the World Stood Still by Sheldon Stern provides a detailed analysis of those events by the comprehensive investigation of the actions performed by the President of the USA, John F. Kennedy, his associates, authorities, and representatives of the other side. Stern served as Historian of the Presidential Library in Boston and was able to collect the relevant and credible data related to the Cuban Missile Crisis. Moreover, he uses tape recordings of meetings that were held in the Cabinet Room and Oval Office of the White house during the crisis. These help to understand the most important aspects of the issue and realize how close was the world to the nuclear war. The contradictory character of the Cold War and the crisis resulted in the appearance of numerous speculations and false assumptions. That is why the book might help to elaborate on the own perspective, which will rest only on credible information.

Heroic vision of the events

The author starts the book with cogitations about the heroic version of the events that happened during the crisis. This vision was “encouraged by JFK himself, popularized by the writings of journalists and Kennedy administration insiders” (2). However, it did not last for a long time. It was too ideal and too one-sided. Even the most vigorous patriots and Kennedys admirers doubted it. The author provides readers with the real facts that help to step aside from the heroic version and understand the real way the crisis evolved. The fact is that there were special apparatus that made recordings and provided researchers with the precise words leaders told in cabinets and the role JFK and other people played in the creation of a peaceful solution.

The leading states contribution to the escalation of the crisis

Everyone knows that the USA and USSR were two superstates that tried to spread their influence and play the dominant role in the international policy. Trying to attain a certain competitive advantage, these states increased their nuclear posture and used it to protect their interests. However, as against the majority of the American researchers, Stern does not blame the USSR for the escalation of the conflict between states admitting the fact that the USA also shares the responsibility for the development of the opposition and appearance of the Cuban Crisis. The aggressive foreign policy and the desire to win the Cold War conditioned the adherence to the radical measures and interference in domestic affairs of various states. For instance, Korean war could evidence the pernicious impact the opposition of these states had on the world. Both the USA and USSR had protected their interests there and turned Korea in the champ of battle between them. The aggravation of relations was inevitable as the super-states were not able to make a compromise.

The Cuban Crisis background

When reading a book, the background of the Cuban Missile Crisis becomes clearer. Stern provides the information obtained from the Soviet archives and related to Nikita Khrushchev’s intentions. The author justifies the leader and states that his original explanation for shipping missiles to Cuba was true because:

…the soviet leader had never intended these weapons as a threat to the security of the United states, but rather considered their deployment a defensive move to protect his Cuban allies from American attacks and as a desperate effort to give the U.S.S.R. the appearance of equality in the nuclear balance of power. (2)

At the same time, trying to preserve their dominance in the region, the USA tried to prevent the evolution of the given scenario in this way and proclaimed the possible usage of power not to let its opponent solidify in the region.

Kennedys role

Therefore, understanding the background of crisis contributes to the better comprehension of the issue and reconsideration of the role Kennedy, Khrushchev, and other actors played in the conflict. Besides, recordings provided by Stern obviously prove the idea that “John Kennedy played a decisive role in preventing the world from shipping into the nuclear abyss” (5). Hence he “was still troubled that critics might ask why he had decided not to attack the missiles” (81). He still did make this step. In other words, he could be considered a person who contributed to the prevention of the escalation of violence and preservation of peace. Additionally, he was really worried about possible devastations, “he pressed Pittman whether the risk to civilians could be reduced” (105). Nowadays, there is a tendency to assume that a peaceful resolution of the conflict was just the question of time and the possible use of power and nuclear strikes were simple bluffing. However, the recordings presented in the book evidence that “a peaceful resolution was far from inevitable” (5). Only a collaborative work of people who impacted the development of the situation and creation of the appropriate decision contributed to the continuation of negotiations and appearance of new attempts to make a compromise.

Mutual attempts to find solution

Stern also shows that despite the fact that relations between the USSR and the USA were tensed, Kennedy still was provided with some help from a colleague from the opposite state as “his counterpart in the U.S.S.R. Khrushchev too, resisted pressure, especially from his ally Fidel Castro, to escalate the crisis” (5). From these assumptions, one realizes that it is mistaken to emphasize the leading role of only one side in preserving peace and avoiding nuclear war. Analysis of these recordings and Soviet secret archives shows readers that the attempts were mutual as both Kennedy and Khrushchev realized the possible aftermaths of the World War involving the use of the power of the atom. In this regard, there were no winners of losers as the creation of the peaceful resolution to Cuban Crisis should be considered as a great success of both the US and Soviet foreign policies.

Historical realities

As stated above, The Week the World Stood Still also devotes great attention to the historical realities leading up to the crisis. Thus, the author is sure that the model chosen by the states made the opposition inevitable. The armaments drive and the peculiarities of the Cold War resulted in the appearance of the great gap between the USA and USSR. Former allies in the WWII, they were not able to share the spheres of influence and accept the right of each other to evolve in the chosen way. Additionally, the radical differences in ideologies and mentalities also contributed to the aggravation of the relations and escalation of violence. Besides, providing the information about the secret meetings of the Executive Committee of the National Security Council, the author emphasizes the fact the situation was complex as the defense secretary reported that “U.S. must be prepared for air strikes on the missile cities, airfields, aircraft, and nuclear storage sites” (40). However, despite different perspectives on the crisis and numerous attempts to sanction the use of power (recordings evidence that “the idea of quick strike was very tempting” (80), Kennedy and Khrushchev managed to make a compromise and preserve peace.


In conclusion, the Cuban Missile Crisis was one of the most dramatic moments in the history of humanity as it found itself on the verge of total extinction and devastation. The opposition of the USA and USSR contributed to the increased tension in the international relations. Fortunately, the leaders of these states perfectly realized the possible aftermath of the further escalation of violence and managed to make a compromise and create some solution that satisfied all sides involved in the Cuban Crisis. It could be considered their great success as both Kennedy and Khrushchev do not let nuclear bombs fall on cities.

Works Cited

Stern, Sheldon. The Week the World Stood Still. Stanford University Press, 2005.

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