"A Challenge and A Danger:" Canada and the Cuban Missile Crisis

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Daigle Hau, Caralee Rae
Cuban Missile Crisis , Social/cultural history , Cold War , Canadian History
President John F. Kennedy’s announcement, on Monday 22 October 1962, that there were offensive missiles on the island of Cuba began the public phase of what would be remembered as the Cuban missile crisis. This Cold War crisis had ramifications in many other countries than just the Soviet Union and the United States. Due to the danger involved in this nuclear confrontation, the entire globe was threatened. If either side lost control of negotiations, an atomic war could have broken out which would have decimated the planet. As the direct northern neighbors of the United States and partners in continental defence, Canadians experienced and understood the Cuban missile crisis in the context of larger issues. In many ways, Canadian and American reactions to the crisis were similar. Many citizens stocked up their pantries, read the newspapers, protested, or worried that the politicians would make a mistake and set off a war. However, this dissertation argues that English Canadians experienced the crisis on another level as well. In public debate and print sources, many debated what the crisis meant for Canadian-Cuban relations, Canadian-American relations and Canada’s place in the world. Examining these print and archival sources, this dissertation analyzes the contour of public debate during the crisis, uniting that debate with the actions of politicians. Prime Minister John G. Diefenbaker hesitated for two days before making a statement which fully committed Canada to a position which supported the American quarantine of Cuba, and shortly after the crisis, was defeated at the polls. This dissertation argues that understanding the Canadian reaction to and experience of the Cuban missile crisis necessitates an understanding of how different Canadians talked about and understood the actions of their leaders. The shifting terrain of memory also serves to demonstrate the manner in which this history is told and remembered in Canada. This dissertation, therefore, examines the intersections between this Cold War confrontation and Canadian identity in the postwar period.
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