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Archive for '- Cold War'

JFK’s Cold War Calculations

ar206454-bOn April 20, 1961, exactly three months after his inauguration, President John F. Kennedy addressed the American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE) regarding the Bay of Pigs invasion. In his speech, Kennedy addressed one of the most crucial decisions of his presidency—his choice not to provide air cover for the 1,400 men of the Cuban exile brigade at the Bay of Pigs.


Although planning for the invasion began under the Eisenhower administration, President Kennedy opted to approve the operation upon taking office. But the invasion was doomed as soon as the CIA-trained exiles landed ashore in Cuba. The Soviet-supplied Cuban military was well equipped and had overwhelming resources in terms of manpower.


Once failure appeared imminent, military personnel and CIA officials scrambled to persuade Kennedy to deploy U.S. air cover in hopes of salvaging the operation. The President, however, refused to approve the direct military intervention sought by the advisors who had fully endorsed the invasion’s initial provisions.


In the end, Cuban forces easily defeated the undermanned exile brigade within three days. To make matters worse for Kennedy, U.S. involvement was undeniable and media coverage made the failure a highly publicized national issue.


In the aftermath of the invasion, the President moved quickly to justify his decision to approve the invasion but not to provide air cover. Speaking before the ASNE, Kennedy [ Read all ]

Fat Man, Little Boy, A Packet of Jell-O

Item: Jell-O Box Exhibit Used in the Espionage Trial of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg and Morton Sobell, 03/06/1951 - 03/29/1951 (ARC 278774)

Item: Jell-O Box exhibit used in the espionage trial of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg and Morton Sobell, 03/06/1951 - 03/29/1951 (Records of United States Attorneys, RG 118; ARC 278774)

A search for “Rosenberg” in the Open Public Access system of the National Archives brings up a strange and poignant collection of documents: a passport picture of a family with the mother clutching a tiny infant, childlike sketches of shapes, a smiling couple, and an empty Jell-O box.

In September 1949, the White House announced the Soviets had successfully detonated an atomic bomb. The secrets behind the construction of Fat Man and Little Boy—the atomic bombs that had devasted Nagasaki and Hiroshima—were in the hands of the Soviets.

In 1950 the FBI arrested Emil Julius Klaus Fuchs, a German-born British atomic scientist. Although Fuchs did not know his American contact, the FBI eventually identified Harry Gold, a Philadelphia chemist. And in turn, this led to David Greenglass, a U.S. Army soldier and Soviet agent who had been assigned to Los Alamos, NM, where the bombs were built.

In June 1945, Greenglass had given material in to Anatoli Yakovlev, former Soviet vice-consul in New York City. And according to the FBI, Julius and Ethel Rosenbergs had been instrumental in persuading and assisting David Greenglass, brother of Ethel Rosenberg, in passing the secrets to Yakovlev.

But what about the Jell-O box?

Like a “Best Friends” necklace, pieces of the … [ Read all ]

The CIA’s catalog of covert conundrums

The Central Intelligence Agency in Langley, Virginia, (412-DA-4215)

The Central Intelligence Agency in Langley, Virginia, (412-DA-4215)

In 1992, George Washington University’s “National Security Archive” submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), soliciting information from the Central Intelligence Agency. Their request was inspired by a 1973 memorandum issued from then-CIA Director James R. Schlesinger, who requested that all CIA employees, past or present, “report to me immediately on any activities now going on, or that have gone on in the past, which might be construed to be outside the legislative charter of this Agency.”

The reason for Schlesinger’s request? The 1972 break-in at the Watergate by veteran CIA officers who had alleged cooperation from within the Agency.

What resulted from the request was something else altogether: over 700 pages of illegal CIA activities ranging from the 1950s to the 1970s. Former CIA Director William Colby called the report the “skeletons” in the CIA’s closet.

In 2007, the CIA delivered the report, dubbed the “Family Jewels” to the National Security Archive. It detailed assassination plots, illegal surveillance of journalists, drug testing, warrantless wiretapping, break-ins, and a litany of other illegal operations (sadly there was nothing on the CIA’s “Tunnel of Love”).

The full report is available on the CIA’s CREST database at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland and on the CIA’s FOIA Electronic Reading Room. Below are just a few of … [ Read all ]

The Peace Corps’ not-so-peaceful roots

Peace Corps volunteer Arthur Young near Mikumi, Tanganyika (Tanzania). Near Mikumi, Tanganyika, Great Ruaha Road Project (PX 65-2:77)

Peace Corps volunteer Arthur Young near Mikumi, Tanganyika (Tanzania). Great Ruaha Road Project. (John F Kennedy Presidential Library, PX 65-2:77)

It was 49 years ago today that President John F. Kennedy put pen to paper and established the Peace Corps. It was authorized by Public Law 87-293, an “Act to promote world peace and friendship through a Peace Corps.” But despite its name, peace may not have been the Peace Corps’ original purpose.

The program has its origins in a late-late night campaign speech given at the University of Michigan by then-Senator Kennedy. It was two in the morning on October 14, 1960. Despite the early morning hours, 10,000 students turned out. He challenged each of them—and the country—to serve abroad to help the free world (listen to the speech).

But peace was not on Kennedy’s mind when giving that speech.  The early morning speech doesn’t mention the word “peace” once. Instead he describes Americans serving abroad as a tool with which to defend a free society.  The Soviet Union “had hundreds of men and women, scientists, physicists, teachers, engineers, doctors, and nurses . . . prepared to spend their lives abroad in the service of world communism,” Kennedy exclaimed at a stump speech in California. America did not. The Peace Corps was the answer. A corollary may have been peace, but the intent was … [ Read all ]

Memories of Korea in Missouri

With her brother on her back, a Korean girl trudges by a stalled tank in Haengju, Korea, June 9, 1951. Photo by Air Force Major R. V. Spencer

With her brother on her back, a Korean girl trudges by a stalled tank in Haengju, Korea, June 9, 1951. Photo by Air Force Maj. R. V. Spencer (80-G-429691)

For the 60th anniversary of the start of the Korean War, the staff at the Truman Presidential Library in Independence, MO, wanted to try something different.

“Instead of doing a straightforward chronological presentation, we also wanted to focus on the personal experiences,” said curator Clay Bauske. The team worked for a year, collecting stories and memorabilia of people who were involved in and affected by the war.

“Memories of Korea” will run through December 31, 2010.

The exhibit combines handwritten letters and diary entries with first-person interviews, photographs, and footage from the war. These intimate accounts are presented against a backdrop of four thematic areas that cover the cultural history, political context, personal experiences, and the legacy and future of Korea.

The library received support and interest for the exhibit from the community surrounding Independence. Plans for the commemorative Korean War programs and exhibition were posted on the library’s website and in local magazines. “After we put up the schedule, people started calling us to contribute their personal memorabilia,” said Bauske.

The team worked with the Center for the Study of the Korean War, also located in Independence. Through this partnership, the library borrowed items from the … [ Read all ]