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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The American political discourse on the Cuban missile crisis Guttieri, Karen Rochelle


This thesis examines and critiques the American political discourse on the Cuban missile crisis of 1962. The event itself is past, yet words used to describe and explain the missile crisis capture and give meaning to the experience. The meaning of the crisis begins in a basic sense, then, with the discourse. The increasing availability of material evidence has reinvigorated the discourse on the missive crisis. Where relevant, recent evidence will be employed to critique previous and recent interpretations of the this seminal event. Consensus and debate are both to be found in the discourse on the Cuban crisis. First, there is a large body of shared understanding, or conventional wisdom, on the crisis. Secondly, there is disagreement as to the meaning of the crisis in recent manifestations of the discourse. The essay will use a propaganda model lo examine the politically necessary mythology embodied in the conventional wisdom. This thesis will use a tendency analysis approach to organize the debate on the missile crisis, along the lines of ideological schools of thought, and within the context of a larger American nuclear debate. The propaganda and the tendency analyse models complement the general approach of discourse. These models have been developed specifically for the study of politics, yet the methodology of each is statement analysis; as such these models are rooted in language, ana so conform with the general discourse approach. Security is the common referent of both the conventional wisdom and the current debate. In particular, the President, as the custodian of nuclear weapons, is the principle actor responsible for national security. The powerful image of the President dominates the conventional wisdom, and retains significance in the contemporary ideological debate on the lessons of the missile crisis. The nuclear arsenal at the disposal of the President endows him with great, but double-edged power. The paper concludes with some general observations on the special significance of Presidential leadership as represented in the discourse on the missile crisis, and as necessitated in confronting crises in general. First, in crisis, there is little time for the President to make difficult decisions. Secondly, there may be greater devolution of authority to the military forces deployed to convey the credibility of American deterrence. As such, the subordination of force to policy must remain sound. The image of the President is, of necessity, an image which combines prudence and strength. Manufactured images are not enough however. Policy must be tested in terms of its alleged purpose. Likewise, doctrine must be evaluated in terms the purpose of the policy it is designed to support.

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