This paper explores the historiography of the 1962 Cuban missile crisis over the past 45 years. It examines the insights offered by traditionalists, revisionists and postrevisionists and the difficulties they encounter in undertaking their analyses. A case study focusing on the settlement of the crisis provides an in-depth view of the traditionalist, revisionist and post-revisionist approaches. Initial commentators on the crisis had an American-dominated view, seeing the installation of the missiles in Cuba by Russia as an aggressive attempt to alter the balance of power. These early commentators view the outcome of the crisis either as an unqualified triumph for Kennedy or a lucky escape from the potentially disastrous consequences of American bravado. Newly declassified documents and testimony from participants in the crisis have opened up Soviet and Cuban perspectives, suggesting that both Kennedy and Khrushchev were prepared to go to considerable lengths to avoid nuclear war; however, un-thought-of eventualities such as intelligence failures and gaps in military control could still have spelled disaster. The historiography of the missile crisis raises important concerns about the limits of the discipline: we must never assume the absolute veracity of any view and must be aware at all times of what we do not—and cannot—know.
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