The early 1960s were the most intense years of the Cold War
As Soviets tested nuclear devices, Americans stockpiled canned goods in fallout shelters
How well do you know the '60s? Take our quiz and find out.
Editor’s Note: Discover your ‘60s personality by taking the CNN Sixties quiz.
East versus West, capitalism versus communism: the Cold War lasted from the end of World War II until the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. Yet this war was at its height in the 1960s.
That’s the decade the Cuban missile crisis played out, the United States entered the Vietnam War to fight communist forces there, and President John F. Kennedy sent a team of Cuban exiles into Cuba’s Bay of Pigs to try to overthrow leader Fidel Castro.
Here are five other momentous events of the 1960s Cold War that you might not know:
1. The Soviets shot down an American plane and captured the pilot
The United States had been flying U2 spy planes over the Soviet Union for some time to see if the Soviets were aiming missiles at America and to snap photos of local newspaper headlines.
The CIA told President Dwight D. Eisenhower that its sophisticated aircraft, which reached altitudes of up to 70,000 feet, could not be shot down. But on May 1, 1960, U2 pilot Francis Gary Powers disappeared on a flight over Russia.
Powers had been shot down and captured, and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev made the wreckage a public exhibition. A humiliated Eisenhower was forced to admit the United States had, in fact, committed espionage.
2. Nikita Khrushchev threatened to “bury” America
Three days after meeting Fidel Castro for the first time, Khrushchev visited the United Nations on September 23, 1960. The Soviet leader believed communism was the future and that America needed to be contained. In his address to the U.N. General Assembly, the Soviet leader threatened to “bury” America.
3. JFK didn’t mention a single domestic issue in his inaugural speech
Newly elected John F. Kennedy felt his job was to run the Cold War and defeat the Russians, which he made clear in his January 20, 1961, inaugural speech, stating:
“Let every nation know whether it wishes us well or ill that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, uphold any foe, to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”
4. The space race made Americans fear for their lives
When Soviet pilot Yuri Gagarin became the first person to enter outer space on April 12, 1961, orbiting the Earth in one hour and 48 minutes, Americans worried the United States could no longer protect its people. Some thought if you could put a man into space, you could put a nuclear warhead into space.
Khrushchev reacted by saying, “Now let the capitalist countries try to catch up.”
5. Panic over a soccer field led to the Cuban Missile Crisis
When a CIA consultant spotted soccer fields along the coast in Cuba in September 1962, he became concerned because, as he put it, “Cubans play baseball, Russians play soccer.”
The CIA analyst had deduced that the field indicated the presence of a Soviet military camp nearby.
Kennedy approved U2 flights over Cuba but didn’t want to get sucked into another Bay of Pigs, the failed invasion to overthrow Castro in April 1961. He wanted hard evidence. Photographs convinced Kennedy that the Russians were putting missiles in Cuba. After U.S. intelligence indicated which U.S. regions were vulnerable to a possible nuclear attack from Cuban soil, Kennedy feared that 30 million American lives were in danger.