President Kennedy came into of- fice pledging to carry on the Cold War vigorously, but he also hoped for accommodation and was reluc- tant to commit American power . During his first year-and-a-half in office, he rejected American in- tervention after the CIA-guided Cuban exile invasion at the Bay of Pigs failed, effectively ceded the landlocked Southeast Asian nation of Laos to Communist control, and acquiesced in the building of the Berlin Wall . Kennedy’s decisions reinforced impressions of weakness that Soviet Premier Nikita Khrush- chev had formed in their only per- sonal meeting, a summit meeting at Vienna in June 1961 .

It was against this backdrop that Kennedy faced the most serious event of the Cold War, the Cuban missile crisis .

In the fall of 1962, the adminis- tration learned that the Soviet Union was secretly installing offensive nu- clear missiles in Cuba . After con- sidering different options, Kennedy decided on a quarantine to prevent Soviet ships from bringing addition- al supplies to Cuba . He demanded publicly that the Soviets remove the weapons and warned that an attack from that island would bring retali- ation against the USSR . After sever- al days of tension, during which the world was closer than ever before to nuclear war, the Soviets agreed to remove the missiles . Critics charged

that Kennedy had risked nuclear di- saster when quiet diplomacy might have been effective . But most Ameri- cans and much of the non-Commu- nist world applauded his decisiveness . The missile crisis made him for the first time the acknowledged leader of the democratic West .

In retrospect, the Cuban mis- sile crisis marked a turning point in U .S .-Soviet relations . Both sides saw the need to defuse tensions that could lead to direct military con- flict . The following year, the United States, the Soviet Union, and Great Britain signed a landmark Limited Test Ban Treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons tests in the atmosphere .

Indochina (Vietnam, Laos, Cam- bodia), a French possession before World War II, was still another Cold War battlefield . The French effort to reassert colonial control there was opposed by Ho Chi Minh, a Viet- namese Communist, whose Viet Minh movement engaged in a guer- rilla war with the French army .

Both Truman and Eisenhower, eager to maintain French support for the policy of containment in Europe, provided France with economic aid that freed resources for the struggle in Vietnam . But the French suffered a decisive defeat in Dien Bien Phu in May 1954 . At an international confer- ence in Geneva, Laos and Cambodia were given their independence . Viet- nam was divided, with Ho in power in the North and Ngo Dinh Diem, a Roman Catholic anti-Communist in a largely Buddhist population, head- ing the government in the South .

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