Friday, April 25, 2008

Movie Analysis - "Thirteen Days"


“Thirteen Days”


Antony Gumi

The “Thirteen Days” movie describes how the 35th president of United States of America (USA), John Fitzgerald Kennedy (JFK) dealt with the Cuban Missile Crisis during the period of October 14-28, 1963. It shows how JFK’s leadership saved the world from having World War III (WWIII), or worse, Nuclear War. JFK’s crisis management and decision-making skills was tested during this period. He was under an extreme pressure, having the Cuban missiles were about to be ready to become operational and most of his Generals suggested him to launch a military strike, while he didn’t want to start a war and prefer to avoid one. To make things worse, the Joint Chiefs, who most of them were older than JFK, pressurized JFK to follow their solution to attack Cuba and they seem to barely be able to hold back their condescending attitudes towards the young president (JFK was about 45 years old at that time). Fortunately, JFK was not carried away by this situation; instead, he stressed his position to remind the chiefs of his authority as the president of USA who has the mandate from the American people to take the decision for the country. Finally, he successfully managed to end the crisis with a “peaceful” political negotiation with the Soviet Premier, Nikita Khrushchev.

The definition of leadership was illustrated in how JFK influenced his followers to understand the consequences of launching an attack on Cuba (i.e. WWIII it is) and to agree upon having a more peaceful way to remove the missiles out of Cuba, which is to have a political negotiation. He influenced his followers’ interpretation of the event by always reminding them of the risk of starting a new war if they decide to follow their emotion to launch an attack. Thus, he asked for other choice of strategies and solutions from his followers. However, even after other solutions had been proposed, he still tried to influence the final decision by delaying it and hoping that the chance of having a political negotiation would arise to end the crisis. Among those proposed solution, JFK chose the “harmless” one, which was to run a blockade on Cuba. At first, most of his followers were not in full support of his decision of having this blockade since it was considered to be ineffective and slow. However, JFK managed to motivate them and gain their trust in this matter (As in some part of the movie shows how Robert McNamara, the Secretary of Defence, convinced Admiral Anderson, the Chief of Naval Operation, not to start shooting until there was an order from JFK to do so). Having his followers’ trusts and supports at hand, JFK successfully organized and coordinated his followers to obey his orders during the crisis. He had also successfully shared his beliefs (i.e. launching an attack is a bad idea that could result in having WWIII) to his followers.

According to Mintzberg’s framework, people in this film portrayed Interpersonal Roles, Informational Roles, and Decision-Making Roles. The movie showed how JFK (the real leader) put Kenny O’Donnell (i.e. the one who direct subordinates, e.g. calling pilots and ask them to lie in order to keep the military from launching a counter-attack) and Bobby F. Kennedy (i.e. the one who coordinate subordinates, e.g. holding ExComm meetings and arranging consensus) in charge under his direct supervision. JFK also hold the figurehead role. It is shown in the movie how he represented the cabinet at Chicago and could not be substituted by other representatives (e.g. by Vice President Lyndon Johnson). Moreover, there was a funny part of the movie where it is shown that JFK was scared of cancelling his visit to Chicago (perhaps because his supporters are mostly from this state). For the liaison role, Kenny O’Donnell perhaps was one of those who had it. He had interacted with several people (e.g. pilots, newspaper publisher, his fellow reporters, USA representative to the United Nation, etc) outside the White House in order to keep things cool and under control. Besides Kenny, JFK also play part of his liaison role where he must interact with the USA military leaders who in turn, pressurized him to invade Cuba.

Regarding informational processing roles, monitoring role was hold by JFK as he indirectly scanned for information (i.e. in the reality, the U-2 spy plane pilots were the ones who do the dangerous photo-taking mission) about the existence of Cuban Missiles and about how to remove those Missiles out of Cuba, including the investigation on Alexander Fomin’s background that he delegated to Kenny and FBI’s Walter Sheridan. To disseminate the information, JFK trusted Kenny to pass his message to the subordinates (e.g. JFK told Kenny to tell the Press Secretary, Pierre Salinger, the truth about the crisis issue). In addition to monitor and disseminator roles, the movie also showed how Robert McNamara, The USA Secretary of Defence, act as JFK’s spokesperson in Pentagon, making sure that no action was taken without JFK’s approval. Adlai Stevenson also got his share as a spokesperson as he represented and spoke for USA in the United Nation (UN). Personally, I think Adlai is the coolest character in this movie since he was the one who propose the idea of political negotiation (i.e. trading American’s missiles in Turkey with Soviet’s missiles in Cuba) which what in the end became the final solution of the Cuban Missile Crisis. I also love the part of the movie where he gave his counter-argument to Soviet’s Zorin at the UN Security Council meeting.

Regarding decision-making roles, the cabinet and the military leaders act as entrepreneur as they initiate their ideas and strategies in order to solve the Cuban Missile Crisis. Regarding the crisis itself, JFK acts as a disturbance handler who responds to threats which could endanger the life of the American people. In different angle of perspective, Bobby F. Kennedy (BFK) and Kenny also act as disturbance handlers as they responded to threats which could endanger JFK’s presidency (e.g. Kenny threatened Scotty Reston, the New York Times Washington bureau chief, telling him not to print the crisis issue on the newspaper as it could inflame the situation and ruined JFK’s plan of having a more peaceful solution to end the crisis). Moreover, JFK was a resource allocator who chose which people would do which jobs and how much authority they would get during the process (e.g. assigning McNamara to supervise the blockade of Cuba, assigning BFK to set up a consensus, assigning Kenny to investigate Fomin’s background, etc). Obviously in the latter part of the movie, BFK who was negotiating with the Soviet’s ambassador about the mutual agreement, hold the negotiator role.

JFK showed balance between the task-oriented behaviour and the relation-oriented behaviour. The task-oriented behaviour was shown in how he did planning, organizing, leading, and controlling (POLC) efficiently and effectively. The film showed how he was upset when the military leaders were “playing” with his authority, but was not carried away with his anger. He tried to maintain good relationship with his subordinates, while in the same time, tried to stress his authority on the subject. We can see how JFK recognized his subordinates in the later part of the movie where he was recording his condolence to Major Rudolph Anderson’s (i.e. U-2 pilot whose plane was shot down in Cuba) parents. We can also see how close JFK’s relationship with his subordinates is by how loyal his subordinates are and how they always try to stick on JFK’s orders.

JFK showed effective participative leadership behaviours by involving the cabinet, the military leaders, and the Executive Committee (ExComm) in the decision making process. According to Vromm and Yetton model, JFK decision procedure is most likely fall into CI (i.e. leader shares problem with others individually and makes decision alone) and CII (i.e. leader shares problem with others collectively and makes the decision alone) categories. It is obvious that he tried to lead everyone to the consensus of having a political negotiation with the Soviet.

The quality of the decision making and the quality of the decision process significantly increased in this film. In the beginning, only JFK’s close friends agreed with his decision, while others were grunting behind his back (e.g. the movie showed how General LeMay and other military leaders were discontent of the Kennedys after a meeting). As more people were involved in the meeting and as JFK shared most of his thought about avoiding WWIII, his subordinates became less resistant to his decisions. As the movie progress, we could see how JFK let his subordinates to have more authority and finally delegated some important tasks to them. This includes how JFK told BFK to carry out the negotiation with the Soviet’s ambassador.

All characters in this film have the power to change a world (in a single meeting!). Just imagine how if JFK had decided to launch an attack on Cuba, we might have different kind of world today. Moreover, all of these characters tried to influence one another which finally tried to influence the president’s decision. Fortunately, it was not the military leaders but JFK who had the legitimate power as a president of USA to make the final decision. Regarding expert power, the military leaders had their expertise on war or military subjects, while Kenny and BFK had theirs on political subjects.

To force JFK to make decisions, the military leaders used rational persuasion tactics by displaying evidence of missile sites photographs and explaining why the missiles were so dangerous to the country in regard of the missiles’ ballistic range. Coalition tactics is employed by Adlai to seek the aid of UN and other countries to support USA in removing the missiles out of Cuba. BFK employed exchange tactic in negotiating with the Soviet’s ambassador. General LeMay employed pressure tactic on JFK but it was not a success. Besides his legitimate power, JFK also employed personal appeals as we can see in the movie how Kenny trusted JFK and gave his best friend his full support.


Allen said...

.. this reaction is really in order ... good-job..

Anonymous said...

It was 1962 not 1963