What Was The U-2 Incident? Here's What To Know About The Cold War Events Shown In 'Bridge Of Spies'

If you're a history buff, you'll love the new Tom Hanks movie Bridge of Spies . It's a biopic and a historical drama, telling the story of U.S. lawyer James Donovan and his involvement with the U-2 incident during the Cold War. If you're not a history buff (or if you missed the lecture in hisrory class that day), you might be familiar with the Cold War but not with this particular event. So if you're secretly wondering what the U-2 incident was, have no fear: a lot of other people are likely in the same boat. And no, the incident has nothing to do with that day you discovered the new U2 album in your iTunes library without having downloaded it.

Here are the basics: on May 1, 1960, a U-2 spy plane being flown on a top-secret mission by Francis Gary Powers disappeared over the Soviet Union. Russia found Powers alive, and he was giving a hefty sentence for spying. But then U.S. lawyer James Donovan was brought into the picture and negotiated Powers' release in exchange for that of Russian spy Rudolf Abel. And so the story ended with no major physical injuries, but some seriously bruised egos. The really interesting parts of the event, though, lie in the details. Here are a few tidbits you can throw into your next dinner party conversation to look like an expert on the U-2 incident.

Eisenhower Tried To Cover It Up

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The U-2 spy planes were a highly confidential development by the CIA, and the U.S. was eager to keep it this way. The CIA implied that Powers was dead and the plane was destroyed, so there could be no proof that the U.S. had been spying. Eisenhower issued a statement saying that the lost aircraft had been a weather plane which had veered off course, but Russia quickly announced that they had both the plane and its pilot— and they were not happy. The U-2 program was exposed.

It Led To Some Major Drama At The Paris Summit

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The U.S. and the Soviet Union were scheduled to meet along with other world powers on May 16 to discuss ongoing conflicts and hopefully reach resolutions on a few topics. But after the U-2 incident, (and Eisenhower's subsequent admission that the U.S. was spying on Russia), Soviet leader Nikita Krushchev lashed out at the U.S. at the conference and then left Paris. Talk about a big exit.

It Took Two Years To Get Powers' Release

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After being convicted of espionage, Powers was sentenced to three years in Russian prison followed by seven years of hard labor. Although Donovan successfully arranged for Powers to be released back to the U.S., by the time this agreement was reached the pilot had already been in prison for 21 months. And so it was actually 1962 by the time Powers arrived safely back on American soil.

These facts and more are revealed in Bridge of Spies, which tells the story of the U-2 incident from Donovan's point of view. It's a crazy story and it's hard to believe that it actually happened, but the events are an important part of U.S. history, and, as of Oct. 16, movie history, as well.

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