Cuban missile crisis

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On Oct. 22, 1962, Americans went to bed thinking the United States United States, officially United States of America, republic (2005 est. pop. 295,734,000), 3,539,227 sq mi (9,166,598 sq km), North America. The United States is the world's third largest country in population and the fourth largest country in area.  was about to get into a nuclear war with the Soviet Union.

That night, President John F. Kennedy "John Kennedy" and "JFK" redirect here. For other uses, see John Kennedy (disambiguation) and JFK (disambiguation).
John Fitzgerald Kennedy (May 29, 1917–November 22, 1963), was the thirty-fifth President of the United States, serving from 1961 until his assassination in  had gone on TV to tell the nation that the Soviets had secretly installed nuclear missiles in Cuba that were aimed at American cities. What followed was a 13-day standoff that underscored how easily the Cold War between the U.S. and Communist powers could have turned red-hot.

Kennedy, then in only his second year as president, made it clear he wouldn't allow the missiles to remain in Cuba, just 90 miles from Florida. But he struggled over how to get them removed without triggering a nuclear war with the Soviets that could have killed tens of millions on both sides.

"That was the point in the Cold War where the probability of a full-scale war between us and the Soviet Union was at its greatest," says Timothy McKeown, a political scientist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel HillThe University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is a public, coeducational, research university located in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, United States. Also known as The University of North Carolina, Carolina, North Carolina, or simply UNC
..... Click the link for more information..

The U.S. and the Soviet Union had been allies during World War II. But after the war, the Soviets began setting up Communist puppet regimes across Eastern Europe Eastern Europe

The countries of eastern Europe, especially those that were allied with the USSR in the Warsaw Pact, which was established in 1955 and dissolved in 1991.  and setting the stage for the Cold War--a decades-long period of hostility between Communism and capitalist Western nations led by the U.S.

For a while, the U.S. had a monopoly on nuclear weapons, which it had developed during World War II. But that changed in 1949 when it became clear the Soviet Union had developed its own nuclear bomb. With the prospect of an all-out nuclear war suddenly a reality, many families in the U.S. built underground bomb shelters and schools showed students how to "duck and coverDuck and Cover was a suggested method of personal protection against the effects of a nuclear detonation which the United States government taught to generations of United States school children from the late 1940s into the 1980s.

..... Click the link for more information." under their desks in case war broke out.
Why Cuba?

The U.S. is thousands of miles from Moscow, the Soviet capital. But the threat of Communism arrived at America's doorstep in 1959, when Fidel Castro Noun 1. Fidel Castro - Cuban socialist leader who overthrew a dictator in 1959 and established a Marxist socialist state in Cuba (born in 1927)

Castro, Fidel Castro Ruz  staged a revolution in Cuba and soon allied his nation with the Soviet Union. Believing the Cuban population would support his plan, President Kennedy in 1961 backed a group of Cuban exiles in their effort to overthrow Castro and his Communist regime. The invasion at the Bay of Pigs The Bay of Pigs (Spanish: Bahía de Cochinos, also known as Playa Girón) is an inlet of the Gulf of Cazones on the south coast of Cuba.  ended with most of the U.S.-trained combatants captured or killed, and Kennedy embarrassed and frustrated.

Castro, however, was worried the U.S. would try to overthrow him again. And Nikita Khrushchev Noun 1. Nikita Khrushchev - Soviet statesman and premier who denounced Stalin (1894-1971)

Khrushchev, Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev , the Soviet leader, was determined not to let the only Communist nation in the Western Hemisphere Western Hemisphere

Part of Earth comprising North and South America and the surrounding waters. Longitudes 20° W and 160° E are often considered its boundaries.  fall. Though he wouldn't admit it, Khrushchev also knew the U.S. had far more nuclear weapons than the Soviet Union, and that some were stationed in Turkey, less than 200 miles from the Soviet border. He thought that by moving nuclear missiles to Cuba, he would not only help close the "missile gap The missile gap was the term used in the United States for the perceived disparity between the number and power of the weapons in the USSR and U.S. ballistic missile arsenals during the Cold War. " with the U.S., but also prevent another American invasion of Cuba.

In the summer of 1962, Khrushchev began secretly shipping missiles, planes, and troops to Cuba. He believed that by the time the U.S. found out, it would have no choice but to live with the missiles, just as the Soviets had to live with the American missiles near their border with Turkey.

But keeping such a large-scale operation secret proved impossible. In an early-morning meeting at the White House on Oct. 16, 1962, Kennedy was told that an American military reconnaissance jet had taken hundreds of photos that showed conclusively that a Soviet nuclear missile base missile base nbase f de misiles

missile base nbase f de missiles

missile base missile n was being built near San Cristobal San Cris·tó·bal  

A city of extreme western Venezuela in a mountainous region near the Colombian border south-southwest of Maracaibo. Founded in 1561, it was severely damaged by an earthquake in 1875. Population: 298,000.  in western Cuba.

Invoking the principles of the 1823 Monroe Doctrine--which stated that the U.S. would respond forcefully to any foreign interference in North or South America--the president and his advisers wrestled with two options. The first was to attack Cuba, using air strikes to destroy the missile sites, followed by an invasion to get rid of Castro once and for all. The second called for a Navy blockade to keep Soviet ships from sending in any more missiles.

American military chiefs pressed Kennedy to launch an air strike right away. But civilian advisers like Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara For the figure skater, see .
Robert Strange McNamara (born June 9, 1916) is an American business executive and a former United States Secretary of Defense. McNamara served as U.S. Secretary of Defense from 1961 to 1968, during the Vietnam War.  thought a blockade was the better option: It would show strength without backing the Soviet Union into a corner in which its only options were to give in to American demands or to retaliate using its own weapons.

Nuclear weapons had completely transformed warfare since the U.S. first dropped two on Japan in 1945 to force the end of World War II. Even a minor incident in a tiny country like Cuba could trigger a devastating all-out nuclear exchange that could obliterate both sides, a predicament known as mutually assured destruction, or MAD.

Kennedy opted for the blockade. At 7 p.m. on October 22, he went on TV and shocked the American people by telling them about the Cuban missile bases. "The purpose of these bases," Kennedy said, "can be none other than to provide a nuclear-strike capability against the Western Hemisphere."

Washington calculated that the missiles could hit targets more than 2,000 miles away, putting all of the U.S., with the exception of the far Pacific Northwest, under a nuclear bull's-eye.

In the following days, Americans prepared for the possibility of war, outfitting basement bomb shelters and hoarding supplies. In Washington, D.C., stores sold out of battery-run transistor radios and 25-cent rust-proof cans of water.

Although Cuba was at the center of the crisis, Castro played no part in the intense negotiations. Years later, however, it was revealed that in a private letter to Khrushchev, Castro had urged the Soviet leader to launch a nuclear first strike.

The U.S. blockade forced more than a dozen Soviet ships to turn around. But President Kennedy still had to do something about the missiles already in Cuba. Plans for an invasion proceeded, and on October 26 the U.S. raised its readiness level to DEFCON DEFCON Defense Readiness Condition
DEFCON Defense Condition
DEFCON Define Constant (mathematics)
DEFCON Defence Contract Condition
 (Defense Condition) 2--the only time that has ever happened. That meant B-52 jets were loaded with nuclear weapons and ready to take off on 15 minutes' notice.
On October 27, which came to be known as Black Saturday Black Saturday refers to several events:

  • Black Saturday (1621), a particularly dark and stormy day in Scotland.

  • Black Saturday (Lebanon), the December, 1975 massacre that helped precipitate the Lebanese Civil War.

, the chance of war was at its greatest. In a series of events that sounds like the plot of an action movie, the U.S. Naw dropped depth charges to force a Soviet submarine equipped with nuclear weapons to the surface. The sub's commander had been given authority to launch the nuclear weapons if threatened, and he's believed to have given the order to fire. But a subordinate Soviet officer refused to obey, probably avoiding a war.

The next day, Khrushchev backed down, announcing that he would remove the nuclear weapons from Cuba in exchange for a U.S. pledge to lift the blockade and renounce plans to invade Cuba. In addition, Kennedy agreed to remove the U.S. missiles in Turkey, but only if that part of the agreement was kept secret, which it was for more than two decades.

Incredibly, even during the tensest moments in 1962, Kennedy and Khrushchev communicated by letters sent by cable or messenger. Without computers, the Internet, or even direct phone lines, it took up to seven hours for messages to get from one leader to the other, which actually gave Kennedy a chance to think about his options and even change his mind about what to do.

But the poor communications could also have been disastrous. Following the crisis, a Moscow-Washington telephone hotline was set up that's still in use.

Soviet Collapse

By 1991, internal problems had split apart the Soviet Union, leaving the U.S. as the world's sole superpower. The demise ended not only the Cold War but also the economic lifeline from Moscow to Castro. Though Cuba has struggled ever since, Fidel Castro remained in charge until illness forced him to hand over power in 2006 to his younger but also elderly brother Raul.

Today, in an age when at least nine countries have nuclear capabilities, including a rogue regime in North Korea, American leaders continue to look to Kennedy's handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis as a model to emulate.

"Facing intense pressure from the Joint Chiefs of Staff and congressional leaders to bomb and invade Cuba, John F. Kennedy stood firm," Barack Obama said in 2007 during the last presidential campaign. "With his determined leadership and his calm, rational judgment, he forged a strong path to peace ... and helped bring the world back from the brink Back from the Brink can refer to:

  • Back from the Brink an award winning autobiography by Paul McGrath, an Irish footballer.

  • The Back from the Brink programme by Plantlife that focuses on conservation efforts on some of the rarest plant species in Britain.

 of war."
The world has never come closer to nuclear war than it did in October 1962, when the U.S. learned of a Soviet-built missile base in Cuba.

1. Why did the discovery of the missile base trigger a crisis?

2. What options did President John F. Kennedy have for responding to the Soviet missile deployment? What were the pros and cons of each option? What course did Kennedy choose?

3. How would you evaluate President Kennedy's handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis? Write an essay, supporting your arguments with details from the article.

1. Why was Cuba willing to cooperate with the Soviet Union in installing missiles?

2. What was the goal of the U.S. blockade of Cuba? Did it work?

3. To end the crisis, what did Kennedy agree to do? What did Khrushchev agree to do? In your opinion, did either side "win"? Explain.

4. Why do you think Kennedy wanted to keep secret the part of the negotiations that called for the U.S. to remove its missiles from Turkey? Does it surprise you that this stayed a secret for two decades? Would that be likely to happen today?

5. Would the outcome of the crisis have been different if U.S. and Soviet leaders could have called one another on the phone? Explain.

6. Why was Cuba willing to cooperate with the Soviet Union in installing missiles?

7. What was the goal of the U.S. blockade of Cuba? Did it work?


You won't see the term "Cuban Missile Crisis" in Russian textbooks. There, the standoff is called the Caribbean Crisis.


Watch a video on U.S.-Cuban relations since the Cuban Revolution at


(1) The main challenge President John F. Kennedy faced in October 1962 was

a ensuring that the U.S. had more missiles in Cuba than the Soviet Union did.

b preventing Cuba from setting nuclear missiles to the Soviet Union.

c building missiles that could reach the Soviet Union.

d removing Soviet missiles from Cuba without triggering a nuclear war.

(2) Cuban leader Fidel Castro distrusted the U.S. because the U.S. had

a declared war on Cuba.

b backed a failed attempt to overthrow Castro in 1961.

c recently formed an alliance with the Soviets.

d been secretly sending troops to Cuba.

(3) During the Cuban Missile Crisis, Cuba

a acted as a mediator between the Soviets and the U.S.

b urged the U.S. to strike first against the Soviets.

c did not play an active role.

d ended its alliance with the Soviet Union.

(4) The goal of the U.S. blockade of Cuba was to

a keep the Soviets from sending additional equipment for missiles.

b damage Cuba's economy.

c investigate whether a missile base was being built there.

d have ships in position to launch a nuclear strike against the Soviet Union.

(5) As part of the deal that ended the Cuban Missile Crisis, the U.S. agreed to do all. of the following except

a Lift its blockade of Cuba.

b remove missiles from Turkey.

c halt development of long-range nuclear weapons.

d renounce any plans it might have to invade Cuba.


(1) What were Nikita Khrushchev's reasons for placing missiles in Cuba?

(2) What conflicting pieces of advice did President Kennedy receive at the start of the Cuban Missile Crisis? What did he choose to do and why?

(3) How would you describe the mood in the U.S. during the Cuban Missile Crisis? What actions did Americans take during the standoff?


(1) [d] removing Soviet missiles from Cuba without triggering a nuclear war.

(2) [b] backed a failed attempt to overthrow Castro in 1761.

(3) [c] did not play an active role.

(4) [a] keep the Soviets from sending additional equipment for missiles.

(5) [c] halt development of long-range nuclear weapons.

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