Trying on the Shoes of Historical Actors: Project Clio Workshop March 28

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Trying on the Shoes of Historical Actors: Project Clio Workshop March 28th, 2012

Executive Committee of the National Security Council (EXCOMM)

16 October 1962

u2 (14 oct 1962) mrbm field launch site cuba.jpg



A map of Cuba, with a partial listing of Soviet military equipment, used during the President's meetings with political and military advisors.


This document officially created EXCOMM

EX COMM member:
You have been briefed on the presence of Soviet medium-range missiles in Cuba. Your responsibility will be to carefully recall all of your previous statements on the matter and carefully craft a short, concise, and persuasive report to POTUS (President of the United States). Along with your report be prepared to share your stance on the following action plans regarding the crisis in Cuba.

  1. Do nothing: ignore the missiles in Cuba.

  2. Open direct negotiations with Khrushchev asking that the missiles be withdrawn.

  3. Order a blockade of Cuba until the missiles are recovered.

  4. Send a warning to Castro and Khrushchev and if the dismantling of the missile sites is not underway within 24 hours, order an air strike against the sites.

  5. Order an air strike against the missile sites with no prior warning.



Secretary of the Treasury C. Douglas Dillon


“The existence of strategic missiles in Cuba is, in my opinion, not negotiable. I believe that any effort to negotiate the removal of the missiles would involve a price so high that the United States could not accept it. If the missiles are not removed or eliminated, the United States will lose all of its friends in Latin America, who will become convinced that our fear is such that we cannot act. However, the limited use of force involved in a blockade would make the military task much harder and would involve the great danger of the launching of these missiles by the Cubans.” (5)


“In my view a blockade would either inevitably lead to an invasion of Cuba or would result in negotiations, which I believe the Soviets would want very much. To agree to negotiations now would be a disaster for us. We would break up our alliances and convey to the world that we were impotent in the face of a Soviet challenge. Unless the Russians stop their missile buildup at once, we will have to invade Cuba in the next week, no matter what they say, if we are to save our world position. We cannot convey firm intentions to the Russians otherwise and we must not look to the world as if we were backing down.” (6)



5. Minutes of the 505th Meeting of the National Security Council, October 20, 1962


6. Minutes of the 506th Meeting of the National Security Council, October 21, 1962

Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy


“I would say that [in an air strike] you're dropping bombs all over Cuba.... You're covering most of Cuba. You're going to kill an awful lot of people, and we're going to take an awful lot of heat on it.... And're going to announce the reason that you're doing it is because, they're sending in these kinds of missiles. Well, I would think it's almost incumbent upon the Russians, then, to say, well, we're going to send them in again, and if you do it again, we're going to do the same thing to Turkey, or we're going to do the same thing to Iran.” (1)


“I think that we should also consider what Cuba's going to be a year from now, or two years from now. Assume that we go in and knock these sites out, I don't know what's going to stop them from rebuilding the sites six months from now....” (2)


“There seem to be three main possibilities: one is to do nothing, and that would be unthinkable; another is an air strike; the third is a blockade. I think it would be very, very difficult indeed for the President if the decision were to be for an air strike, with all the memory of Pearl Harbor and with all the implications this would have for us in whatever world there would be afterward. For 175 years we have not been that kind of country. A sneak attack is not in our traditions. Thousands of Cubans would be killed without warning and a lot of Russians too. I favor action, to make known unmistakably the seriousness of United States determination to get the missiles out of Cuba, but I think the action should allow the Soviets some room for maneuver to pull back from their over-extended position in Cuba.” (4)


“I think we should first institute the blockade. In the event that the Soviets continued to build up the missile capability in Cuba, then we should inform the Russians that we will destroy the missiles, the launchers, and the missile sites. I favor a short wait during which time the Russians can react to the blockade. If the Russians do not halt the development of the missile capability, then we can proceed to make an air strike. The advantage of proceeding in this way is that we would get away from the Pearl Harbor surprise attack aspect of the air strike route.” (5)



1. Transcript of a Meeting at the White House, October 16, 1962


2. off the Record Meeting on Cuba, October 16, 1962


4. Record of Meeting, October 19, 1962


5. Minutes of the 505th Meeting of the National Security Council, October 20, 1962


 CIA Director John McCone


“Consequences of action by the United States will be the inevitable ‘spilling of blood’ of Soviet military personnel. This will increase tension everywhere and undoubtedly bring retaliation against U.S. foreign military installations, where substantial U.S. casualties would result....


“The situation [missiles in Cuba] cannot be tolerated. However, the United States should not act without warning and thus be forced to live with a ‘Pearl Harbor indictment’ for the indefinite future. I would therefore:


(a) Notify Gromyko [foreign minister of the USSR] and Castro [president of Cuba] that we know all about this.

(b) Give those 24 hours to commence dismantling and removal of MRBMs, coastal defense missiles,

Surface to air missiles, IL 28s and all other aircraft which have a dual defensive-offensive

Capability, including MIG 21s.

(c) Notify the American public and the world of the situation created by the Soviets.

(d) If Khrushchev and Castro fail to act at once, we should make a massive surprise

Strike at air fields, MRBM sites and SAM sites concurrently. (3)


“In my view a blockade is not enough. It is too risky to allow a long drawn-out period during which the Cubans could, at will, launch the missiles against the United States. (5)




3. Memorandum for Discussion, October 17, 1962


5. Minutes of the 505th Meeting of the National Security Council, October 20, 1962

 National Security Advisor MacGeorge Bundy


“The political advantages are, are very strong, it seems to me, of the small strike. It corresponds to the [idea that] the punishment fits the crime in political terms, that we are doing only what we warned repeatedly and publicly we would have to do. We are not generalizing the attack....


“I think there's an enormous political advantage, myself, within these options, granting that all the Chiefs didn't fully agree, taking out the thing that gives the trouble [i.e., the missiles] and not the thing that doesn't give the trouble [i.e., Cuba itself].” (2)


“I’ve reflected a good deal upon the situation in the course of a sleepless night, and I doubt whether the strategy group is serving the President as well as it might, if it merely recommends a blockade.... A blockade would not remove the missiles. Its effects are uncertain and in any event would be slow to be felt. Something more is needed to get the missiles out of Cuba. This would be made more difficult by the prior publicity of a blockade and the consequent pressures from the United Nations for a negotiated settlement. An air strike would be quick and would take out the bases in a clean surgical operation. I favor decisive action with its advantages of surprise and confronting the world with a fait accompli.” (4)




2. off the Record Meeting on Cuba, October 16, 1962


4. Record of Meeting, October 19, 1962

General Maxwell Taylor, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff


“We're impressed, Mr. President, with the great importance of getting a strike with all the benefit of surprise, which would mean ideally that we would have all the missiles that are in Cuba above ground where we can take them out.... What we'd like to do is to...try to get the layout of the targets in as near an optimum position as possible, and then take them out without any warning whatsoever....” (1)


“A decision now to impose a blockade is a decision to abandon the possibility of an air strike. A strike will be feasible for only a few more days; after that the missiles will be operational. Thus it is now or never for an air strike. I favor a strike. If it were to take place Sunday morning, a decision would have to be made at once so that the necessary preparations could be ordered. For a Monday morning strike, a decision would have to be reached tomorrow. Forty-eight hours' notice is required.” (4)


“Now is the time to act, because this is the last chance we have to destroy these missiles. If we do not act now, the missiles will be camouflaged in such a way as to make it impossible for us to find them. Therefore, if they are not destroyed, we will have to live with them with all the consequent problems for the defense of the United States....


“Personally, I doubt that it would be possible to prevent the Russians from deploying warheads to Cuba by means of a blockade, because of the great difficulty of setting up an effective air blockade.” (5)




1. Transcript of a Meeting at the White House, October 16, 1962


4. Record of Meeting, October 19, 1962


5. Minutes of the 505th Meeting of the National Security Council, October 20, 1962

Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara


“The political course of approaching Castro, by approaching Khrushchev, by discussing with our allies...seems to me likely to lead to no satisfactory result, and it almost stops subsequent military action. Because the danger of starting military action after they acquire a nuclear capability is so great I believe we would decide against it....


“A second course of action...would involve declaration of open surveillance; a statement that we would immediately impose a blockade against offensive weapons entering Cuba in the future; and an indication that with our open-surveillance reconnaissance, which we would plan to maintain indefinitely for the future, we would be prepared to immediately attack the Soviet Union in the event that Cuba made any offensive move against this country.


“It seems to me almost certain that any...form of direct military action will lead to a Soviet military response of some type some place in the world. It may well be worth the price. Perhaps we should pay that. But I think we should recognize that possibility, and, moreover, we must recognize it in a variety of ways. We must recognize it by trying to deter it, which means we probably should alert S[trategic] A[ir] C[ommand], probably put on an airborne alert, perhaps take other alert measures. These bring risks of their own.... We should accompany an invasion following an air strike with a large-scale mobilization, a very large-scale mobilization, certainly exceeding the limits of the authority we have from Congress requiring a declaration therefore of a national emergency. We should be prepared, in the event of even a small air strike and certainly in the event of a larger air strike, for the possibility of a Cuban uprising, which would force our hand in some way. Either forces us to accept an unsatisfactory uprising, with all of the adverse comment that result; or would force an invasion to support the uprising.” (2)


“An air strike would not destroy all the missiles and launchers in Cuba, and, at best, we could knock out two-thirds of these missiles. Those missiles not destroyed could be fired from mobile launchers not destroyed....


“After a blockade, the United States should negotiate for the removal of the strategic missiles from Cuba. We would have to be prepared to accept the withdrawal of United States strategic missiles from Turkey and Italy and possibly agreement to limit our use of Guantanamo to a specified limited time. We can obtain the removal of the missiles from Cuba only if we are prepared to offer something in return during negotiations. I believe that issuing an ultimatum, to the effect that we would order an air attack on Cuba if the missiles were not removed, is too risky. I am prepared to tell Khrushchev that we consider the missiles in Cuba as Soviet missiles and that if they are used against us, we will retaliate by launching missiles against the USSR..

2. off the Record Meeting on Cuba, October 16, 1962

5. Minutes of the 505th Meeting of the National Security Council, October 20, 1962

 Secretary of State Dean Rusk


“Now, I do think we have to set in motion a chain of events that will eliminate this base. I don't think we can sit still. The questioning becomes whether we do it by sudden, unannounced strike of some sort, or we build up the crisis to the point where the other side has to consider very seriously about giving in, or even the Cubans themselves take some action on this. The thing that I'm, of course, very conscious of is that there is no such thing, I think, as unilateral action by the United States. It's so heavily involved with 42 allies and confrontation in many places, that any action that we take will greatly increase the risks of direct action involving our other alliances and our other forces in other parts of the world. So I think we have to think very hard about two major courses of action as alternatives. One is the quick strike.... I don't think this in itself would require an invasion of Cuba. I think that with or without such an invasion, in other words if we make it clear that what we're doing is eliminating this particular base or any other such base that is established. We ourselves are not moved to general war, we're simply doing what we said we would do if they took certain action. Or we're going to decide that this is the time to eliminate the Cuban problem by actually eliminating the island.” (1)


“There are two other problems that we are concerned about [regarding an air strike]. If we strike these missiles, we would expect, I think, maximum Communist reaction in Latin America. In the case of about six of those governments, unless the heads of government had some intimation, requiring some preparatory steps from the security point of view, one or another of those governments could easily be overthrown—Venezuela, for example, or Guatemala, Bolivia, Chile, possibly even Mexico. And therefore the question will arise as to whether we should not somehow indicate to them in some way the seriousness of the situation so they can take precautionary steps, whether we tell them exactly what we have in mind or, or not.


“The other is the NATO problem. We would estimate that the Soviets would almost certainly take some kind of action somewhere. For us to take an action of this sort without letting our closer allies know of a matter which could subject them to very great, danger is a very far-reaching decision to make. And we could find ourselves isolated and the alliance crumbling.” (2)


“I do not think we should initiate such a strike because of the risk of escalating actions leading to general war. I doubt that we should act without consultation of our allies. A sudden air strike has no support in the law or morality, and, therefore, must be ruled out. I urge that we start the blockade and only go on to an air attack once we know the reaction of the Russians and of our allies.” (5)


1. Transcript of a Meeting at the White House, October 16, 1962

2. off the Record Meeting on Cuba, October 16, 1962

5. Minutes of the 505th Meeting of the National Security Council, October 20, 1962

Theodore Sorensen's memorandum

Two big questions must be answered, and in conjunction with each other:

1. Which military action, if any:
-- Limited air strike: Rusk, probably Ball and Johnson, Acheson originally
-- Fuller air strike: McNamara and Taylor (who convinced Acheson) Bohlen's 2nd choice
-- Blockade: Bohlen, Thompson, probably Martin, probably McNamara and Taylor 2nd choice

2. Should political action -- in particular a letter of warning to Khrushchev -- precede military action?

-- If blockade or invasion, everyone says yes
-- If air strike -- Yes: Bohlen, Thompson (also K. O'Donnell)
-- No: Taylor, McNamara, presumably Acheson
-- Undecided: Rusk

These questions could be focused upon by considering either the Rusk or the Bohlen approaches.

Rusk favors the limited or "surgical" air strike without prior political action or warning. This is opposed by 3 groups.

-- By the diplomats (Bohlen, Thompson, probably Martin) who insist that prior political action is essential and not harmful

-- By the military (McNamara, Taylor, McCone) who insist that the air strike could not be limited
-- By advocates of the blockade route

Bohlen favors a prompt letter to Khrushchev, deciding after the response whether we use air strike or blockade -- All blockade advocates would support this, and some of the air strike advocates
-- Taylor would oppose this, unless the decision had already been made to go the blockade route
-- If you accept the Bohlen plan, we can then consider the nature of the letter to K.

Also ask Pentagon to develop:
1. Extent to which military problems are increased by the advance warning a note to Khrushchev would touch off
2. Hard necessity of follow-up sortie to initial "surgical" attack
3. Possibilities of commando-type raid by parachute or helicopter

(Ted Sorensen was a special advisor and counsel to President Kennedy. He was a member of EX COMM and helped draft JFK’s response to Khrushchev and his address to the nation on October 22, 1962).


October 29th, 1962

  • You have been hired as President Kennedy’s press secretary and asked to write a press release describing the outcome of the debate on the Cuban Missile Crisis. Your press release should address the situation in Cuba and the outcome of the decision to blockade Cuba from the perspective of President Kennedy. A press release is very formal, very concise, and very precise in its writing. When crafting your press release be sure to address these elements:

    • The causes of the Cuban Missile Crisis

    • President Kennedy’s options

    • The choice President Kennedy made and why he made it.


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