Cuban Missle Crisis Header

Background: On October 15th, 1962 a U-2 spy plane takes photos over Cuba of Soviet SS-4 Nuclear Missiles. While the missiles were of the medium-range kind, Cuba lay only 90 miles off the coast of the United States, which in effect allowed these missiles to reach most any city within the continental U.S. The next day, President John F. Kennedy is informed of the placements. Executive CommitteeThe past two months, the Soviet Union had denied any intent to install offensive weapons in the Western Hemisphere. Consequently, the President convenes a group of twelve advisors to study and advise on the situation. The group became known as the Executive Committee or EX-COMM.

Later in the week, Kennedy meets with Soviet Foreign Minister Andre Gromyko. Kennedy informs Gromyko that the U.S. will not tolerate any offensive weapons in Cuba, but the Foreign Minister denies that any missiles in Cuba exist. On the evening of October 18th, the President meets with his EX-COMM group. Later after the meeting, he summarizes on tape his recollections of the discussions.

On Sunday Kennedy is advised by the Air Force that the missiles they are aware of could be destroyed but with upwards to 20,000 casualties. Kennedy, at the recommendation of some of the EX-COMM members, decides to hold off on an air attack and go with a naval blockade. The press finds out about the missiles and questions Kennedy. The President asks the newsmen to hold off until he speaks to the people of the U.S. to let them know about the situation.

"...a provocative decision..."

By Monday evening, October 20th, the people of the United States (and the rest of the world) hear of the crisis for the first time when President Kennedy goes on radio and television to broadcast a speech to America. All networks carry the speech.

In the speech, Kennedy tells listeners of the Soviet build-up of missiles in Cuba and that the "purpose of these bases can be none other than to provide a nuclear strike capability against the Western Hemisphere."

Yet, the U.S. Government was told repeatedly by the U.S.S.R. that weapons being installed in Cuba were designed "exclusively for defensive purposes." But as these were nuclear capable missiles, Kennedy tells the American public that "Nuclear weapons are so destructive and ballistic missiles are so swift that any substantially increased possibilty of their use, or any sudden change in their deployment, may well be regarded as a definite threat to peace."

Kennedy continued his speech, telling listeners that such a change in the status quo is a provocative decision which cannot be accepted by the United States.

"further action is required"

Kennedy assures the people of this country that he is beginning to take action. "We will not...risk the course of worldwide nuclear war...but neither will we shrink from that risk..." The action is announced as a series of steps beginning with a strict quarantine of all offensive military equipment shipped to Cuba. Specifically the steps are:

  1. Quarantine all ships carrying offensive military equipment to Cuba. All such ships will be turned back all ships with such equipment.
  2. Continue and increase close surveilance of Cuba of the military build-up. If the build-up continues, the Armed Forces will take action.
  3. Any nuclear weapon launched from Cuba will be considered an attack by the Soviet Union on the United States requiring a full retaliatory response.
  4. The U.S. base at Guantanamo has been reinforced.
  5. The U.S. is calling for an immediate meeting of the Organization of Consultation of the Organization of American States to invoke the necessary articles to support all necessary action.
  6. An emergency meeting of the Security Counsel be invoked without delay to take action against the Soviet threat.
  7. A call to Chairman Khrushchev to halt this "reckless threat to world peace."
"Greatest danger of all..."

Kennedy ends his speech to the American people by telling them that the greatest danger would be to do nothing. With the end of the speech, the world sat on the brink. How would the Soviets react? What would Cuba do? In the United Kingdom, members of the government set up business in the bunkers of Kent, which were built for emergency protection during World War II.

After his speech, the President moves the military alert to DEFCON 3, and Cuba begins to mobilize its troops.

"Cuba reacts first"

Through Radio Havana, the world, via shortwave, listened to the official reaction by Cuba. As a new Communist regime, their reaction was typical referring to the U.S. actions as agression against them. The broadcast was typical of the station with a duo hurling diatribes against the United States.

Radio Moscow waited until the next day to give their opinion of the Crisis. As this was the height of the Cold War, the rhetoric was quite harsh. In their official statement they indicated "the President is trying to justify these acts of agression by arguments that ... a threat to national security is emanating from Cuba." Later in their broadcast they declared they were "duty-bound to give serious warning to the United States government..." And finally in an appeal to be heard by the whole world they called on the other governments to "prevent the United States ... from unleashing a thermonuclear war..."

Additional links on the Crisis
The Real Thirteen Days: The Hidden History of the Cuban Missile Crisis
The Cuban Missile Crisis: Unedited tapes from the JFK Library

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Copyright 2002 James F. Widner
Created Saturday, October 6, 2002