One of the first images of missile bases under construction shown to President Kennedy on the morning of October 16, 1962.
Over forty years have passed since the hottest moment of the Cold War: the Cuban missile crisis.
U.S. forces around the world were placed on alert. More than 100,000 troops deployed to Florida for a possible invasion of Cuba. Additional naval vessels were ordered to the Caribbean. B-52s loaded with nuclear weapons were in the air at all times.
The United States had caught the Soviet Union building offensive nuclear missile bases in Cuba, just 90 miles from U.S. soil, and the two superpowers were now joined in the first direct nuclear confrontation in history. Reconnaissance flights over Cuba had begun in the summer of 1962, and surveillance photographs taken on October 14 showed the beginnings of a Soviet medium-range ballistic missile base near San Cristobal. Two days later, the President called together his most trusted advisers to serve as an Executive Committee of the National Security Council (ExComm). They discussed several courses of action -- everything from doing nothing to invading Cuba. After much debate, a naval blockade of the island emerged as the leading choice.
In a televised address on October 22, 1962, President John F. Kennedy informed the people of the United States of the Soviet missiles and of the "quarantine" placed around Cuba by the U.S. Navy.
Tensions mounted over the next few days as the world wondered if there could be a peaceful resolution to the crisis. On October 24 several Soviet vessels turned back from the quarantine line, though construction at the missile sites continued. Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev wrote a long letter to the President on October 26 proposing a settlement. He declared that ships bound for Cuba did not carry armaments and added that if the blockade were lifted and the President gave assurances that the United States would not invade Cuba, the missile sites would be removed.
The next day, in a response to Khrushchev, Kennedy called the proposals "generally acceptable as I understand them." On October 28 the Soviets agreed to dismantle and withdraw the missiles from Cuba. Negotiations for final settlement of the crisis continued for several days, but the immediate threat of nuclear war had been averted.
On November 20 Kennedy announced, "I have today been informed by Chairman Khrushchev that all of the IL-28 bombers in Cuba will be withdrawn in thirty days .... I have this afternoon instructed the Secretary of Defense to lift our naval quarantine." Subsequently, the United States dismantled several of its obsolete air and missile bases in Turkey.
The Cuban missile crisis was perhaps the greatest test of John F. Kennedy's Presidency, and while he and Khrushchev were able to achieve a peaceful resolution, the crisis had a number of far-reaching historical consequences. Within a year, Kennedy and Khrushchev signed the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, the first disarmament agreement of the nuclear age. Also in 1963, the first "hotline" between Washington and Moscow was installed.
To observe the 40th anniversary of Cuban missile crisis, in October 2002, the John F. Kennedy Library presented a series of forums associated with the 13 days of the crisis. The forum series, "On the Brink: The Cuban Missile Crisis and the Nuclear Threat," feature prominent historians, policy makers, and journalists. The panelists included former Kennedy administration officials, such as Theodore Sorensen, Robert McNamara, and Arthur Schlesinger; Khrushchev's son, Sergei; and Dagoberto Rodriguez, chief of the Cuban Interests Section in the United States.
Text and pictures credit: http://jfklibrary.org/jfkl/cmc/cmc_intro.html.
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