The Cuban Missile Crisis
The Cuban Missile Crisis was a 13 day period in 1962 during which the United States and the Soviet Union nearly engaged in an all-out nuclear war.
It was when the Cold War reached its most anxious moment. Thankfully, the tense negotiations regarding Soviet missiles in Cuba succeeded in narrowly avoiding a conflict.
Fidel Castro had led the overthrow of President Fulgencio Batista, the pro-America and anticommunist dictator of Cuba in 1959. With the communist revolution, Castro nationalized American interests such as sugar and oil.
Castro established a communist dictatorship with friendly ties to the Soviet Union.
The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) began planning the overthrow of Castro, which U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower approved in March 1960.
John F. Kennedy was elected president in 1960. After taking office, he was presented with the CIA's plan, which he approved.
In April of 1961, the US launched the Bay of Pigs invasion led by a group of CIA-trained Cuban exiles in an attempt to overthrow Castro. However, the invasion immediately failed, with more than 100 killed and more than 1,000 prisoners taken by Cuba. Around the same time, the US had also been deploying nuclear missiles in Italy and Turkey, all within the range of the Soviet Union.
Castro then reached out to the Soviet Union for help. Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev agreed to place nuclear missiles in Cuba to deter a future American invasion.
In October of 1962, an American spy plane passing over Cuba photographed a Soviet missile launching facility under construction. The missiles, just 90 miles south of Florida, were within range to attack America's East Coast.
President Kennedy summoned his closest advisors to decide on a response.
Military advisors like Curtis LeMay, Chief of Staff of the Air Force, urged bombing the missile sites with a massive display of force, followed by an invasion of the Cuba.
They could not promise, however, that all the missiles would be destroyed and Kennedy did not want to risk one being operational and launching at the US. He also feared that the Soviets might respond by attacking Berlin.
Instead, Kennedy ordered a naval "quarantine" to prevent further missiles from reaching Cuba. They called it a "quarantine" because a "blockade" was technically an act of war.
Kennedy announced that the US would not permit offensive weapons to be delivered to Cuba and demanded that the weapons already in Cuba be dismantled and returned to the Soviet Union.
Khrushchev and Kennedy began a series of communications regarding the missiles that lasted 13 extremely tense days.
The president's brother Attorney General Robert Kennedy led secret negotiations with the Soviet ambassador.
Both sides recognized the potential devastation a nuclear war would bring about but neither wanted to appear weak.
After 13 agonizing days, Kennedy and Khrushchev struck a deal. The Soviet Union would dismantle and remove its missiles in Cuba. In response, the US would promise not to invade Cuba and also secretly remove its missiles in Turkey.
The tense episode pointed out the need for a direct communication line between the two superpowers. As a result, a hotline was established between the leaders of the Soviet Union and US.