Many agree that the Cuban Missile Crisis was the closest the world ever
came to nuclear war; but exactly how close did it come? The Crisis was
ultimately a showdown between the United States and the Soviet Union from

October 16 to October 28, 1962. During those thirteen stressful days, the
world’s two biggest superpowers stood on the brink of a nuclear catastrophe.

The Crisis started as a result of both the Soviet Union’s fear of losing the
arms race, and Cuba’s fear of US invasion. The Soviet Premier, Nikita

Khrushchev, thought that both problems could easily be solved by placing

Soviet medium range missiles in Cuba. This deployment would double the

Soviet arsenal and protect Cuba from US invasion. Khrushchev proposed this
idea to Cuban Premier, Fidel Castro, who, like Khrushchev, saw the strategic
advantage. The two premiers worked together in secrecy throughout the
late-summer and early-fall of 1962. The Soviets shipped sixty medium-range
ballistic missiles (MRBMs) along with their warheads, launch equipment, and
necessary operating personnel to Cuba. When United States President, John

F. Kennedy discovered the presence of these offensive weapons, he
immediately organized EX-COMM, a group of his twelve most important
advisors. They spent the next couple of days discussing different possible
plans of action and finally decided to remove the US missiles from Turkey
and promise not to invade Cuba in exchange for the removal of all offensive
weapons in Cuba. On October 28, Khrushchev sent Kennedy a letter stating
that he agreed to the terms Kennedy stated, and the crisis ended.

The Cuban Missile Crisis can be blamed on the insecurity of Cuba and
the Soviet Union. After the United States’ unsuccessful attempt to overthrow

Castro and end communism in Cuba at the Bay of Pigs in 1961, Castro was
fearful of another US invasion. The US Armed Forces conducted a mock
invasion and drafted a plan to invade Cuba to keep Castro nervous. As a
result, Castro thought the US was serious, and he was desperate to find
protection. This protection came in the form of sixty Soviet medium-range
ballistic missiles. (Detzer 30-32, 39, 55, 68, 87)

During his presidential campaign, Kennedy repeatedly stated that the

US had less missiles than the Soviets, contradicting the Pentagon’s claim that
the opposite was true. However, during the summer of 1961, when

Khrushchev constructed a wall around West Berlin, the Kennedy

Administration revealed to Khrushchev that the US. did, in fact, have more
missiles than the Soviet Union. What worried Khrushchev the most, though,
was that the Soviet missiles were only powerful enough to be launched
against Europe, but the US missiles were capable of striking the entire Soviet

Union. He worried that if the Soviet Union lost the arms race that badly, it
would invite a nuclear attack from the US. Khrushchev needed a way to
counter the United State’s lead. (May 49)

In April of 1962, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev came up with the
idea of installing medium-range missiles in Cuba. Cuba was close enough to
the United States that the Soviet missiles would be an effective deterrent to a
potential US attack against either the Soviet Union or Cuba. Castro accepted

Khrushchev’s offer, since it would protect Cuba and, therefore, solve

Castro’s previous dilemma. In mid-July of 1962, the Soviet Union began its
buildup of offensive weapons in Cuba.

The Soviets spent most of the late-summer and early-fall of 1962
ferrying launch equipment and personnel necessary for the preparation of
missiles to Cuba. Since they could not use military ships (for fear of being
discovered) the Soviets used civilian vessels. However, even with this
caution, their actions were detected. As the US monitored the suddenly
increased shipping activity to Cuba, rumors started in Washington. On

August 10, John McCone, director of the CIA, sent the President a letter
stating his belief that the Soviets were placing MRBMs in Cuba. On August

29, a U-2 on a reconnaissance flight over Cuba revealed the presence of SA-2

SAM (Surface-to-Air-Missile) sites. On September 4, to calm the Congress
and public, Kennedy announced that there were Soviet missiles in Cuba, but
that since they were defensive and not offensive, the US had nothing to worry
about. Pressured by Congress, Kennedy ordered another U-2 flight over

Cuba for October 9. However it was delayed until Sunday, October 14.

After the pictures from the reconnaissance flight were analyzed, the

National Photographic Interpretation Center found what at first were thought
to be more surface-to-air missile sites. A closer look, however, showed six
much larger SS-4 nuclear missiles; each 60 to 65 feet long. They now knew
they had a big problem. President Kennedy was informed of the missiles
during breakfast