This Day in History: 1962 Cuban Missle Crisis

Two days before October 16th, 1962 an american spy plane taking photos of Cuba recorded the presence of Soviet nuclear missiles. This not only revealed a clear danger but also gaps in American intelligence operations. The missiles posed an immediate threat.

President Kennedy first saw the sobering photos on this day, 50 years ago, which started a series of events that brought the country to the brink of nuclear war. Over the next eight days the US moved towards launching its own missiles, as re-told by veterans of the incident.

“We are very near going to war, you will launch your missile to DEFCON 2,” Johnson, 77, [ballistic-missile analyst technician for the 578th Strategic Missile Squadron supported by Dyess Air Force Base] recalled the sound of the alert and then the message to raise the Atlas F-series missile 185-feet to a launchpad and wait for the Defense Condition 1 (DEFCON 1) alert to push the button and send the weapon into a nuclear holocaust.

Kennedy gave a strong stance publicly during the crisis but as we know today he actually resolved the crisis peacefully through compromise; the President led a series of intense and secret diplomatic meetings with the Soviets, the United Nations and other countries. A direct phone line was installed that enabled Kennedy and Khrushchev to talk; through November they worked out how both sides would reduce their arsenal and quit the forward positions.

Foreign Policy refers to the crisis as “The Myth That Screwed Up 50 Years of U.S. Foreign Policy

American leaders don’t like to compromise, and a lingering misunderstanding of those 13 days in October 1962 has a lot to do with it.

In fact, the crisis concluded not with Moscow’s unconditional diplomatic whimper, but with mutual concessions.


For too long, U.S. foreign-policy debates have lionized threats and confrontation and minimized realistic compromise. And yes, to be sure, compromise is not always the answer, and sometimes it’s precisely the wrong answer. But policymakers and politicians have to be able to examine it openly and without fear, and measure it against alternatives. Compromises do fail, and presidents can then ratchet up threats or even use force. But they need to remember that the ever steely-eyed JFK found a compromise solution to the Cuban missile crisis — and the compromise worked.

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