On the Brink of Nuclear War: 13 Days in October

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Fifty years ago, the world stood on the brink of nuclear war when President John F. Kennedy, Jr., learned that the Soviet Union was building nuclear missile sites on Cuba.

On October 14, 1962, an American U-2 spy plane took photos of nuclear missile sites on Cuba. The first ship reportedly carrying medium-range ballistic missiles arrived in Cuba in September after Soviet Chairman Nikita Khrushchev reportedly decided to place missiles on the island nation during a May 1962 trip to Bulgaria. The U.S. had placed missiles in Turkey in 1961.

He met with his National Security team for days to run through the various options available, including a strike on the sites.

Listen to an excerpt from Kennedy's audio diary about the deliberations:

Kennedy addressed the nation on October 22, 1962, to tell the American people about the Soviet missile build up on Cuba. “The purpose of these bases can be none other than to provide a nuclear strike capability against the Western Hemisphere,” he told the public.

Listen to an excerpt of Kennedy’s address from that night:

Kennedy established a naval blockade around the island nation located less than 100 miles from Florida.

Listen to a Universal News Reel on the “naval quarantine” and the on-going crisis:

The blockade was established. Soviet subs moved into the Caribbean as Soviet freighters headed to Cuba stopped where they were. Searched ships were allowed through.

Khrushchev wrote Kennedy saying the blockade was an ultimatum and the U.S. was threatening use of force.  

Khrushchev proposed removing the missiles if Kennedy ends the blockade and publicly announces he will not invade Cuba. (In 1961, the Kennedy administration approved the invasion at the Bay of Pigs in Cuba, planned by the previous administration.)

Over Cuba, an American U-2 plane was shot down. Kennedy agreed to Khrushchev’s terms, including a secret agreement to remove U.S. missiles from Turkey. On October 28, he told the American people that he welcomes the “decision to stop building bases in Cuba, dismantling offensive weapons and returning them to the Soviet Union under United Nations verification.”

Less than a month later, at a news conference, Kennedy said the agreement to the crisis reached by the two leaders is being fulfilled.

Listen to Kennedy’s opening statement:


More in:

Comments [3]


i was 18 and staying with friends in Manchester England. The family had worked in radio during ww2 preparing for an invasion and planned to continue bbc broadcasting from NYC. All that evening many of their US friends called to say goodbye - i have never quite recovered

Oct. 14 2012 07:54 AM
annie from brooklyn, new york

i was a child in the fourth grade during the cuban missile crisis; however, i do remember being scared to death we were on the verge of being pulled into a nuclear war at any minute. i count my blessings we were spared.

Oct. 14 2012 02:51 AM
Louise from Seattle, WA

When the stakes are high as in a potential war that will end all wars, ; mean thiws time literally. Our President and the other leaders of democratic nations in the world must be like well seasoned. Poker polayer ! You'v e got to know when to hold em, know when to fold emc know when to walk away. The alternative to excersizing these tactics at precisely the right time is strategically difficult at best! When President Kennedy was handlin.g the Cuban Missile crisis we were a much more United country who stood behind it's elected leaders at times that it mattered for us to come together as a nation. Do you think our adversaries view us as more vulnerable because we appear to be the "not very United State? Think about it and let's come together to elect the right leaders and then show them our support as the ReUnited States. I shutter to think what will happen if we are unable to accomplish this task!

Oct. 13 2012 05:36 AM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Get the WNYC Morning Brief in your inbox.
We'll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.


Latest Newscast




WNYC is supported by the Charles H. Revson Foundation: Because a great city needs an informed and engaged public


Supported by