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Key Moments in the Cuban Missile Crisis

June 17, 2019 in History

By Patrick J. Kiger

These are the steps that brought the United States and Soviet Union to the brink of nuclear war in 1962.

The Cuban Missile Crisis was among the scariest events of the Cold War. The 13-day showdown brought the world’s two superpowers to the brink of nuclear war.

In the Fall of 1962 the United States demanded that the Soviets halt construction of newly-discovered missile bases in communist Cuba, just 90 miles from U.S. shores. Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev had pledged in 1960 to defend Cuba and had assumed that the United States would not try and prevent the installation of medium- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles in the communist Caribbean country. But the weapons could potentially reach much of the United States.

What followed was a tense standoff played out almost exclusively at the highest levels.

U.S. President John F. Kennedy and Khrushchev and a handful of their top aides did all the negotiating, with little input from the foreign policy bureaucracies of either country. The crisis was rife with miscommunications, threats and miscalculations, but was ultimately diffused.

Here is a chronology of key moments in the crisis.

On October 14, 1962, a U.S. U-2 spy plane took hundreds of photos of newly-built missile installations in the Cuban countryside. Shown is a map of Cuba showing the Soviet missile sites and the types of installations at each, circa 1962. The discovery of the sites in Cuba led to the Cuban Missile Crisis.

View the 8 images of this gallery on the original article

October 14, 1962: A U.S. U-2 spy plane piloted by Maj. Richard Heyser takes hundreds of photos of newly-built installations in the Cuban countryside. As Heyser will recall years later in an Associated Press interview, he worries that he will be looked upon as the man who started a war.

October 15: CIA analysts spot launchers, missiles and transport trucks that indicate the Soviets are building sites to launch missiles capable of striking targets nearly across the United States, according to a 2013 article by Peter Kornbluh, a senior analyst and Cuba expert at the National Security Archive in Washington.

October 16: President John F. Kennedy meets with a team of advisers known as Ex-Comm, to discuss how to respond to the missile threat. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara presents JFK with three options: diplomacy with Cuban leader Fidel Castro and Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev, a naval quarantine …read more


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