The Cuban Missile Crisis, 1962
October 18-29, 1962
On October 22, 1962, after reviewing newly acquired intelligence, President John F. Kennedy informed the world that the Soviet Union was building secret missile bases in Cuba, a mere 90 miles off the shores of Florida. After weighing such options as an armed invasion of Cuba and air strikes against the missiles, Kennedy decided on a less dangerous response. In addition to demanidng that Russian Premier Nikita S. Khrushchev remove all the missile bases and their deadly contents, Kennedy ordered a naval quarantine (blockade) of Cuba in order to prevent Russian ships from bringing additional missiles and construction materials to the island. In response to the American naval blockade, Premier Khrushchev authorized his Soviet field commanders in Cuba to launch their tactical nuclear weapons if invaded by U.S. forces. Deadlocked in this manner, the two leaders of the world's greatest nuclear superpowers stared each other down for seven days - until Khrushchev blinked. On October 28, thinking better of prolonging his challenge to the United States, the Russian Premier conceded to President Kennedy's demands by ordering all Soviet supply ships away from Cuban waters and agreeing to remove the missiles from Cuba's mainland. After several days of teetering on the brink of nuclear holocaust, the world breathed a sigh of relief.
Background of the Cuban Missile Crisis
Although it may seem that the events of the seven days between October 22 and 28 unfolded at a blinding pace, the entire incident -- which has come to be collectively known as the "Cuban Missile Crisis" -- was the culmination of a longer process. In June of 1961, while still in the early months of his presidency, Kennedy attended a summit with Premier Khrushchev in Vienna to discuss cold war confrontations between the east and west, in particular the situation in Berlin. The failure of the two leaders to resolve any of their differences during the summit led Khrushchev to view Kennedy as a weak president who lacked the power or support to negotiate any meaningful concessions in the arms race. Fueled by concerns that the U.S. had more nuclear missiles than the Soviet arsenal, and, more importantly, that some of the American missiles were based a mere 150 miles from its boarders, in Turkey, the Soviet leadership grew increasingly desperate to somehow tip the balance of power in its favor. The showdown in Cuba may indeed have been the result of such accumulating anxiety among the Soviet political elite.
Viewed in hindsight, it is not surprising that the Soviets chose Cuba as their stage of operations against the U.S. Ever since his rise to power in 1959, Cuban Premier Fidel Castro struggled to survive America's efforts to "encourage" his political demise. When General Castro came to power, the U.S. stopped buying Cuban sugar and refused to supply its former trading partner with much needed oil. After weathering the failed Bay of Pigs invasion by CIA-backed Cuban exiles in 1961, Castro observed as U.S. armed forces staged a mock invasion of a Caribbean island in 1962. The purpose of the invasion was to overthrow a leader whose name, Ortsac, was Castro spelled backwards. Although Ortsac was a fictitious name, Castro "got the message" and soon became convinced that the U.S. was serious about invading Cuba. Sensing an opportunity to gain a strategic foothold in America's "back yard," Khrushchev eagerly extended an offer of assistance to the desperate Cuban general. The Soviet Premier offered Castro new trade opportunities, to ease the effects of U.S. sanctions, and a promise of protection from U.S. hostilities. The cozy alliance which ensued between Castro and Khrushchev laid the ground for what culminated in a Soviet missile base in Cuba and ended in the Cuban missile crisis.
In October 1996, The John F. Kennedy Library released a set of tape recordings documenting the crisis for the period October 18 to 29, 1963. These recordings were made in the Oval Office. They include President Kennedy's personal recollections of discussions, conversations with his advisors, meetings with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and members of the president's executive committee.
We are releasing several tapes in this series now. The tapes are unedited and represent digital copies of the materials distributed by the Library. The recordings were made using early technology (Dictabelt and similar devices). Microphones and placement also add noise and distortion. In short, these recordings will prove challenging to some listeners. At first, the voices may sound like honking geese. But if you persevere, you will become a first-hand observer to one of the most important events of the cold war.
The 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis Timeline:
Monday, October 15: A U-2 reconnaissance aircraft, piloted by Richard Heyser, reveals several SS-4 nuclear missiles in Cuba.
Tuesday, October 16: After learning of the missiles during breakfast, President Kennedy convenes his Executive Committee (EX-COMM) to consider America's options.
Wednesday, October 17 - Friday, October 19: Amid scheduled campaign trips to Connecticut and the Midwest, President Kennedy meets with and advises Soviet Foreign Minister Andrie Gromyko that America will not tolerate Soviet missiles in Cuba. Gromyko denies the presence of any Soviet weaponry on the island. View a more detailed account of the Cuban Missile Crisis-October 18, 1962.
After an evening meeting, President Kennedy spends about four minutes recording his personal recollections of discussions that day. He states that opinions tended to move away from an air strike toward a blockade as the discussion evolved. Specifically he identifies former secretary of state Dean Acheson as an advocate of the air strike, former secretary of defense Robert Lovett as a supporter of the blockade and his national security adviser, McGeorge Bundy, as urging the US "to avoid playing the Soviet game" and take no military action at all while waiting for a Soviet response in Berlin. Kennedy affirms that there will be no declaration of war but rather a limited blockade for a limited purpose. He concludes that he will go ahead with his political speeches to maintain cover until the weekend. [Source: JFK Library release notes prepared by Sheldon M. Stern]
Friday, October 19: JFK meets with the secretary of defense, Robert McNamara, and the members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff before leaving on a scheduled campaign trip to Ohio and Illinois. View a more detailed account of the Cuban Missile Crisis-October 19, 1962.
Tape 31.2, October 19, 9:45 am: JFK discusses various military options and possible consequences with the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Joint Chiefs chairman General Maxwell Taylor states that the JCS was initially agreed on military action (air strike) along with the blockade. But, he expresses concern about the political impact especially on our alliances, while admitting that all the sites would probably not be destroyed [1:50].
JFK concludes that an air strike would give the USSR "a clear line" to take Berlin - the way they took Hungary after the 1956 Suez invasion. [3:30] He states that our allies would think of us as "trigger-happy Americans" who lost Berlin because we did not have the guts to endure the situation in Cuba. Cuba is 5,000 to 6,000 miles from Europe he argues, and "they don't give a damn about it... This is a very satisfactory position from their point of view." [4:10]
JFK states that an air strike would neutralize the missiles but would likely force the USSR to take Berlin "which leaves me only one afternative which is to fire nuclear weapons - which is a hell of an afternative - to begin a nuclear exchange." [5:15] "I don't think we have any satisfactory alternatives," JFK concludes, because the problem is not just Cuba but Berlin. If it were only Cuba it would be easy: "But if we do nothing, we will have problems in Berlin anyway. So, we have to do something." [6:50]
Air Force chief of staff General Curtis LeMay argues forcefully that the blockade and the political talks without accompanying military action will lead to war. He concludes that the Soviets won't take Berlin if we act in Cuba but will take it if we fail to act [8:30]. "This is almost as bad as the appeasement at Munich.... I just don't see any other solution except direct military intervention right now." [9:30]
JFK cites the fact that nations automatically expel diplomats if their own diplomats are expelled and concludes that if we take military action the USSR will have to as weIl. [10:25]
Several members of the JCS argue for military action and express fears that the blockade alone is a weak response which could lead to nuclear blackmail. [14:25] [Source: JFK Library release notes prepared by Sheldon M. Stern]
Saturday, October 20: Under the public guise of an "upper respiratory infection," President Kennedy returns to Washington from Chicago after being convinced by Robert Kennedy that he must meet again with EX-COMM to discuss, among other things, the discovery of additional Soviet missiles in Cuba.
Sunday, October 21: After learning that an air strike against the missile sites could result in 10-20 thousand casualties, and that another U-2 flight discovered bombers and cruise missile sites along Cuba's northern shores, President Kennedy decides on a naval blockade of Cuba. When confronted with questions regarding rumors of offensive weapons in Cuba, Kennedy asks the press not to report the story until after he address the American public.
Monday, October 22: Despite being urged by Senate leaders to call for air strikes, President Kennedy addresses the American public and announces his resolve to implement naval blockade only. U.S. military alert is set at DEFCON 3 and Castro mobilizes all of Cuba's military forces.
Tuesday, October 23: The Organization of American States unanimously supports the U.S. decision to quarantine Cuba and, by the end of the day, all naval vessels are in place. Stunning reconnaissance photos reveal that Soviet missiles are poised for launch. View a more detailed account of the Cuban Missile Crisis-October 23, 1962.
Tape 34.1 October 23, 10:00 am: Review of the latest intelligence from Cuba and the proclamation and implementation of the quarantine:
Robert Kennedy expresses irritation about the failure of US intelligence to discover the missiles earlier. "Now we are closing the barn door after the horse is gone." [1:52]
Discussion of how to handle the press - specific reporters to be briefed by specific ExComm members on a strictly off-the-record basis. [5:25]
McNamara indicates that a ship carrying offensive weapons will have to be stopped and perhaps disabled. (16:00) But Kennedy states that the Soviets will likely turn around such ships on their own to avoid a confrontation. [16:30]
JFK argues that the only way the placement of the missiles could have been prevented would have been by invading Cuba six months or one, two or even three years ago. "What we are doing," he says, "is throwing down a card on the table in a game which we don't know the ending of." [17:30]
McNamara reviews plans for destroying any SAM site which shoots down a U-2; JFK adds that when taking out the SAM site, the US should simultaneously announce that if another plane is brought down all the SAM sites would be destroyed. [21:00] When a U-2 is actually brought down by a missile from a SAM site four days later, JFK decides not to issue the order.
Bundy suggests that the president should delegate the authority to order an air strike against a SAM to the sec. of defense. JFK does not object but insists that there must be absolute verification that the plane was brought down by hostile military action and not as the result of an accident. [23:42]
Discussion of the need for hard photographic evidence to help convince the public especially, in Latin America, that the missiles are real. [32:19] [Source: JFK Library release notes prepared by Sheldon M. Stern]
Tape 34.1A-34.2, October 23, time unknown: Discussion of diplomatic efforts at the UN and the vote by the Organization of American States:
Discussion about possible Soviet responses to the quarantine especially in Berlin. President told that at a minimum the Russians will inspect our truck convoys more closely. JFK quickly concludes that "we ought to accept that" because "I don `t think we're in very good shape there" to fight over whether they inspect our trucks. [4:22]
After word is received of the OAS vote to support the blockade, Secretary of State Dean Rusk says: "My God...I think it was very significant that we were here this morning. We passed the one contingency-an immediate, sudden, irrational [nuclear] strike [by the USSR]." [14:32][Source: JFK Library release notes prepared by Sheldon M. Stern]
Tape 35.2, October 23, 6:00pm: Further analysis ofthe wording ofthe proclamation and the implementation of the quarantine, plus a review of world reaction to the president's speechand the latest low-level photo reconnaissance:
General agreement that if and when a ship has to be stopped and searched, it should be one we are reasonably sure is carrying offensive weapons and can be boarded outside the 500 mile range of Soviet MIGs in Cuba. [14:58]
Review of the wording of the quarantine proclamation to be issued by the president JFK notes that [t]he title states that our purpose is "to stop the introduction of Sino-Soviet offensive weapons into Cuba" He suggests dropping the words "Sino-Soviet" because it could "hit them harder to name them in a way which may not be desirable. It is more challenging than it needs to be."[17:35]. JFK's view was adopted and the final tide reads: "Interdiction of thedelivery of offensive weapons to Cuba." No one questions the Cold War assumption that monolithic communism is responsible for the missiles in Cuba and the term "Sino-Soviet powers" does appear in the text
JFK predicts a real fight including shooting in order to board and search a Soviet ship. Says we might have to shoot the rudder or even sink a ship-very dangerous and uncertain situation. [28:20] He suggests the Soviets might have hundreds of marines on board but Bundy says crews on these ships are small and a big fight unlikely. [29:00]
Laughter results when JFK talks about stopping and disabling a ship, towing it to a US port and finding it carried baby food. [29:25] McNamara says any ship to be towed would be seached first. [Source: JFK Library release notes prepared by Sheldon M. Stern]
Wednesday, October 24: Soviet ships reach the quarantine line, but receive radio orders from Moscow to hold their positions. View a more detailed account of the Cuban Missile Crisis-October 24, 1962.
Tape 36.1-36.1A, October 24, time unknown: Consideration of civil defense options and planning for possible Soviet responses in Berlin:
JFK concludes that if we invade in the next ten days, the missile base crews in Cuba will likely fire at least some of the missiles at US targets. He asks whether we could evacuate civilian populations from cities a few days before the invasion. [2:50] Response (voice unidentified) is that cities actually provide the best protection against radiation. [Source: JFK Library release notes prepared by Sheldon M. Stern]
Tape 36.2, October 24, 9:55 am: JFK and RFK talking alone before the next Excomm meeting about the strategic situation in Cuba and its political implications:
RFK (calling the president "Jack") mentions that General Lucius Clay has offered to return to Berlin where he had been the US commander during the 1948 Soviet blockade. RFK advises that it would be a bad idea to focus attention on Berlin at this time. JFK agrees and they decide to ask General Taylor to tell Clay to stand by over the next few days but not to go now. [1:42]
Discussion of the president's decision to take action in response to the Soviet missiles in Cuba. RFK says there was no choice, "you would have been impeached" and JFK responds, "That's what I think, I would have been impeached." [3:43] RFK concludes that the president could not have done less and that his judgment has now been supported by our allies and almost allthe OAS states.
The brothers talk about the political side of the crisis and Khrushchev's apparent willingness to embarrass the president before the upcoming congressional elections. JFK asks about the views of Soviet Embassy official Georgy Bolshakov, who had been used in the past in communications between JFK and Khrushchev. RFK reports that Bolshakov believes the ships will attempt to go through the quarantine and that "this is a defensive base for the Russians. It's got nothing to do with the Cubans." [4:53]
JFK derides Khrushchev's "horseshit about the elections, "presumably referring to earlier assurances by the USSR that there would be no political complications before November.[5:03] [Source: JFK Library release notes prepared by Sheldon M. Stern]
Tape 36.3, October 24, 10:00 am: Continued review of the impact of latest intelligence on thequarantine, world reaction, negotiations at the UN and possible developments on the high seas and in Berlin:
Detailed briefing on new reconnaissance photos from Cuba [6:55] and discussion of the need to disperse planes at Florida bases in the event of attacks by MIGs based in Cuba. [14:30]
McNamara talks of a very dangerous situation since ships approaching the quarantine line are being shadowed by a Soviet submarine. [19:19]
JFK questions what will happen if a US destroyer tries to board and search a ship and is then sunk by a Soviet submarine. [21:50] Kennedy then says "I think we ought to wait on that [boarding] today. We don't want to have the first thing we attack is a Soviet sub. I'd much rather have a merchant ship." [25:09]
JFK recommends placing Russian-speaking personnel on all ships at the quarantine line and is told by Bundy and McNamara that it is already being done. [27:48]
General Maxwell Taylor reviews the latest intelligence which suggests that many Soviet ships are turning around. JFK responds: "It seems to me we want to give that ship a chance to turn around. We don `t want the word to go out from Moscow to turn around and then suddenly we sink their ship. So I would think we ought...to wait to see if the ship continues on its course in view of this other intelligence." [41:37] [Source: JFK Library release notes prepared by Sheldon M. Stern]
Tape 37.1-37.2, October 24, 5:00 pm: Discussion of using intelligence data in public briefings. A meeting with congressional leaders and further review of potential implications of actions in and near Cuba on the status of Berlin:
Dean Rusk talks about Soviet uncertainty about "how to play this" given the intense US reaction and reads from a Khrushchev statement that the USSR will not take rash steps despite "unjustified" actions by the US. [11:09]
During a discussion with congressional leaders, Senate minority leader Everett Dirksen mention's Khrushchev's public request for a summit meeting to resolve the crisis. JFK and Dirksen agree that a summit at this time would be entirely useless. [19:20]
A participant, probably Senator Bourke Hickenlooper, asserts that congressional leaders should refuse to answer any questions from the press on the meeting. JFK replies that security from these meetings has thus far been awfully good. [35:45]
Tape 37.3, October 24, pm or possibly, October 25, am: Continuation of briefing for congressional leaders:
A participant, probably Senate majority leader Mike Mansfield, expresses his concern about the "congenital habit of overstating the ease as well as the results of an air strike. I don't think there is any such thing as one of these quick, easy and sanitary air strikes. There is no such thing as a small military action. Now the moment we start anything in this field, we have to be prepared to do everything." Urges careful analysis of Soviet intentions over the next few days before taking this critical step. [41:37]
Thursday, October 25: U.S. Ambassador Adlai Stevenson confronts the Soviets at the U.N. but they refuse to answer. American military forces are instructed to set DEFCON 2 - the highest ever in U.S. history. View a more detailed account of the Cuban Missile Crisis-October 25, 1962.
October 25: JFK responds to Khrushchev's letter of 10/24, noting that the USSR had repeatedly stated that offensive missiles would not be deployed in Cuba and expressing regret "that you still do not appear to understand what it is that has moved us in this matter...." The aircraft carrier Essex hails the Soviet tanker Bucharest and allows it to proceed to Cuba after being told that it was not carrying cargo covered by the quarantine. (Its hatches are too small to accommodate missiles.) UN Secretary General U Thant continues efforts to avoid the outbreak of hostilities by getting both sides to agree to a "cooling-off period." JFK rejects the plan because the missiles would remain in place. Ambassador Stevenson presents photographic evidence of the missiles at the UN. [Source: JFK Library release notes prepared by Sheldon M. Stern]
Tape 37.4, October 25, 10:00, Review of the movement of ships toward the quarantine line and potential US responses:
Brief discussion of the arrival of Fidel Castro's list of baby food, plasma and medicines as part of the continuing negotiations for release of the Bay of Pigs prisoners. (6:30)
JFK asks if there are any up-to-date intelligence reports on the status of Cuban morale and support for Castro. (8:00)
Lengthy discussion of the movement of the Bucharest. McNamara reports that it was hailed, responded that it was not carrying prohibited items, and is being shadowed by US destroyer. Must decide now if is to be boarded. Recommends establishing a pattern of aerial surveillance which looks like an air attack so that surprise could be maintained as long as possible if an air attack is eventually ordered. (15:52)
JFK raises the question of the political ramifications of letting the Bucharest pass through the quarantine.(24:30) Suggests that it might be worth giving the USSR "sufficient grace to get its instructions clear" or for the UN to reach an agreement. (27:00) The whole problem, JFK adds, "is to make a judgment based on Khrushchev's message to me last night" and the efforts at the UN. (28:58) Kennedy then recommends waiting 48 hours in the hope that "we can get something out of Khrushchev or the UN." (29:13) He asks what impression will they get if we let this one go? "What is the advantage of letting this one pass?" (31:30)
McNamara agrees with JFK's argument and states that the advantage is to avoid a shooting incident over a ship that is not carrying offensive weapons. (31:35)
This exchange confirms the claim made by RFK in Thirteen Days (1969) that JFK told his brother that given Khrushchev's tough letter of 10/24: "We don't want to push him to a precipitous action--give him time to consider. I don't want to put him in a corner from which he cannot escape." [Source: JFK Library release notes prepared by Sheldon M. Stern]
Tape 38.1, October 25, 10:00: Continued discussion from Tape 37.4 of possible American responses to the ships moving toward the quarantine line and further negotiations at the UN:
McNamara concludes: "I don't think we have weakened the forceful position that will lead to removal of the missile sites by letting the Bucharest through." (0:52)
JFK asserts that the quarantine has already been successful since the USSR has already turned back fourteen ships presumably carrying offensive weapons. (3:22)
But, JFK adds, "we've got to face up to the fact that we're going to have to grab a Russian ship. The question is whether it is better for that to happen today or tomorrow.' (3:38)
Bundy then observes that "Nothing in your speech requires you to stop any ship, even if it is found to contain offensive cargo we deem unacceptable. The way in which we define this is our business." (8:03)
Discussion of the negotiations at the UN. JFK says that we could lift the quarantine if the UN provides guarantees that no new offensive weapons would be introduced. That would make us seem less negative than if we say we won't lift it under any circumstances. (19:16)
Bundy and McNamara point out that the real issue is the removal of the existing missiles not the introduction of new ones. They argue that the quarantine should not be lifted without removal. (22:00)
Rusk explains that the plan being discussed at UN would put UN guarantees against new missiles into place as a substitute for the quarantine for only 2-3 weeks while negotiations continue for a permanent solution involving complete removal. (22:35)
McNamara then adds: "I don't see any way to get those weapons out of Cuba, never have thought we would get them out of Cuba, without the application of substantial force. The force we can apply is economic force and military force." (23:34)
JFK, describing the UN proposal, concludes: "This puts us in a reasonable stance." (25:06)
Former ambassador to Moscow, Llewellyn Thompson, then notes that his reading of Khrushchev's 10/24 letter suggests "Soviet preparation for resistance by force--that is--forcing us to take forceful action." (30:19)
McNamara wonders what we will do in the next 24 hours if there is no Soviet ship carrying offensive weapons which can be intercepted and construction of the missile sites also continues. He recommends spending the rest of the day planning escalation of the quarantine. (35:42)
JFK observes that the purpose of the quarantine is not to stop the delivery of the weapons since they are already there and that we will "have a showdown with the Russians of one kind or another." (37:32)
But, Kennedy adds,"We don't want to precipitate an incident" (39:27) "This is not the appropriate time to blow up a ship." (40:05)
Tape 38.2-38.2A, October 25, 10:00: Continuation of discussion of the implementation of the quarantine from Tape 38.1:
McNamara discusses a "passenger ship" carrying 1,500 industrial workers, including 550 Czech technicians and 25 East German students. He recommends allowing it to pass through the quarantine. (41:15)
JFK agrees but notes that we will have to "pick up some ship tomorrow" and prove "sooner or later that the blockade is reaL" (44:56) McNamara recommends stopping the tanker Grozny instead. (45:25)
Robert Kennedy then reopens the air strike discussion by arguing that a confrontation on the high seas might be more dangerous over the next few days and that we should instead "strike the missile sites in Cuba as a first step." (47:34) Treasury Secretary Douglas Dillon agrees with the "logic" of having a confrontation in Cuba rather than on the high seas. (48:10)
RFK argues that we have already proven that the blockade is serious and that we are being tough: "It's a hell of a thing, if you stop and think about it, that 15 ships have turned back. I don't really think we have any apologies to make." (52:36)
Walt Rostow, chair of the State Department Policy Planning Council, recommends adding POL (petroleum, oil and lubricants) to the embargo list and not having any confrontation for now. (54:26)
JFK agrees that we will have to add POL to the list or initiate the air strike because the work is continuing on the missile sites and we have to bring counter-pressures in order to avoid the appearance that "we're not doing anything." (56:34) [Source: JFK Library release notes prepared by Sheldon M. Stern]
Friday, October 26: EX-COMM receives a letter from Khrushchev stating that the Soviets would remove their missiles if President Kennedy publicly guarantees the U.S. will not invade Cuba. View a more detailed account of the Cuban Missile Crisis-October 26, 1962.
October 26: The CIA reports that the construction of the missile sites is continuing and accelerating. JFK asserts that only an invasion or trade for US missiles will break the impasse. He orders the State Department to make plans for the establishment of a civilian government in Cuba after an invasion. Planning also proceeds for massive air strikes against military targets in Cuba. A new public letter from Khrushchev outlines a possible deal to end the crisis. RFK meets secretly with Soviet Ambassador Dobrynin and agrees after a phone call to the president that the removal of US missiles from Turkey is negotiable as part of a comprehensive settlement.
Khrushchev receives a cable from Castro urging a nuclear first strike against the US in the event of an invasion of Cuba. [Source: JFK Library release notes prepared by Sheldon M. Stern]
Tapes 39.1 and 39. 1A, October 26, 10:00: Further discussion of the quarantine, potential US reactions on the high seas and the latest intelligence data as well as the possibility, of invading Cuba and establishing a new civil government. Detailed review of ongoing negotiations at the UN:
Bundy suggests that the president "reconstitute Mongoose as a subcommittee of this committee in an appropriate way." (0:57)
Discussion of a post-invasion Cuban government and the advantages of using Cuban exiles (such as doctors) in any invasion. (1:35) Bundy refers to "post-Castro Cuba" and recommends using the Mongoose organization in planning a new civil government for Cuba. (1:52)
Bundy also expresses concern about the need to accelerate civil defense measures without creating panic in the country. (5:06) Also notes that carrying out the invasion will mean consulting many more people in the government (outside of ExComm), will be much more complicated and will also require answering many questions from the press. (6:05)
Douglas Dillon again argues for an air strike against the missiles rather than a serious confrontation at sea. Says the former is directly related to Cuba and the missiles and the latter can take on a life of its own with grave international repercussions. (13:30)
JFK asks "Governor Stevenson," US ambassador to the United Nations, for his views on the negotiations at the UN. (47:47) Stevenson reports that U Thant is proposing a two-step plan: 1) a 2-3 day complete standstill on both sides (no ships moving toward Cuba, no further construction of the sites and no quarantine). The missiles would be kept inoperable rather than actually dismantled during these few days. 2) negotiations would then continue to dismantle and remove the missiles along with a guarantee of the territorial integrity of Cuba. He also adds that the other side may ask the US to dismantle the missile sites in Turkey and Italy as part of a settlement. (50:00)
These proposals are essentially identical to the agreement which RFK, speaking for the president, would propose to the Soviet ambassador late on 10/27 and Khrushchev would accept early on 10/28. However, the understanding concerning the removal of US missiles from Turkey would remain secret for several decades and was not included in the public announcement on 10/28.
CIA director John McCone dissents vigorously saying we should not drop the quarantine until these weapons, "pointed at our hearts," are removed. (53:31)
JFK responds: "Well now, the quarantine itself won't remove the weapons. So you only get two ways of removing the weapons: one is negotiate them out, in other words trade them out, and the other is to go in and take them out. I don't see any other way you're going to get the weapons out" (54:23) Kennedy then clarifies his position, stating that he is not, like Stevenson, advocating lifting the quarantine. But he repeats, "we have to all now realize that we are going to have to trade them out or go in and get them out." (54:58)
JFK concludes by saying that this discussion should provide important guidance for Governor Stevenson in the negotiations continuing at the UN. (1:04:30) [Source: JFK Library release notes prepared by Sheldon M. Stern]
Tape 40.0, parts 1 and 2, October 26, afternoon or evening (exact time unknown): Intelligence briefing by CIA director, further military planning and a discussion of the Sino/Indian war between JFK and the Indian ambassador to the US:
As McCone reviews the latest pictures of the missile sites, JFK asks if anyone has seen the London Times which claims that the United States has misread the photos and misidentified ground to air missiles as ICBMs. (1:20)
A photo intelligence analyst identifies one site, "we're not sure of it yet," with "frog" missiles, which "could be tactical nuclear weapons for fighting troops in the field." (8:40)
McCone expresses concern that they could have missiles pointing at us by tomorrow morning. (10:20) JFK states that if we invade, by the time we reach these sites"after a very bloody fight." they might be fired at us. He expresses doubts that we can get them out by diplomacy and raises the issue of whether they will be fired at us if we begin air strikes and/or an invasion. (11:03)
The remainder of the meeting deals with the Sino/Indian war. JFK, talking to the Indian ambassador, recommends, "as an anti communist to an anti-communist," that we should not let Khrushchev "sit this one out, urging peace and holding up your arms, pacifying the Chinese and at the same time maintaining his influence as a real friend of India, which he isn't." (26:45) "Khrushchev should give you equipment or be of some political help....We ought to be tougher on the Russians." (27:52) [Source: JFK Library release notes prepared by Sheldon M. Stern]
Saturday, October 27: While one U-2 spy plane accidentally flies into Russia, another is shot down over Cuba. EX-COMM receives a second letter from Khrushchev stating that, in addition to a public promise not to invade Cuba, the U.S. remove its missiles from Turkey. View a more detailed account of the Cuban Missile Crisis-October 27, 1962.
October 27: The CIA reports that five of the MRBM sites are now fully operational. A new message arrives from Khrushchev in which he expresses willingness to remove the missiles from Cuba under UN supervision in return for a US commitment to dismantle its missiles in Turkey. Kennedy tells the ExComm that going to war in the face of Khrushchev's offer to trade missiles would be "an insupportable decision." A U-2 plane is shot down over Cuba by a Soviet surface-to-air missile and the pilot is killed. JFK decides not to order an attack on the SAM site as agreed earlier [tape 34.1, 21:OO] but agrees to strike all the SAM sites if any additional planes are attacked.
Robert Kennedy meets again that evening with Ambassador Dobrynin and an agreement is reached: removal of the missiles from Cuba under UN supervision in return for a public pledge by the US not to invade Cuba and a secret US commitment to remove the missiles from Turkey within a reasonable time. JFK and Dean Rusk, without the knowledge of the Excomm, prepare a contingency plan later that evening in the event that the USSR rejects the terms negotiated by RFK and Dobrynin. JFK secretly authorizes UN secretary general U Thant to offer a UN-sponsored trade of the American missiles in Turkey for the Soviet missiles in Cuba with assurances of prompt US acceptance.
Tape 40.0, part 3, October 27, morning (exact time unknown): further discussion of military and diplomatic options for dealing with the Soviet missiles in Cuba:
Discussion of the arrival of the Grozny at the quarantine line. McNamara concludes that it is not carrying prohibited material but that it should nevertheless be stopped "using force if necessary." (34:34)
Discussion of maintaining aerial surveillance during the day and at night "keeping the heat on," since they are working 24 hours a day on the sites. (38:10)
After a ticker tape comes in saying that Khrushchev has offered publicly to trade the missiles in Cuba for the US missiles in Turkey, JFK argues that "we are going to be in an insupportable position on this matter if this becomes his proposal. In the first place, last year we tried to get the missiles out of there because they were not militarily useful - number 1. Number 2 - it's going to look to any man at the United Nations or any other rational man like a very fair trade." (41:42)
Kennedy continues: "I think you're going to find it very difficult to explain why we are going to take hostile military action in Cuba, against these sites, ...[when] the thing that he's saying is, 'If you'll get yours out of Turkey, we'll get ours out of Cuba.' I think we've got a very tough one here."(43:57) "I think you have to assume that this is their new and latest position and it's a public one." (44:23)
Discussion of whether the Soviets are moving on two different tracks - the public track offer of a straight trade and the private track offer which includes a demand for a US guarantee of the territorial integrity of Cuba. (45:00)
Bundy warns that if we accept the trade idea, "Our position will come apart very fast." (46:28)
JFK repeats that "you're going to find a lot of people thinking this is a rather reasonable position. Let's not kid ourselves." (48:11)
JFK insists that we must talk to the Turks to be sure that they don't issue a statement which is totally unacceptable. (1:12:42) Also must make sure they understand the peril they are in after we take action in Cuba. (1:13:22)
JFK recommends that we provide the Turks with some guidance but "These are American missiles, not Turkish missiles; they're under American control not Turkish control" (1:14:34) He then adds, "We cannot permit ourselves to be impaled on a long negotiating hook while the work goes on at these bases." (1:15:29) The UN must act immediately with the cooperation of the USSR to bring about a cessation of the work at these sites "and then we can talk about all these matters, which are very complicated." (1:15:45)
Kennedy expresses concern that we will have real problems in England and the continent because Khrushchev's proposal seems so reasonable and if we act in Cuba and the USSR responds in Berlin, many people will justify the Soviet move "on the grounds that we were wholly unreasonable. Most people would think that if you're allowed an even trade you ought to take advantage of it." (1:17:49)
Douglas Dillon seems to agree with JFK: "This Turkish thing has got to be thrown, you're quite right, Mr. President, into the overall European context; and you can bring in Berlin, I think its fine." (1:28:53) "The Turkish proposal opens the way to a major discussion toward relaxed tensions in Europe, including Berlin." (1:29:52)
One participant (unidentified) reacts: "If you mention that, you've lost the Germans." (1:30:09)
Tape 41A, 10/27, 10:00 (continuation of Tape 41.0); resumes at 4:00:
General Taylor reports that the JCS wants an air strike no later than Monday morning unless there is irrefutable evidence that the missiles are being dismantled. (14:08) RFK responds, "Gosh, I'm surprised!" resulting in a great deal of laughter. (14:36)
McNamara recommends more surveillance flights Monday morning with proper cover. If attacked, he insists, "we must attack back." (18:45)
News arrives that a U-2 has been shot down and the pilot killed. "This is much of an escalation by them, isn't it?," JFK concludes. How can we put more U-2 pilots over Cuba, he asks, unless "we take out all the SAM sites." (30:09) Kennedy seems ready for a reprisal strike without any prior warning. (33:30) (See October 27 summary.]
JFK reopens the discussion of trading the missiles in Turkey. McNamara insists that the case should be made that this is not so much a trade as a way of preventing a Soviet military attack on a NATO member nation. (52:58)
McNamara says that if reconnaissance flights are fired upon tomorrow that means air strikes and "almost certainly an invasion." (59:03)
[Apparently JFK is no longer in the room at this point in the discussion.]
Vice President Lyndon Johnson responds: "If you're willing to give up your missiles in Turkey - why don't you...make the trade there and save all the invasion, lives and everything else?" (1:02:10)
George Ball also argues for making the trade openly with the USSR to avoid "enormous casualties and a great, great risk of escalation." (1:03:35)
McNamara: "Max [General Maxwell Taylor] is going back to work out the surveillance plan for tomorrow with the Chiefs as to how much cover we need and so on. We're just going to get shot up sure as hell. There's no question about it. We're going to have to go in and shoot." (1:07:15)
McCone responds: "I'd take these Turkish things out right now" but also tell Khrushchev firmly that if they fire at our planes again "in we come." (1:08:22)
McNamara denounces Khrushchev's Oct 26 letter: "Hell, that's no offer. There's not a damned thing in it that's an offer. You read that message carefully. He didn't propose to take the missiles out....It's twelve pages of fluff." (1:09:30)
LBJ questions the value of the surveillance flights: "I've been afraid of these damned flyers ever since they mentioned them...some crazy Russian captain...might just pull a trigger. Looks like we 're playing Fourth of July over there. I'm scared of that and I don't see what you get for that photograph. ... Psychologically you scare them. Well hell, its like the fellow always telling me in Congress, 'Go on and put the monkey on his back.' Every time I tried to put a monkey on somebody's else's back, I got one. If you're going to try to psychologically scare them...you're liable to get your bottom shot at." (1:33:00)
Tape 42.0, October 27, 4:00 (continuation of Tape 41A); resumes at 9:00:
Ambassador Thompson suggests that "These boys are beginning to give way. Let's push harder. I think they'll change their minds when we take significant forceful action - stopping a ship or taking out a SAM site." (6:21)
When Dillon discusses the choice between taking out one SAM site or all of them, LBJ says: "You warhawks ought to get together," (and laughs). (7:30)
Thompson concludes that the USSR "has put up the price ...and escalated" and US willingness to discuss the Turkey-Cuba missile trade is "a further sign of weakness." (15:16)
LBJ adds: Khrushchev is saying, "I'm going to dismantle the foreign policy of the US for the last 15 years in order to let you get these missiles out of Cuba. And we say, we're glad and we appreciate it and we want to discuss it with you." (15:55)
[JFK returns to the meeting]
Thompson restates his opposition to the Turkish trade. (20:47) Kennedy reiterates the McNamara proposal - tell the Turks that they would be safer if the US missiles are eliminated before an attack on Cuba and replaced by Polaris missiles. (22:35)
JFK states: "We can't very well invade Cuba with all its toil...when we could have gotten them out by making a deal on the same missiles in Turkey. If that's part of the record then I fear we won't have a very good war." (27:30)
The meeting resumes later in the evening with further discussion of surveillance flights over Cuba. McNamara declares "I think the point is that if our planes are fired on tomorrow, we ought to fire back" (41:16)
JFK disagrees: "I think we ought to wait till tomorrow afternoon" to see if U Thant makes any progress. "If tomorrow they fire at us...we ought to put a statement out...if we don't get some satisfaction from the Russians or U Thant or Cuba tomorrow night, figure that Monday we're going to do something about the SAM sites." (41:42)
The discussion returns to the ships approaching the quarantine line. JFK states that "if they're firing tomorrow" at US surveillance planes then we should inform U Thant that if this ship is not called back "the confrontation must take place." (47:42)
[NOTE: THE TAPE ENDS PREMATURELY. WE ARE LOCATING A REPLACEMENT COPY TO COMPLETE THE REMAINDER OF TAPE 42.O] Further discussion of NATO and the Turkish trade proposaL JFK states that "if we take action... which we may well have to take the way its escalating, if they [USSR] hit Turkey and they hit Berlin...if they [NATO] want to get off, now's the time to speak up." (1:00:20)
RFK also urges putting off military action for 24 hours; "One day -I can 't believe it's going to make that much difference. ... I think you've got to give them a chance." (1:02:50) If they decide "to hold fast...then on Tuesday we go in." (1:04:00)
McNamara insists that we need "to have two things ready, a government for Cuba...and plans for how to respond to the Soviet Union in Europe, because sure as hell they're going to do something there." (1:18:45)
As the meeting breaks up, an unidentified speaker jests, "Suppose we make Bobby mayor of Havana." (1:19:30)
Sunday, October 28: In a speech aired on Radio Moscow, Khrushchev announces the dismantling of Soviet missiles in Cuba and does not insist on his demands concerning the removal of U.S. missiles from Turkey. The crisis is over.
The CIA's early morning intelligence update concludes that Soviet technicians have completed the work necessary to make all the MRBM sites fully operational. Radio Moscow announces that the Soviet Union has accepted the proposed solution and releases the text of a Khrushchev letter confirming the details. JFK suspends U-2 air surveillance over Cuba and orders that no military action be taken against ships approaching the quarantine line. Several members of the Joint Chiefs warn of possible Soviet deception and urge the president to reconsider air strikes against the missile sites. Fidel Castro, furious over the fact that he was not consulted before Khrushchev's decision, refuses to allow UN inspection of the dismantling of the missile bases.
Monday, October 29: JFK orders US ships to remain on the quarantine line and authorizes continuation of low-level reconnaissance flights. Soviet deputy premier Vasily Kuznetsov meets with U Thant to work out details for the removal of the missiles from Cuba. Citing Khrushchev's October 28th letter agreeing to remove "those weapons you describe as offensive," JFK decides that until the Soviets remove the IL-28 nuclear bombers, which the US has classified as "offensive weapons," the quarantine cannot be lifted. View a more detailed account of the Cuban Missile Crisis-October 29, 1962.
Tape 43.0, October 29, 10:00: Discussion of the latest intelligence and the need for verification of Khrushchev's offer to remove the missiles from Cuba:
JFK reads statement announcing the creation of a coordinating committee, chaired by John McCloy of the US Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, "to give full time and attention to the matters involved in the conclusion of the Cuban crisis." (22:53)
Rusk argues for continuing surveillance today while waiting for developments in the discussions with Kuznetsov at the UN before making any further decisions. (23:30)
JFK states that the committee must immediately address the question of how to maintain satisfactory intelligence about Cuba since "we can't rely on the UN to do it." (24:45) Discussion of making US planes available to the UN for surveillance. (25:20)
Rusk recommends that surveillance and the quarantine remain in effect until UN machinery can effectively replace them "because if we give up that point we may be subject to a massive trick here." (33:17)
Some discussion of whether U-2 flights are technically capable of revealing any Soviet effort to hide some of the missiles in Cuba. (40:20)
Kennedy insists that only continued aerial photography can prove whether the missile sites are actually being dismantled ‹ notwithstanding U Thant's upcoming inspection trip to Cuba. U Thant, he insists, "doesn't know what the hell to look for anymore than I would." (49:13)
Discussion of the continued Soviet presence in Cuba. JFK concludes that "we just have to watch and if they continue this conventional buildup into Cuba then we just have to draw conclusions from that So I think we just stay on it." (1:06:49)
Kennedy notes that it is difficult to trust the Soviets since they apparently deceived their own ambassador to the US about the missiles. "So now he's liquidated as a source. Nobody believes him anymore. And the chances are he probably didn't know."(1:07:24)
JFK expresses the hope that we can use this moment to initiate a "decent deal in Berlin" since it is our most "paralyzing" problem. (1:13:45)
Kennedy expresses support for Ambassador Adlai Stevenson's leadership at the UN, declaring that "Adlai is in charge up there.... George Ball represents the State Department at the UN and John McCloy is Adlai's assistant." (1:18:40)
As he is about to leave the room, the president calls his secretary, Evelyn Lincoln, to discuss having commemorative calendars made for that month of October, with the dates of the crisis highlighted, as gifts for the members of Excomm.
November 21: Just over a month after the crisis began, JFK terminates the quarantine when Khrushchev agrees after several weeks of tense negotiations at the UN to withdraw Soviet IL-28 nuclear bombers from Cuba. Three decades later a Soviet military official would reveal that mobile tactical nuclear weapons [see Tape 40.0, part 1] and more than 40,000 Soviet troops were in place in Cuba for use in the event of an American invasion.Prepared by Jerry Goldman and Giel Stein.