Cuban Missile Crisis: October 19, 1962

Speaker: John F Kennedy
Delivered On: 10/19/1962
Place: Washington, D.C.
Subject: Cuban Missile Crisis, 1962. United
States — Foreign relations — Soviet Union.
Audio/Video Available:

Description: See resource for
October 18, 1962
for brief description of the Cuban Missile crisis and timeline
up to this date.

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.
Summary of conversations:

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 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.”

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.”

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.”

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]

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