Nuclear nightmare: the Cuban missile crisis

The Cuban Missile Crisis, a tense 13-day standoff between the US and the Soviet Union over the placement of nuclear missiles in Cuba, took place in October 1962. Arguably the most dangerous confrontation the world has faced, the crisis occurred at the height of Cold War tensions. More than 50 years on, Mark White re-examines the conduct of the president John F Kennedy and his brother Robert, attorney general of the United States…

JFK prepares to sign the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty with the Soviet Union. (Picture by Corbis/Getty Images)

The reaction of Robert Kennedy, attorney general of the United States, when he learned on Tuesday, 16 October 1962, that Soviet nuclear missiles had been deployed in Cuba, just 90 miles off the coast of Florida, was understandable: “Oh shit! Shit! Shit! Those sons of bitches Russians.”

In both public and private, Russian officials had assured their American counterparts that the Soviet military build-up in Cuba that had begun in the summer was no threat to the United States, because it would not include nuclear missiles capable of striking American territory. In fact, Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev had decided in the spring to dispatch nuclear weapons to Cuba for a variety of reasons.

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