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U.S. Ambassador Adlai Stevenson, seated at right, describes aerial photographs of launching sites for intermediate range missiles in Cuba during an emergency session of the United Nations Security Council Oct. 25, 1962, at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis. (AP)
U.S. Ambassador Adlai Stevenson, seated at right, describes aerial photographs of launching sites for intermediate range missiles in Cuba during an emergency session of the United Nations Security Council Oct. 25, 1962, at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis. (AP)

Cuban Missile Crisis: 50 years ago, the world held its breath for two weeks Add to ...

“Given his belief in the inevitability of a U.S. invasion, Castro’s focus on Armageddon is not a nightmare, but a kind of dream. After centuries of irrelevance, Cuba. will matter fundamentally to the fate of the human race,” the authors write.

That sort of megalomania seems more dangerous than the nuclear weapons. Mr. Castro emerges as a nightmare, for both the U.S. and Soviet leaders.

For Mr. Kennedy, dogged by the failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion the previous year, looking weak in the face of Communist expansion represents the gravest danger to his presidency. As for the Soviet premier, The Armageddon Letters reveals his darkest moments come when he realizes his Cuban client is out of control.

Mr. Blight and Ms. Lang write: “This is not a normal situation, with both superpowers poised on the brink of nuclear war. [Khrushchev] becomes convinced at that moment that the situation in Cuba is slipping out of control – out of his control and out of Kennedy’s control. If today a Soviet general violated standing orders and shot down an unarmed U.S. spy plane, then perhaps tomorrow the same general, or another general, might violate standing orders and launch a strategic missile at the United States, thus initiating Armageddon.”

The Cuban Missile Crisis Timeline: “The 13 Days”

The 13-day Cuban Missile Crisis, also known as the October Crisis, spanned from Monday, Oct. 16 until Sunday, Oct. 28. It began when photos take via 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: 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.

Thursday, October 18: After an evening meeting, President Kennedy spends about four minutes recording his personal recollections of discussions that day. He states that throughout EX-COMM’s discussions, most argued for an air strike against Cuba, but says opinions tended to move away from that after discussion of a blockade was brought up.

Friday, October 19: Unwillingly, Kennedy departs Washington for scheduled campaign speeches in the Midwest and West Coast.

Saturday, October 20: Under the public excuse of an "upper respiratory infection," President Kennedy returns to Washington from Chicago after being told by Robert Kennedy of the discovery of additional Soviet missiles in Cuba. Throughout EX-COMM's discussions, they strongly argue for an air strike and invasion of Cuba.

Sunday, October 21: After learning that an air strike against the missile sites could result in 10,000 – 20,000 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 rumours of offensive weapons in Cuba, Kennedy asks the press not to report the story until after he addresses 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 decision to implement a naval blockade only. U.S. military alert is set at DEFCON 3 and Castro mobilizes all of Cuba's military forces. Kennedy sends a letter to Khrushchev.

Tuesday, October 23: By the end of the day, all naval vessels are in place, forming a 500 mile circle around Cuba. Stunning reconnaissance photos reveal that Soviet missiles are poised for launch.

Wednesday, October 24: Soviet ships reach the blockade line, but receive radio orders from Moscow to hold their positions. United States and Soviet warships are literally just a few hundred yards apart, each pointing their weapons at one another. American military forces are instructed to set DEFCON 2 - the highest ever in U.S. history.

Thursday, October 25: U.S. representative Adlai Stevenson confronts the Soviets at a United Nations conference, but the Soviet representative refuses to answer.

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.

Saturday, October 27: A new letter from Khrushchev arrives, proposing a public trade of Soviet missiles in Cuba for U.S. missile in Turkey. An American U-2 is shot down over Cuba killing the pilot, Major Rudolf Anderson. U-2 accidentally strays into Soviet airspace near Alaska nearly being intercepted by Soviet fighters. Kennedy writes Khrushchev a letter stating that he will make a statement that the U.S. will not invade Cuba if Khrushchev removes the missiles from Cuba.

Sunday, October 28: In a speech aired on Radio Moscow, Khrushchev announces the dismantling of Soviet missiles in Cuba. The crisis is over.

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