October marks the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis, a tense 13 day period in 1962 during which the U.S., Russia and Cuba balanced on the verge of war.
Those two weeks were "the most dangerous moments the world has ever faced, either before or since – the closest we came to nuclear destruction," historian and journalist Michael Dobbs told the Associated Press.
Back to 1962. An American spy plane had discovered Soviet ballistic missile sites in Cuba with the ability to launch nuclear warheads that could hit the U.S. mainland without much warning. After more than a week of negotiations, U.S. President John F. Kennedy and Russian Premier Khrushchev agreed to a deal in which Russia promised to remove the missiles from Cuba and the U.S. guaranteed it would not invade the island. The U.S. also agreed to remove missiles from Turkey, a part of the agreement that was kept secret.
On October 28, Khrushchev announced on Soviet radio: “The Soviet government in addition to previously issued instructions on the cessation of further work at the building sites for the weapons, has issued a new order on the dismantling of the weapons which you describe as offensive and their return to the Soviet Union.”
'Clouds Over Cuba,' a new documentary film, chronicles the context and events of the crisis. "At the Kremlin, the crisis is seen as a critical defeat. The Soviets sting not just from the loss of the strategic advantage in Cuba, but from the perception around the world that they are the “losers” in the confrontation. Khrushchev personally takes much of the blame. However, in many ways, it is his humanity that is most apparent in the communications between the two super powers," the film analyzes.
'The project' collected over 175 historical photos, videos and documents that detail the crisis.
Relive those suspensful 13 days with some of the project's best photos in the slideshow below. (*Captions by Clouds Over Cuba)
Check out the interactive documentary 'Clouds Over Cuba' here or watch the trailers in the videos below.
In January 1959, after nearly six years of guerilla war, Castro seizes control of Cuba from the corrupt Batista regime. Later that year, Castro’s visit to America is generally friendly. The U.S. government remains cautiously optimistic that differences with the new regime can be worked out. But these hopes would prove unfounded.
Premier Nikita Krushchev and his communist government grow increasingly unsettled as the U.S. expands its nuclear forces across Western Europe – placing ballistic missiles in Britain, Italy and Turkey.
February, 1961. The botched Bay of Pigs operation is a major embarrassment for the Kennedy administration. The attack pushes Castro closer to the Soviets, as Khrushchev steps in and vows to protect Cuba from US aggression.
October 16th, 1962. National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy presents President Kennedy with definitive photographic evidence of Soviet missiles on Cuban soil.
Kennedy secretly tapes the ExComm meetings, using a hidden recorder known only to the President and his brother Robert.
President Kennedy addresses the nation, revealing the existence of Soviet missiles in Cuba. During the televised speech, U.S. military forces are placed on heightened alert, from DEFCON 4 to DEFCON 3 – one step closer to war.
Crowds of protestors converge on U.S. embassies around the world as public opinion turns against the United States. The blockade is seen to be aggravating the situation, pushing the world one step closer to nuclear war.
To swing international support to their side, the US Ambassador Adlai Stevenson presents photographic evidence to the UN security council and challenges the Soviet delegate to explain.
A U-2 is shot down over Cuba, killing Major Rudolph Anderson. It is almost certain that Soviet SAMs knocked down the aircraft. U.S. military leaders urge the President to immediately retaliate with air strikes. But Kennedy suspects the missile launch was against direct orders from Khrushchev.
Khrushchev offers to remove the missiles from Cuba in return for a U.S. guarantee that Cuba will not be invaded. Then, the following morning Khrushchev delivers a radio address with an offer to the U.S. that conflicts with the previous one. There is an additional demand – the removal of U.S. missiles from Turkey. Despite opposition from each and every other member of the ExComm, JFK decides to accept Khrushchev’s proposal, but demands that the removal of U.S. missiles in Turkey be kept secret.
Khrushchev accepts Kennedy’s offer, and announces his decision over Soviet radio. “The Soviet government in addition to previously issued instructions on the cessation of further work at the building sites for the weapons, has issued a new order on the dismantling of the weapons which you describe as offensive and their return to the Soviet Union.” U.S. removal of its missiles from Turkey would remain a secret for a quarter-century.
At the Kremlin, the crisis is seen as a critical defeat. The Soviets sting not just from the loss of the strategic advantage in Cuba, but from the perception around the world that they are the “losers” in the confrontation. Khrushchev personally takes much of the blame. However, in many ways, it is his humanity that is most apparent in the communications between the two super powers.
For President Kennedy, the crisis marks a pivotal moment in his legacy. His handling of the crisis is marked not simply by a willingness to meet aggression with aggression, but rather by his skill in avoiding conflict. His decision to give up the U.S. missiles in Turkey and Italy, despite the opposition of every single one of his advisors, shows Kennedy’s commitment to peace, rather than a belligerent victory.