|Cuban Missile Crisis - Happy Halloween|
On the evening of Oct. 22, 1962, President John F. Kennedy appeared live on TV and radio to deliver some words that would give America and the rest world, for that matter, the worst Halloween scare before or since.
This government, as promised, has maintained the closest surveillance of the Soviet military buildup on the island of Cuba. Within the past week, unmistakable evidence has established the fact that a series of offensive missile sites is now in preparation on that imprisoned island. The purpose of these bases can be none other than to provide a nuclear strike capability against the Western Hemisphere." -- John F. Kennedy, Oct. 22, 1962 [Read President Kennedy's entire address]
This was how we first learned of the Cuban Missile Crisis. By the next day, American kids were being trained to hunker down under tiny plywood school desks where they would be protected from an atomic bomb blast. We still had a lot to learn about the end of the world.
Who started this?
The crisis really started on Jan. 1, 1959, when Fidel Castro officially took control of Cuba after leading a successful revolt against General Fulgencio Batista.
In October of 1959, The U.S. began setting up 15 nuclear-tipped Jupiter missiles along Turkey's border with the Soviet Union. Days later, Soviet Premier Khrushchev recommended the deployment of similar Soviet missiles in Cuba.
Given Castro's bent to become a Soviet-style Communist leader favored by Khrushchev, relations between Cuba and the US went down hill. We tried and failed to kill Castro, we tried and failed to invade Castro's Island at the Bay of Pigs, and by early 1961, had cut off all trade and diplomatic relations with Castro.
We probably should have know something bad was at hand on Oct. 8, 1962, when Cuban President Dorticós told the General Assembly of the U.N., "If we [Cuba] are attacked, we will defend ourselves. I repeat, we have sufficient means with which to defend ourselves; we have indeed our inevitable weapons, the weapons which we would have preferred not to acquire and which we do not wish to employ."
What did Dorticós mean by "inevitable weapons"?
Early in the morning of Oct. 14, 1962, US Air Force Major Richard Heyser found out when cameras inside his U2 spy plane took pictures of Soviet medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM) sites being constructed in Cuba.
For the next month we watched Kennedy, Castro and Khrushchev play "Truth or Dare" with our lives. But everything worked out fine. Castro sent the missiles back to Khrushchev, we sent Elian Gonzales back to Castro and just last week the US Senate approved a bill that will allow the sale of US food and medicine to Cuba for the first time in over 40 years. Ah, us and Castro, friends at last. Right?
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Read More on the Cuban Missile Crisis?
For a complete chronology of the Cuban Missile Crisis as recreated from recently declassified government records, see the Cuban Missile Crisis - Chronology of Events from the National Security Archive of George Washington University.
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