Critical Facts about the Cuban Missile Crisis

Cuban Missile Crisis

Leaders from the three countries that featured during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. From left to right: Nikita Khrushchev (the U.S.S.R.), Fidel Castro (Cuba), and John F. Kennedy (the U.S.).

After curtains drew on the bloody days of World War II, a cold and bitter war (the Cold War) erupted between the United States and the Soviet Union (the USSR). Both countries, at the time, were vying for global dominance in virtually every facet of human life. One crucial aspect of the Cold War involved the issue of nuclear weapons and missiles. Many countries all over the world braced themselves for the possibility of a third world war as the U.S. and the Soviets had a showdown over missile positioning in Cuba. The Cuban Missile Crisis, as it is commonly referred to, was the closest the Soviets and the Americans got to destroying each other. And without a shred of doubt, they would certainly have taken the entire world down with them. The following are all the critical facts that you need to know about the Cuban Missile Crisis:

One Soviet Officer’s Decision Saved the World

On the fateful day of 27th October 1962, the Cold War nearly ignited into a full-scale and all-out war. A nuclear-armed Soviet submarine on its way to Cuba encountered aggression from a US Destroyer. At that dangerous location, the crew of the Russian sub couldn’t tell whether the war had started or not. But they readied themselves to launch torpedoes. Fortunately enough, one crew member (Vasili Arkhipov) of the Soviet submarine failed to authorize the attack. To this day, Vasili’s decision not to fire is hailed by many as what saved the world from a nuclear conflict, perhaps nuclear annihilation.

The U.S. Planned to Invade Cuba

When Fidel Castro took revolutionary actions and came to power in 1959, he and Che Guevara disliked US policies. US-Cuba diplomatic relations were cut off when America realized that Castro allied Cuba to the Soviet Union. Then-president of the U.S., Dwight D. Eisenhower planned to invade Cuba in what was called “Bay of Pigs Invasion“. America worked tirelessly to support Cuban exiles to topple Fidel Castro’s government.

The plan flopped as Castro’s army fought back the insurgents. When Fidel Castro realized that the U.S. was hell-bent on removing him from office, he sought military hardware and assistance from the Soviet Union. Cuba signed secret deals with the Soviets. As part of the agreements, the Soviets built and operated Soviet missile sites in Cuba.

What the U.S. Surveillance Plane Revealed about the Missiles Stationed in Cuba

When bad blood developed between the US and Cuba, America flew spy planes to watch and capture activities in Cuba.  In October 1962, while conducting its intelligence-gathering flight, an American U-2 plane captured photographic evidence of Soviet missile facilities in Cuba. This revelation brought light to the Cuban Missile Crisis. The site of installation was a stone throw from US land; America was innocently sleeping in hell.  Let’s see how J.F. Kennedy intervened, after receiving the information.

How President John F. Kennedy handled the Cuban Missile Crisis

After being tipped about the Soviet weapons under development in Cuba, J.F. Kennedy was utterly dismayed at the move. Even though the Cold War was real, America least expected the Soviets to go that far. In any case, Kennedy knew that immediate counter actions were supposed to be taken.

In order not to risk precious lives, he sought a peaceful approach to the resolution of the missile crisis. The president set up an advisory committee known as “ExComm” to help him in the decision-making process. A lot of options came to the table, including a military airstrike at the missile site (but that was considered too hostile and risky). The ExComm also came up with another peaceful alternative approach to the crisis – they suggested a quarantine (a blockade). The quarantine line announced by Kennedy on 22nd October served to block the Soviets from further transporting missile equipment to Cuba.

Diplomatic Negotiations

Cuban Missile Crisis

Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev (left) meeting with the U.S. President John F. Kennedy.

The heat of the crisis lasted about 13 days, during which a lot of negotiations kept the two factions at close contact with each other. Judging from the destructive capabilities of the armies of both countries, a little mistake in the decision was bound to trigger a devastating nuclear conflict. There was a direct exchange of messages between the U.S. and the Soviet authorities. In the end, the two sides took a compromise because it was a clear case of mutual-assured annihilation. Simply put, no side could have come out of attack the same.

The Soviet Concessions during the Crisis

After days of reasoning and negotiation, Nikita Khrushchev of the Soviet Union made an important announcement on 28th October. In a deal, he agreed to put a stop to Soviet missile programs in Cuba. The Soviets also promised to remove their installed missiles from Cuba.

The Concessions made by the U.S.

The nuclear-armed Jupiter intermediate-range ballistic missile.

A U.S. nuclear-armed Jupiter intermediate-range ballistic missile was just one of the numerous in the U.S. arsenal.

On his part, JFK pledged not to invade Cuba, provided the Cubans didn’t directly provoke America. But America also had nuclear missile installations in Turkey and Italy. As part of the deal, President Kennedy secretly assured the Soviets that America would withdraw all U.S. missiles in Turkey.

The Outcome of the Agreements

As the world sat on a ticking time bomb of nuclear warfare, there came a huge sigh of relief as the two countries started fulfilling their promises. The Soviets transported back their missiles. America also complied with their agreements.

How about Cuba’s Fidel Castro? Well, reportedly, he was not much impressed with the manner in which the Soviets backed down. In any case, Castro had no authority or say in how things should have panned out between the U.S. and the Soviets. But at least, he was probably grateful that the war didn’t ignite, lest Cuba would have been annihilated.


Soviet Troops Were Stationed in Cuba

Upon closer analysis of the Cuban Missile Crisis, one might come to the conclusion that Nikita Khrushchev and the Soviets were more prepared for war than F. Kennedy. Aside from the presence of Soviet missiles in Cuba, there were an estimated 40k Soviet military men in Cuba– something that the US was completely oblivious to. It was virtually impossible for the U.S. to have known because the Soviet soldiers disguised themselves as Cuban civilians. The Soviet used “Maskirovka” to beat US intelligence, by way of denying and deceiving Americans about their operations in Cuba.

The Aftermath of the Cuban Missile Crisis

The world luckily rose above a nuclear conflict after the Cuban Missile Crisis was peacefully resolved between the two superpowers. The crisis has been singled out as the closest war event that nearly exploded the Cold War into a hot war.

Back in the U.S., President Kennedy was admired as a hero, for his rightful handling of the crisis. The Russians were, however, very disappointed in their leader, partly because of how he handled the crisis. As a result, Nikita Khrushchev lost power in 1964.

To prevent future misunderstandings, a direct telephone line (hotline) was made active for the Kremlin and Washington authorities. After narrowly escaping a nuclear war, the two nations began to appreciate the valuable lives of their citizens. Treaties were signed to gradually limit nuclear activities and nuclear weapons stockpile of the two nations, especially during the Ronald Reagan administration.

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