1962: World On The Brink
On October 16, 1962, U.S President John F. Kennedy received a call from his National Security Advisor. A U.S spy plane had captured photographs of a secret Russian missile base in Cuba with nuclear weapons aimed at the United States. Kennedy was taken by surprise. How did the country's elite CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) miss the early signs? How did a mid-range ballistic missile make its way from Russia to Cuba?
As the world marks the 50th anniversary of the Cuban missile crisis, we look at this historical event. Fortunately for us, President Kennedy had been secretly recording his conversations. These tapes shed light on the 13-day crisis that followed which saw the two sides come to the brink of nuclear war.
The World In 1962
World War II had ended in 1945. The countries involved were reeling from the effects and working hard to rebuild all that they had lost. After the war, the US and Soviet Union, despite having been allies in the war, disagreed in philosophy -- the democratic US strongly opposed to the communist Soviet Union. Each side amassed nuclear weapons, and mistrust between the two reached its highest level.
Meanwhile, in 1959, Fidel Castro and his band of revolutionaries overthrew Cuba's dictatorial government. To the disappointment of the US, Castro ushered in an era of communism in Cuba and aligned with Russia. The Bay of Pigs invasion in April, 1961 -- an attempt by Cuban exiles in the U.S to overthrow the government of Fidel Castro with help from the U.S government, turned out unsuccessful.
Russia's answer to the U.S action was to start building a missile base in Cuba. And the first medium range ballistic missiles started arriving in September 1962.
The Thirteen Days
President Kennedy formed a secret task force to figure out an appropriate response. An attack might trigger a nuclear attack by Russia. At the same time, Kennedy did not want to alarm the country and went about his social obligations as President. In the end, the U.S chose to form a military blockade -- a ring of ships around Cuba, that prevented the Soviets from bringing in more military supplies.
On October 22, President Kennedy announced the missile crisis and the military blockade to the world in a televised address. Six days and several negotiations later, the Soviets under President Nikita Khruschev agreed to dismantle the base. In return, the U.S agreed to not invade Cuba, and remove its long range missiles from a base in Turkey. A devastating war that could have killed millions, had been averted.
Cuba has come a long way in the last 50 years. As we had written here, the country has opened its doors to economic progress, even though politically the government remains communist. Recently Cuba has gone one step further -- last week, the government announced that most citizens can freely travel outside the country without the need for an exit visa.