On this day in 1962, President John F. Kennedy records his impression of the day’s meetings regarding the recently discovered presence of Soviet ballistic missiles on the island of Cuba. The ensuing Cuban Missile Crisis brought America to the brink of nuclear war.
Beginning on October 15, U.S. spy planes captured photographic evidence that the Soviet Union was installing missile sites on Cuba. On October 18, Kennedy, in a tired and methodical voice, after a long day of high-level secret meetings, recorded his recollection of each of his advisor’s opinions on the issue. Kennedy had first suggested making a direct military strike against Cuba, but several of his advisors, including his brother, Attorney General Robert Kennedy, reminded the president that such a strike would not only result in the deaths of thousands of innocent Cubans, but would probably incite the Russians to retaliate by bombing democratic West Berlin. By the end of the day, Kennedy had decided to abandon the idea of a military strike, and focus instead on a naval blockade of Cuba.
The blockade began October 21 and, the next day, Kennedy delivered a public address alerting Americans to the situation in Cuba and calling on Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev to remove the missiles or face retaliation by the United States. Khrushchev responded by sending more ships—possibly carrying military cargo—toward Cuba and by allowing construction at the sites to continue. Over the following six days, the Cuban Missile Crisis brought the world to the brink of global nuclear war while the two leaders engaged in tense negotiations via telegram and letter.
By October 28, Kennedy and Khrushchev had reached a settlement and people on both sides of the conflict breathed a collective but wary sigh of relief. The Cuban missile sites were dismantled and, in return, Kennedy agreed to close U.S. missile sites in Turkey.