This is the day in 1962 that we went to DEFCON 3 for the first time ever. Not thanks to Matthew Broderick, but because Krushchev would not take his missiles out of Cuba.
While John F Kennedy spoke to the nation about the missile crisis, the military raised the DEFCON level.
Given that it is one of the most extensively researched and written about events, both of JFK’s presidency and the Cold War, going into detail about the crisis seems superfluous. You can follow a calendar of events, from October 17 to October 28.
Two things struck me, however, as I looked into it and again – sorry to belabor the point – YouTube is just so fabulous. John Kennedy courteously notified Hoover, Eisenhower and Truman about what was going on, but in the case of Eisenhower, he was really asking for an expert opinion and you can hear their conversation here. Ditto Truman. Hoover, not so much.
The second surprise involves JFK’s secretary, Evelyn Lincoln. Shocking misbehavior – she took a whole bunch of stuff from the White House and kept it, eventually selling a lot of it to a collector named Robert White. The Kennedy Library finally got this back in 2005 – before it was sold for $750,000 on eBay:
This is Kennedy’s own annotated map of Cuba which he used in his discussions with the military, CIA, NSC and so on.
There was a lot of back channel stuff that finally got things resolved. On Oct. 28, Krushchev gave a radio speech declaring the missiles would be removed because the US had sworn not to invade Cuba.
JFK, without waiting for official confirmation, wrote to Krushchev:
‘I am replying at once to your broadcast message of October twenty-eight even though the official text has not yet reached me because of the great importance I attach to moving forward promptly to the settlement of the Cuban crisis. I think that you and I, with our heavy responsibilities for the maintenance of peace, were aware that developments were approaching a point where events could have become unmanageable. So I welcome this message and consider it an important contribution to peace…’
I sense real relief in that.
Finally, just a word about those crazy Russians – we had been busy deploying missiles in the UK and Europe since 1958. More than 100 IRBMS were pointed at Moscow.