The Cuban Missile Crisis

The failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion caused Khrushchev to question Kennedy’s capabilities. Khrushchev, with Castro’s consent and assistance, decided to test Kennedy by placing Russian nuclear missiles that could threaten major American cities in Cuba. (Jennings and Brewster, pp. 373-375.)

In October 1962, American spy planes took pictures of Cuba that revealed missile installations. Kennedy decided to confront Khrushchev with the information and demanded that the missiles be removed. Khrushchev countered Kennedy by sending Russian freighters with more missiles accompanied by Russian submarines to Cuba.

Kennedy, upping the ante, met this action with the announcement of a “quarantine” of Cuba, enforced by 16 U.S. destroyers and three cruisers, to prevent the Russian ships from reaching Cuba. Under international war, a blockade is an act of war, which is why Kennedy called it a “quarantine.” (Id.)

For 13 days, the world was dangerously close to a nuclear war. Finally, the Russian freighters turned around. The crisis was over. Russia had agreed to remove missiles from Cuba, and the U.S. agreed to remove missiles that threatened Russia from Turkey. The U.S. Secretary of State, Dean Rusk, poignantly said: ”We were eyeball to eyeball and I think the other fellow blinked.”

After the Cuban Missile Crisis ended, the U.S. and Russia, realizing how dangerously close they came to a disaster, after many years of unsuccessful attempts at a formal agreement, finally agreed to a limited nuclear test ban treaty in 1963, and established a hotline between Washington and Moscow to facilitate future direct communications in times of crisis. The Limited Test Ban Treaty was followed by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1968.

Phil Ochs’ satirical song “Talking Cuban Crisis, accurately describes the situation. (1962). (

It was just a little while ago, I glued my ears to the radio
The announcer was sayin’ we’d better beware
A crisis was hanging, a way up in the air,
Crawlin’ on the ground, swimmin’ in the sea, headin’ for me

Well, I didn’t know if I was for or agin’ it
He was yellin’ and screamin’ a mile a minute
Well, he said “Here comes the President
But first this word from Pepsodent
“Have whiter teeth, have cleaner breath
When you’re facin’ nuclear death”

And then President John began to speak
And I knew right away he wouldn’t be weak
Well, he said he’d seen some missile bases
And terrible smiles on Cuban faces
Close pictures, carryin’ land reform too far
Giving land to the USSR

Well, he said we mustn’t be afraid
We’re settin’ up a little blockade
Put our ships along the Cuban shores
And if the Russian bear yells and roars
We’ll let him have it

From Turkey and Greece, Formosa and Spain
The peaceful West European Plain
From Alaska and Greenland we’ll use our means
And twenty thousand submarines
We’re gonna teach the Russians a lesson
For trying to upset the balance of power

Now most Americans stood behind
The President and his military minds
But me, I stood behind a bar
Dreamin’ of a spaceship getaway car
Head for mars, any other planet that has bars
Like Gerde’s Folk City

Yes, it seemed the stand was strong and plain
But some Republicans was a goin’ insane
And they still are, well, they said our plan was just too mild
Spare the rod and spoil the child
Let’s sink Cuba into the sea
And give ’em back democracy- under the water

Well, the deadline was set for ten o’clock
For a cold war it was a gettin’ pretty hot
Well, the Russians tried, the Russians failed
Homeward bound those missiles sailed
Mr. Khruschev said, “Better Red than dead”