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Cuban Missile Crisis: 50 Years Ago

This week marks the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis, the time when the world came closest to all-out nuclear war. New information continues to emerge about the crisis; the National Security Archive today posted declassified documents which show that the Joint Chiefs thought it likely that tactical nuclear weapons capable of responding to an American invasion were in Cuba, but recommended an invasion anyway.

Tapes of the ExComm meetings, which Kennedy called to react to photographs showing strategic nuclear weapons being assembled in Cuba, confirm that initially there was a general consensus that a military invasion was the best option. Kennedy and a very few of his advisors resisted that path and implemented a blockade, after a few tense days obtaining an agreement that Soviet Premiere Khrushchev would back down and remove the missiles, in exchange for a no-invasion pledge and a secret promise to later remove American missiles from Turkey.

The inside story of how this deal was reached - in the face of Khrushchev's unknown motives, uncertainty about the completion status of the missile launchers, and even fears that the American military might take matters into its own hands, expressed by RFK in an extraordinary backchannel message to Soviet Ambassador Dobrynin - reveals just how close to the brink of disaster the world came in October 1962.

Many of us might not be alive today if the path to a peaceful resolution had not been sought, and found.

For more information, see these resources:

Cuban Missile Crisis - Starting point with links to more resources.

Photos - Photos of ExComm meeting participants during the crisis.

The Armageddon Letters - A innovative multimedia presentation on the crisis, featuring James G. Blight, author of several books on the crisis as well as Virtual JFK.

National Security Archive - 50th anniversary page featuring newly declassified Pentagon documents.

World on the Brink - An engaging interactive timeline of the missile crisis.

www.cubanmissilecrisis.org - Harvard Kennedy School website on the missile crisis.

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