Throughout the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis, President Kennedy was in a bind; would it be better to start a nuclear war, which may result in a global holocaust, or should he wait it out, and try as hard as he could to find a diplomatic and peaceful solution, which he believed might never come into fruition. Through President Kennedy's ability to handle the great deal of stress he was burdened with throughout the 13 days of the Cuban Missile Crisis, he exemplified heroism and showed that great difficulties could be overcome to create peace.

The Cuban Missile Crisis started as a way to counter the United States constant development and deployment of long and intermediate range nuclear missiles. After formulating his plan, he went to Fidel Castro, to seek approval to put intermediate range nuclear missiles in Cuba. He was able to convince Castro that if he had intermediate range nuclear missiles on his own country, he would be better suited to prepare for a second strike against his country. So from there, the USSR deployed several intermediate range nuclear range missiles to Cuba, one of many actions, which brought the world closer to nuclear war.

On October 14th 1962, during a regular reconnaissance mission by a U- 2 reconnaissance aircraft through Cuba, pictures were taken of several intermediate range nuclear missiles, known as SS-4's. These pictures then, after a 1 day period in which they were interpreted, were sent directly to Washington, where on October 16th 1962, with his breakfast, President Kennedy started "some of the most stressful days" of his life. The stress was overwhelming in the tones of the voices of Kennedy's advisors, as the possible scenarios began to unfold. Robert McNamara, one of President Kennedy's advisors gave his worrying opinion that "If the missiles were launched there is almost certain to be . chaos in part of the east coast or the area . with a radius of six hundred to a thousand miles from Cuba." This idea of such a large strike radius must have been shocking to all of the advisors who had not heard the exact distances, as you can hear in the tone of their voices. The other option was to have a nuclear or invasion, the consequences of this were explained by Robert F. Kennedy, who said that "You're going to kill an awful lot of people, and . we're going to take an awful lot of heat on it." According to RFK, the president, and his advisers were "under very severe stress". There was an extremely high level of stress for President Kennedy after only approximately four hours of knowing that there were nuclear missiles in Cuba, and the stress for him only escalated from there.

Throughout the day of the 16th President Kennedy and his advisors look for various possible plans of action, working out the various possible consequences and effects each will have. There were seven or eight serious suggestions. Some of Kennedy's advisors were pushing for war, and a more decisive plan of attack, such as McNamara. Others, like Robert F Kennedy, and Charles Bohlen, another of President Kennedy's advisors, urged President Kennedy to try as many peaceful political maneuvers as possible before any strike against Cuba. These two sides pulled at Kennedy, and attempted to convince him of their own beliefs throughout the day. By the end of the night, President Kennedy and his advisors decide to move some of the military to bases in the South Eastern United States. Throughout the following days, the President juggles his campaign schedule and this crisis, as to not alert the public, or Cuba, of his knowledge of the impending threat.

On October 18th, the President confronted the Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko. Throughout their talks in the Oval Office, Gromyko stated "the Soviet Government stood for peaceful coexistence and was against interference by one state in the internal affairs of another state." He also stated that all "training by Soviet specialists of Cuba nationals in handling defensive armaments were by no means offensive." According to him, Khrushchev was against offensive training of any nation, and he believed that this policy should also be true with the United States. This twisting of the truth was quite transparent for President Kennedy, as the president already knew that the USSR had placed nuclear weapons in Cuba. Although Gromyko may have thought he had convinced the United States of the Soviet policy of not training or aiding other nations in performing offensive actions, he did not. President Kennedy repeated his September 4th 1962 which said that Cuba "will be prevented by whatever means may be necessary from taking action against any part of the Western Hemisphere."

After the meeting, the President and his advisors met again, for 5 hours to decide on a plan of action. Prior to this, two possibilities written down, with many various opinions on these possibilities, and different ways to implement the strategies. Again, there were two main sides pulling at President Kennedy, one telling him to have a "surgical air strike", and the other telling him to first prompt Khrushchev with a letter, and the use of a blockade. Although there are no transcripts of these conversations, there was some heated argument between McNamara and Bolin, who had very different opinions. McNamara was for a stronger, surgical air strike, the more aggressive plan. Bolin was interested in the more obvious plan to send a letter to Khrushchev, and then use a blockade. Finally, after the 5 hours, a quarantine around Cuba was agreed upon by the advisors and President Kennedy, and naval planning begun.

The next day, Sunday, October 21st, President Kennedy spoke on the phone to Prime Minister Harold Macmillan. In this conversation, we can see how serious and scary this situation was for both parties. Although only the President's transcript is available, we can see that he is worried about the possibility of this escalating to a third world war, yet again, showing the escalating stress that the president was under. He speaks of attempting to stop a third world war from occurring; however the United States "cannot accept his actions" no matter what the effects will be.

On October 22nd, President Kennedy creates the Executive Committee of the National Security Council, or 'ExComm.' The role of ExComm was to meet on a daily basis to discuss the crisis and advise President Kennedy of a plan of action. This was used to keep the President up to date, and possibly lower his incredible stress levels, as President Kennedy 'always felt calmer after discussing the problems at hand' according to McNamara. During the day, he decides to address the nation in a television address, which he writes his speech for. He also writes a letter to Khrushchev, in which he tells Khrushchev of his knowledge of the Cuban missiles, and articulates that nuclear war would be a "war which it is crystal clear no country could win and which could only result in catastrophic consequences to the whole world, including the aggressor." Finally, at 7:00 p.m. President Kennedy told the United States of the nuclear missiles they found evidence of in Cuba. He told the country that the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics had, through Gromyko, told President Kennedy that the Soviet government would not aid in any offensive actions by another country, an obvious lie, and proof of the USSR's attempt at deception of the United States. He also explained that a "strict quarantine" on all military ships would be put in place to stop the addition of new nuclear missiles, warheads, or any other product, which may be construed as offensive. During this explanation, President Kennedy's 'stress started to show itself,' because of the anxiety created while waiting for a response from Khrushchev.

The next day, ships move into place to around Cuba. The naval fleet had a confrontation with some Soviet submarines, luckily however, the Soviet submarines halted before reaching the quarantine. Khrushchev responded to President Kennedy's letter by saying that based on United Nations Resolutions, the United States has no right to search another ship over international waters, as the United States would be "violating international norms of freedom of navigation on the high seas." This was not the response the president would have hoped for. President Kennedy responded that the blame for this crisis was the movement of offensive weapons into Cuba, and because of this, until they found a more peaceful resolution, he urged Khrushchev not to have his ships break the quarantine. Khrushchev, yet again says that he will not abide by the demands of a quarantine, however the movements of his ships says otherwise, as none had broken the quarantine. This was yet another negative event for the President, as he had hoped Khrushchev would accept the terms of the quarantine. President Kennedy yet again urged Khrushchev that he was not trying to do anything other than restore peace to the region. Then, on the night of October 26th, 1962 and the morning of the 27th, two letters arrived from Nikita Khrushchev. Within a few hours of the first letters arrival, in the early morning of the next day, via "back channel," or secret, communications a letter, which fully contradicted the first, arrived. President Kennedy decided to follow the Second letter, which called for a more peaceful resolution, asking the United States only to close their base in Turkey. This decision by President Kennedy to only reply to the second letter, overcoming a great deal of stress caused by both the situation, and the advisors he had during it, is what lead to the peaceful resolution of the Cuban Missile Crisis after thirteen days.

Through those 13 days in October, from October 15th to October 28th, President Kennedy got hit with one problem after another. These burdens he had to carry caused a great deal of stress for him, and yet, after those 13 days he was still able to settle the crisis without the creation of a 3rd world war. Due to this ability to overcome stress and bring his country to peace overcoming all the odds, President Kennedy exemplified heroism.


Nikita Khrushchev, The Memoirs of Nikita Khrushchev, The Thomas Jr. Watson Institute of International Studies, 64. To find more information on the Bay of Pigs, the first strike by the United States on Cuba, see Bay Of Pigs Declassified-History Undercover, (A & E Home Video); or Bay of Pigs, Victor Andre Triay, (University Press of Florida)
Robert McNamara, interviewed in Fog of War, The, Sony Classics, 2004.
Foreign Relations of the United States, 1961-1963, vol. XI: Cuban Missile Crisis and Aftermath, Transcript: Off the Record Meeting on Cuba, The White House, Washington, October 16, 1962, 11:50 a.m.
Foreign Relations of the United States, October 16, 1962, 11:50 a.m.
Foreign Relations of the United States, October 16, 1962, 11:50 a.m.
Memorandum of Conversation, Washington, October 18, 1962, 5 p.m.
U.S., Department of State Bulletin Volume XLVII, No. 1213 (September 24, 1962), p. 450; Statement By President John F Kennedy On Cuba, September 4th 1962
Memorandum of Telephone Conversation with Macmillan, October 21st, 1962
Letter From President Kennedy to Chairman Khrushchev, October 22, 1962
Radio and Television Report to the American People on the Soviet Arms Buildup in Cuba, October 22, 1962
Proclamation 3504; Interdiction of the Delivery of Offensive Weapons to Cuba
To find out how the Cuban Missile Crisis Turned out See Abel, Elie. The Missile Crisis. Philadelphia : Lippincott, 1966.

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