In America, the final days of October will be dominated by the presidential election and COVID-19. But 58 Octobers ago, from the 16th to the 28th, the world faced the catastrophic prospect of a nuclear war between the Soviet Union and the United States in what became known as the Cuban Missile Crisis.
In September 1962, U.S. U-2 spy plane flights over Cuba photographed the construction of launch sites for Soviet ballistic missiles capable of striking the U.S. East Coast with thermonuclear weapons. By early October, U-2s had photographed Soviet ballistic missiles in Cuba. President John F. Kennedy understood the situation was untenable.
Recommendations from the Joint Chiefs of Staff for preemptive air strikes to destroy those sites were rejected by Kennedy, because the same chiefs had supported the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion in April 1961, and because 100 percent elimination of the missiles could not be guaranteed. Instead, a naval “quarantine” was established to isolate Cuba and prevent Soviet ships from entering Cuban waters.