President John F. Kennedy - Cuban Missile Crisis, 1962
On October 16, 1962, President John F. Kennedy was shown photographs of Soviet nuclear missile installations under construction in Cuba. The installation of medium-range missiles just 90 miles off the coast of Florida would put the Eastern United States at risk of a nuclear attack that could come on very short notice. President Kennedy called together a group of his closest advisers to discuss how the United States should respond to the specter of Soviet missiles in Cuba: should there be invasion, air strikes, a blockade, or diplomacy?
On the evening of October 18, President Kennedy met with nine of his advisers. The meeting, held after-hours inside the Executive Mansion, was not recorded. So afterward, President Kennedy went to the Oval Office in the West Wing of the White House and recorded his recollections of discussions held that day. He states that a consensus emerged in favor of a blockade.
Excerpts from audio recording of the President’s recollections of discussions held during the Cuban Missile Crisis, October 18, 1962
President John F. Kennedy: [listing meeting participants] “Secretary McNamara, Deputy Secretary Gilpatric, General Taylor, Attorney General, George Ball, Alexis Johnson, Ed Martin, McGeorge Bundy, Ted Sorensen. . . .”
“. . . During the course of the day opinions had obviously switched from the advantages of a first strike on the missile sites and on Cuban aviation, to a blockade. . . . The consensus was that we should go ahead with the blockade beginning on Sunday night. Originally we should begin by blockading Soviet—against the shipment of additional offensive capacity, that we could tighten the blockade as the situation requires. I was most anxious that we not have to announce the state of war existing, because it would obviously be bad to have the word go out that we were having a war rather than a limited blockade for a limited purpose. It was determined that I should go ahead with my speeches so that we don’t take the cover off this and come back Saturday night.”
An excerpt from the original recorded media is available in the Flash version of this exhibit.
President John F. Kennedy at the White House, photograph by Cecil Stoughton, October 24, 1961
Map showing potential missile range, 1962
MRBM Field Launch Site, San Cristobal No. 1, October 14, 1962
MRBM Launch Site 3, San Cristobal, Cuba, October 27, 1962
IRBM Launch Site No. 1, Guanajay, Cuba, October 23, 1962