The Cuban Missile Crisis

Cuba, located just south of the United States.
Nuclear missiles.
U.S. President John F. Kennedy (to the right) meeting with Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev one year before the Cuban Missile Crisis.
U.S. warship in the waters around Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Three U.S. military helicopters flying over Florida, where the U.S. built up for an invasion of Cuba.
Nightmare scenario: a nuclear bomb exploding in New York City. (The image is a photo montage.)

Seeking liberation from the United States’ economic and political grip over his country, communist Fidel Castro took power in Cuba in 1959 through a coup d’état. This regime change, however, did not sit well with many high-ranking people in the United States, who strongly opposed a defiant communist regime moving in only about a hundred miles from the American coast. As a consequence, the U.S. government attempted a military counter-coup in Cuba, which, after it failed, caused the Cuban government to seek protection from its allies in the communist Soviet Union. Soon thereafter, in 1962, Soviet nuclear weapons were installed in Cuba to deter new U.S. attempts to effect regime change on Castro’s island.

Upon discovering Soviet nuclear missiles in their own so-called backyard, angry Americans deployed their navy in a blockade of the Caribbean nation, preventing more Soviet arms from being delivered. The blockade was a major provocation, construed by the Soviets as an unacceptable act of piracy, and set the world on a path to a direct superpower conflict. Things were now heading towards a nuclear war, which in practicality meant death and destruction on a scale the world had never seen before.

War creeping closer

Sensing grave danger, U.S. President John F. Kennedy and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev desperately looked for a solution. However, international prestige and power-play made it politically almost impossible for either of the two leaders to give in to the other’s demands. Instead, as American warships around Cuba started chasing Soviet vessels, war crept closer. A subsequent event, where the Soviets shot down an American spy plane flying in Cuban airspace, was then by many thought to be the spark that would ignite the nuclear fire, and emergency preparations intensified. The American people now held its breath, and city dwellers filled their cars with supplies to be able to flee to the countryside at a moment’s notice if warnings came of incoming nukes.

Removing weapons from Turkey

Fortunately for the countries involved and for the world, at the eleventh hour, Kennedy and Khrushchev reached an agreement. This agreement bound the Soviets to remove their weapons from U.S. neighbor Cuba in return for the U.S. taking out their nukes from Turkey, a neighbor of the Soviet Union. Thereby the world was safe, at least for the time being, but most Soviet citizens, interestingly enough, didn’t really celebrate becoming safer. This was because they had not been informed about the seriousness of the Cuban missile crisis until it was over.