In 1962, the United States and the Soviet Union almost went to war over nuclear missiles in Cuba. The Cuban Missile Crisis was one of the most dangerous incidents the United States and the rest of the world ever experienced. Had war broken out over those missiles, it could have easily seen the first use of nuclear weapons in war since World War II.
The crisis began on October 14, 1962 after the United States discovered that the Soviet Union was building missiles in Cuba that would be aimed at America. Cuban dictator Fidel Castro allied with the Soviets after he seized power in Cuba after a violent revolution. He then formed a communist government that became dependent on Russia for military and economic aid.
President John Kennedy and his advisors decided to use the U.S. Navy to form a blockade around the island. This means they sent warships to the ocean surrounding Cuba to prevent anyone from getting in or out of the country. This was designed to prevent the Soviets from bringing more missiles and equipment to the country. He sent a message to Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, telling him to remove the weapons.
On October 22, 1962, President Kennedy notified the American public in a television broadcast about the missiles and his decision to order the blockade. He told the people he was willing to use military force to eliminate this threat if necessary.
A Naval Showdown
The situation came closest to war on October 24 when Soviet ships headed to Cuba came close to the wall of American warships that formed the blockade.
If the Soviet ships had tried to break through the blockade, would have caused a battle that could have resulted in nuclear war. Fortunately, the ships stopped just short of trying to get through the blockade.
A Crisis Averted
After almost two weeks, Kennedy and Khrushchev found a way to avoid nuclear war. They had been communicating throughout the entire crisis.
On October 26, Khrushchev sent a message to Kennedy offering to take down the missiles in Cuba in exchange for Kennedy promising not to invade the island. The day after, he stated the Soviet Union would remove their missile sites in Cuba if the U.S. would remove their missiles in Turkey.
The Kennedy administration agreed to the terms of the first message while ignoring the second. But in private, the U.S. agreed to take down its missiles in Turkey.