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The Cuban Missile Crisis: How Close Was Nuclear War?

No nuclear weapon has been used in war since World War II – but the crisis in Cuba nearly changed that.

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The Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 was one of the most dangerous incidents the United States and the rest of the world ever experienced. It was the closest America came to a nuclear conflict since World War II.

The Beginning

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.

Khrushchev’s Gamble

Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev had been hoping to install missiles in Cuba to give the USSR a nuclear advantage over the United States, which would make the nation more of a power on the world stage. The Soviet government were worried about American missiles targeting Russia from sites in Turkey and Western Europe. The Soviets believed having missiles in Cuba would put them on par with the U.S.

Kennedy Acts

John F. Kennedy
John F. Kennedy

Kennedy put together an executive committee, and together they considered a number of options to deal with the problem. They looked at bombing the missile sites and even thought about launching a military invasion of Cuba.

Eventually, the president and his advisors decided to use the U.S. Navy to form a blockade around the island. This means they sent a number of 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 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 between the U.S. and the USSR got even more tense 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 USSR would remove their installations if the U.S. agreed to 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.

The result of the crisis was that both America and the U.S.S.R were affected by how close the two countries came to nuclear war. The next year, the two countries established a “hot line” communication link to make it easier to avoid other situations like the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Jeff Charles

Race Relations & Media Affairs Correspondent at LibertyNation.com and LNGenZ.com. A self-confessed news and political junkie, Jeff’s writing has been featured in Small Business Trends, Business2Community, and The Huffington Post. Born in Southern California and having experienced the 1992 L.A. Riots up close and personal, Jeff’s insights are informed by his experiences as a black man and a conservative.

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