Cuban Missile Crisis
Two men attempt to out-bluff each other,
though only one can win
Caught between a collapsing Soviet empire and western alliances adjusting to a new world order, Yugoslavia goes up in flames.
Like many crises, the Cuban Missile Crisis blew up for complicated, inter-related issues, and came to a head in highly erratic and unpredictable circumstances. The men who would ultimately steer the world through what so easily have turned into a devastating nuclear conflict did so essentially guessing what those on the opposing side of the conflict were thinking.
It was a crisis of barely controlled chaos, luck and good judgement which rejected the military and intelligence models (meant to prevent such a situation spinning out of control) and which themselves relied on a certain belief in the willingness of those on the other side to do the right thing.
Game theory, fashionable during the decades that followed, was at the heart of the predictive negotiations that took place during the Cuban Missile Crisis, but so too was courage, shared humanity and instinctive wit on the part of those involved.
Pivotal moments in time
It took a small group of men to create and then diffuse the Cuban Missile Crisis, on both sides of the (potential) conflict
Kennedy served as the 35th President of the United States from 1961 until his assassination in 1963. In 1961, Kennedy authorised an attempt to overthrow the Cuban government of Fidel Castro with the Bay of Pigs Invasion.
In October, US spy planes discovered Soviet missile bases had been deployed in Cuba. The Cuban Missile Crisis period of tensions nearly resulted in global thermonuclear conflict.
McNamara, US Secretary of Defense from 1961 to 1968, was responsible for the institution of systems analysis in public policy.
McNamara became a close adviser to Kennedy and advocated the use of a blockade during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Kennedy and McNamara also instituted a Cold War defence strategy of flexible response, which anticipated the need for military responses short of massive retaliation.
Khrushchev was First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from 1953 to 1964 and Chairman of its Council of Ministers (Premier) from 1958 to 1964.
Hoping to rely on missiles for national defence, Khrushchev ordered major cuts in conventional forces and as a result of the crisis was removed from power in 1964 by his party colleagues. He died in 1971 of a heart attack.
An American lawyer, politician and diplomat, Stevenson served in different government positions and in 1945 also served on the committee that created the United Nations.
After President Kennedy's election, Stevenson was appointed as US Ambassador to the UN. There he challenged the Soviet UN Ambassador to deny his country was stationing missiles in Cuba at a crucial juncture during the crisis.
A Cuban revolutionary who served as Prime Minister of Cuba from 1959 to 1976 and as President from 1976 to 2008, Castro was a Marxist-Leninist and Cuban nationalist that also served as the First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba from 1961 until 2011.
The US unsuccessfully attempted to remove Castro by assassination, economic blockade and counter-revolution (including the Bay of Pigs Invasion of 1961).
Curtis Emerson LeMay
United States Air Force General “Bombs away” LeMay is credited with designing and then implementing an effective, if controversial, bombing campaign in the Pacific during World War II.
He served as Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force from 1961 to 1965 and in this role called for the bombing of Cuban missile sites during the crisis (which was resisted by Kennedy and his inner circle).