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"Nuclear catastrophe was hanging by a thread ... and we weren't counting days or hours, but minutes."Soviet General and Army Chief of Operations, Anatoly Gribkov
The closest the World has ever been to nuclear war was with The Cuban Missile Crisis. The lives of millions lay in the ability of President John F. Kennedy and Premier Nikita Khrushchev to reach an agreement. The crisis began when the United States discovered that just ninety miles from the coast of Florida, the Soviet Union had set up nuclear missiles. On October 22, Kennedy announced the discovery of the missile installations to the public and his decision of the naval quarantine around the island.
He also announced that any nuclear missile launched from Cuba would be regarded as an attack on the United States by the Soviet Union and demanded that the Soviets remove all of the missiles from Cuba. For thirteen days the two major superpowers of the world were on the verge of a nuclear war.
The events leading up to the missile crisis as explained by Dinerstein were the long years of Cold War hostility and the revolutions occurring in countries of Latin America. The Soviet Union’s fear of losing the race in the weapons department and Cuba’s fear of an invasion by the United States sparked those thirteen stress filled days. In 1960 the United States imposed an embargo that cut off trade between the United States and Cuba because it was afraid that Castro would establish a Communist regime. Castro was determined not to give in to the pressure that was put on by the United States and decided to establish closer relations with the Soviet Union. An attempt was made by the United States to disintegrate Castro’s rule with the Bay of Pigs Invasion. The United States was easily defeated by Castro’s army. His victory during the Bay of Pigs Invasion asserted Castro's rule over Cuba. Most Cubans resented the intervention by the United States in Cuban affairs. This resentment caused Castro’s supporters to increase in large numbers. With a confirmed rule over Cuba, Castro declared the island a Communist nation.
Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev made the wrong assumption by thinking that the United States would not take any action when it supplied Cuba with nuclear war heads.
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President John F. Kennedy had no idea on what action to pursue. He knew that if he attempted to destroy the missiles in Cuba, he would risk setting off a global nuclear war resulting in mass destruction. He also knew that taking no action would also result in war. At the time the Soviet Union had control of East Berlin and was threatening to take over West Berlin even if it meant war. By doing nothing about the missiles in Cuba, the threat of war over Berlin would increase greatly. For Kennedy, doing nothing about the missiles would only increase the danger in another war-threatening crisis later in the year, this time over Berlin.
Kennedy’s advisors thought it would be prudent to implement a blockade in Cuba. At the same time, the United State‘s military began moving soldiers and equipment into position for a possible invasion of Cuba. Kennedy did not approve of an invasion because that would mean definite war. When he spoke of the blockade, he referred to it as a quarantine because international law says that a blockade was an act of war. In response the Soviet Union said it would remove their missiles if the United States removed their missiles from Turkey. The United States did not agree to this. Kennedy finally decided he would reply to Khrushchev’s first message, to remove missiles from Cuba if a US pledge was made not to invade Cuba. At the same time Kennedy planned to meet in private with Khrushchev to assure him that he would remove missiles from Turkey. Robert Kennedy traveled to the Soviet Embassy in Washington, D.C. to deliver the president’s pledge and to warn that he grew impatient and that the United States would find itself forced to attack. He also informed that they would closely watch all military activity in Cuba (Mills 233).
Khrushchev decided that the danger of nuclear war was too great and decided also to remove the missiles.
On October 28 Khrushchev announced on world wide radio that he would remove the missiles in return for the pledge.
In years since the crisis was over declassified documents have been released. The facts that came forth were that a US invasion would have met more opposition than was thought. Also the Soviets has weapons intended for battlefield, which was unknown to the United States. The United States had also thought that there were only a few thousand troops in Cuba, but in reality there were 40,000 soldiers there.
The Cuban missile crisis was a very dangerous episode, bringing the world's major military powers to the brink of nuclear war. The Cuban missile crisis marked the point at which the Cold War began to thaw. This also lead to the signing of the Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, which stated that nuclear test in the atmosphere and underwater were against the law. Those thirteen days left the world in awe of the determination and responsibility of the United States and its young president (Hersh 342).