October 16, 1962. The Cuban missile crisis officially begins with National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy briefing President Kennedy on the presence of Soviet missiles in Cuba. Soviet Premier Khrushchev was responding to the U.S. backing down at the Bay of Pigs the year before and the deployment of (admittedly outmoded) Jupiter ICBMs in Turkey. The Soviet Union was already badly out-gunned by the U.S. (Kennedy had campaigned in 1960 on the fictitious “missile gap”), and Khrushchev took a big gamble, which, after nearly two incredibly tense weeks, he lost.
I remember it well. I was in 6th grade, and we were all scared half to death. We’d been through “duck and cover” and air raid practice in elementary school, but this was, literally, much closer to home. The world came within a hair of nuclear war.
Reach Richard Reeves’ account in his book, “President Kennedy: Profile of Power.” Then read Michael Dobbs’ “One Minute to Midnight” to understand just how close we came to obliteration. His book isn’t as well-written, but the details are even now frightening.
The one reassuring thing was the Kennedy refused to listen to the hot-headed warmongers like Gen. Curtis LeMay (later George Wallace’s running mate) and instead proceeded cautiously and thoughtfully. God only knows what would happen today. Perhaps we’re about to see.