Kennedy Approves Nuclear Action
by Jeff Provine
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October 21st 1962,
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on this day at 10:00 AM, President
John F. Kennedy met with Secretary of State Dean Rusk and Secretary of
Defense Robert McNamara and approved the plan to threaten preemptive
nuclear strike. Tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union
had never been tauter.
Since World War II, the two superpowers had checked one another and
maintained aggressive military build-up, though the Americans found
themselves greatly outpaced by the Russians as the '50s progressed.
Russians first caught up by developing their own atomic weapons after the
In '48 and '49, America and its allies had cowed the Russian attempt at
fencing West Berlin with the Berlin Airlift, keeping them from leading
world affairs. Korea had turned into a draw, though Communism continued to
spread in places such as French Indochina. By '56, however, the USSR had
come to the forefront with their launch of Sputnik.
The Russian lead in the Cold War struck closer to home when, in 1959,
Castro and his system of nationalization overthrew Batista overthrew
Batista in Cuba, just miles from the Florida coastline. While Cuba and the
Soviet Union were establishing relations, the US moved forward with plans
to establish missile bases in Turkey, which became operational in April of
1962. Just months later, the Soviet Union would begin its own missile
bases in Cuba. In September of 1962, American U-2 high-altitude spy planes
discerned these bases, and reports were presented to the president. On
October 21, he made his decision for action.
"In a world where nations have "given up nuclear
weapons" there's a real strong incentive to keep them around _Sub Rosa,_
to use in emergencies" - reader's commentsKennedy had considered
the use of a naval quarantine, but a blockade was considered an act of war
under international law. While the Russians might not dare consider it so
great, they might also consider the action too little to be a threat to
their activities. The Russians might even step up to the challenge with
their own "Cuban Airlift" as a thumbed-nose toward the Americans.
International embarrassment was the lesser of evils if missiles were to be
launched from Cuba, but the Cold War had long been a game of nerves.
Monday, October 22, Kennedy gave a televised address about the discovery
of the weapons. He concluded by telling the Soviet Union that America
would strike if these bases were not disassembled immediately. Truman had
authorized nuclear attacks on Japan as well as several key supply lines in
Korea, and Kennedy would authorize attack on every known Soviet missile
base, Cuban, Russian, or any other member of their bloc. He likened the
situation to discovering a man with a gun, and he insisted Premier
Khrushchev "put the gun down". If not, he would "shoot the gun-hand".
"A lot of people even to this day don't know how
close we really came!" - reader's commentsInternationally, the
threat was taken in a variety of reactions. Many questioned validity of
the spy photos, others applauded America for taking action, and far more
feared what might come. Khrushchev wrote a letter of reply, saying, "I
must say frankly that the measures indicated in your statement constitute
a serious threat to peace and to the security of nations...We reaffirm
that the armaments which are in Cuba, regardless of the classification to
which they may belong, are intended solely for defensive purposes in order
to secure [the] Republic of Cuba against the attack of an aggressor. I
hope that the United States Government will display wisdom and renounce
the actions pursued by you, which may lead to catastrophic consequences
for world peace".
Kennedy replied that no nuke was merely defensive; Khrushchev scoffed and
waited for America to blink. The two stood at an impasse for nearly a week
until October 27, when Castro's forces shot down a U-2 spy plane. Kennedy
noted the evidence of fully operational missile bases that, if merely
defensive, would not need to shoot down spy planes. Khrushchev said the
same about the American missiles in Turkey. While there may have been a
diplomatic action to dismantle both, an accidental flight of a U-2 plane
over Soviet airspace caused a dogfight between Soviet MIG fighters and
American F-102s, whom Kennedy granted permission to fire.
""Tauter?" I have a tauter. She's 26 and works in
LA." - reader's commentsThe war began as the fighters fired
nuclear-tipped missiles over the Bering Sea. Limited missile exchanges
followed, destroying bases in the Soviet Union, Cuba, Europe, and the
United States. Submarines were blown up by charges in both navies. After
the horrific volley, utter devastation gave way to cries from the UN to
stop the madness. World War 3 would last two days and cost thousands of
lives, ultimately millions as the world began to deal with radioactive
The display of aggression also caused a worldwide movement for the banning
of nuclear weapons. Through the course of the Sixties and early Seventies,
the governments of the world would give up their atomic arms and return to
heavy traditional weaponry for defense (China being the last, finally
persuaded by Nixon's system of economic benefits). For countries
developing new weapons, sanctions would slow them or military action would
put a stop to the programs.
After a short era of good feelings, however, the Cold War would creep up
again with the USSR moving into Afghanistan in 1979. The war would prove
costly and ultimately contribute to the fall of the Soviet Union. As the
only remaining superpower, the United States would undergo the extremely
expensive position of policing the world and being aware of potential
developers of nuclear programs. Under the administration of George W.
Bush, America would occupy both Iraq and Iran under suspicion of weapons
of mass destruction. Many fear that these costly wars may do to the US
what Afghanistan did to the Soviets.
says in reality Kennedy ordered the blockade. Several ships would test
it, including a Soviet submarine that was shaken by US Navy depth charges,
but eventually Khrushchev and Kennedy would agree to dismantle bases in Cuba
in exchange for the closing of bases in Turkey and Italy.
To view guest historian's comments on this post please visit the
Today in Alternate History web site.
Jeff Provine, Guest Historian of
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