Cuban missile crisis: closer than you thought to WW III

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GoonSquad
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15 Oct 2012, 5:44 pm

http://news.yahoo.com/50-years-cuban-mi ... itics.html

Quote:
Fifty years after the Cuban missile crisis, many people find it hard to believe that the confrontation could have pushed the US and Soviet Union to nuclear war. Robert F. Kennedy’s newly released papers remind us why this was the most dangerous moment in recorded history.

“My fellow Americans, with a heavy heart, and in necessary fulfillment of my oath of office, I have ordered – and the United States Air Force has now carried out – military operations with conventional weapons only, to remove a major nuclear weapons build-up from the soil of Cuba.”

These are the words President Kennedy almost delivered in October 1962 announcing what could have been World War III. This draft speech is among several thousand drafts, letters, and handwritten notes from Robert F. Kennedy’s personal files that have just last week been opened at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library.

...

Had the United States launched an airstrike and invaded Cuba, the Soviet commander on the scene would almost certainly have responded with about 100 tactical nuclear weapons under his control – tactical nuclear weapons JFK did not even know were on the island. The US would have felt compelled to respond in kind triggering an escalation to nuclear Armageddon. As RFK later recalled, the Executive Committee of the National Security Council advising JFK during the crisis was full of “bright, able dedicated people, all of whom had the greatest affection for the US, [but] if six of them had been President...the world might have been blown up”.

...

As Soviet ships approached the blockade line on Oct. 24, 1962, Robert Kennedy wrote that “the danger and concern that we all felt hung like a cloud over us all…I think these few minutes were the time of greatest worry by the President. His hands went up to his face and covered his mouth and he closed his fist…I felt on the edge of a precipice and it was as if there was no way off.”

While the Soviet ships turned around rather than challenge the blockade, the window for US action to prevent the missiles in Cuba from becoming fully operational was rapidly closing. At the State Department on Oct. 26, RFK scribbled down Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara's insistence that after an airstrike against the missile sites, an “invasion must follow!!” The plan called for 500 bombing sorties against Cuba followed by an invasion force of 90,000 American soldiers.

...

What resolved the crisis was an imaginative combination of public deal, private ultimatum, and secret sweetener. If Khrushchev agreed to withdraw the missiles, the US would pledge not to invade Cuba. Privately, RFK warned that unless Khrushchev announced within 24 hours that the missiles would be withdrawn, the US would act unilaterally to eliminate them. Secretly, he said that while there could be no official deal promising such, if the Soviet missiles were withdrawn from Cuba, within six months US missiles in Turkey would be gone.

The further away from those 13 days we get, the harder it is for many people to believe that a confrontation over missiles in Cuba or Turkey could have pushed the United States and the Soviet Union to nuclear war. RFK’s papers allow us to peer over his shoulder in the rush of events to remind us why historians agree that this was indeed the most dangerous moment in recorded history.



That was such a dangerous and crazy time. People think Dr. Strangelove was a farce. Curtis LeMay was almost as crazy as Buck Turgidson and he considered the settlement of the crisis to be one of the greatest defeats in US history.

As the article above states, the Russians had 100 tactical nukes on the island. I've seen sources that say the Russians had up to 160 tactical and strategic warheads on hand... And the commander in Cuba had authority to use them at his discretion.

If the US had taken any active military action against Cuba, it is almost certain that it would have ended in a full nuclear exchange.

All this happened when only superpowers controlled nukes.... Now any 3rd world hellhole can get them.

Interesting times, then and now.


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ruveyn
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15 Oct 2012, 6:26 pm

We were blessed with pure luck. Fortunately JFK and Bawwwbi chose to use diplomatic back channel before resorting to force. Fortunately it worked out. Neither our people nor the Soviet leaders were in a mood to die.

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eric76
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15 Oct 2012, 6:44 pm

I was in elementary school during the Cuban Missile Crisis and didn't understand what was happening at all. But I do remember by sister who was in high school at the time being upset by it.



ruveyn
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15 Oct 2012, 6:48 pm

eric76 wrote:
I was in elementary school during the Cuban Missile Crisis and didn't understand what was happening at all. But I do remember by sister who was in high school at the time being upset by it.


I was 26 at the time and silly young me who knew nothing wasn't worried a bit. Little did I know.

ruveyn



eric76
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15 Oct 2012, 6:58 pm

Quote:
Had the United States launched an airstrike and invaded Cuba, the Soviet commander on the scene would almost certainly have responded with about 100 tactical nuclear weapons under his control – tactical nuclear weapons JFK did not even know were on the island. The US would have felt compelled to respond in kind triggering an escalation to nuclear Armageddon.


If I understand it correctly, tactical nuclear weapons would be battlefield types of weapons. Their use would be against US forces in Cuba for the invasion, not dropped against US cities. Thus, the US itself would remain untouched by the use of those nuclear weapons. Surely our response would have been limited to tactical nuclear weapons, not strategic nuclear weapons.



eric76
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15 Oct 2012, 7:00 pm

ruveyn wrote:
eric76 wrote:
I was in elementary school during the Cuban Missile Crisis and didn't understand what was happening at all. But I do remember by sister who was in high school at the time being upset by it.


I was 26 at the time and silly young me who knew nothing wasn't worried a bit. Little did I know.

ruveyn


As I recollect, my sister was convinced that a nuclear war was imminent.



GoonSquad
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15 Oct 2012, 7:23 pm

eric76 wrote:
Quote:
Had the United States launched an airstrike and invaded Cuba, the Soviet commander on the scene would almost certainly have responded with about 100 tactical nuclear weapons under his control – tactical nuclear weapons JFK did not even know were on the island. The US would have felt compelled to respond in kind triggering an escalation to nuclear Armageddon.


If I understand it correctly, tactical nuclear weapons would be battlefield types of weapons. Their use would be against US forces in Cuba for the invasion, not dropped against US cities. Thus, the US itself would remain untouched by the use of those nuclear weapons. Surely our response would have been limited to tactical nuclear weapons, not strategic nuclear weapons.

No.

There are sources that say the Russians had at least a few medium range missiles ready too. But even if they did not, Curtis LeMay would have ordered a full strike even without presidential authority. I know that sounds crazy, but LeMay was crazy and he did not bother to hide his contempt for the Kennedys or Robert McNamara.

LeMay had the ability to order a full strike as commander of SAC and if the Russians had nuked our invasion force he would have.

LeMay was a crazy sob.

Quote:
If I see that the Russians are amassing their planes for an attack, I'm going to knock the s**t out of them before they take off the ground.

Conversation with presidential commissioner Robert Sprague (September 1957), quoted in Kaplan, F. (1991). The Wizards of Armageddon. Stanford University Press. Page 134.


Wizards of Armageddon is a great book if you are interested in cold war history.


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ruveyn
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15 Oct 2012, 7:25 pm

GoonSquad wrote:

LeMay was a crazy sob.



LeMay and Bomber Harris were two of my heroes. They knew how to fight a war. Kill the enemy and bust up his sh*t.

ruveyn



GoonSquad
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15 Oct 2012, 7:38 pm

ruveyn wrote:
GoonSquad wrote:

LeMay was a crazy sob.



LeMay and Bomber Harris were two of my heroes. They knew how to fight a war. Kill the enemy and bust up his sh*t.

ruveyn

LeMay was a ruthless bastard and he surely helped us win WWII with his strategic bombing, but he had no business being in control of a nuclear arsenal...

Without Ike to rein him in during the 50s.... I shudder to think what could have happened.

Here's few more LeMay quotes:

Quote:
Killing Japanese didn't bother me very much at that time... I suppose if I had lost the war, I would have been tried as a war criminal.

Every soldier thinks something of the moral aspects of what he is doing. But all war is immoral and if you let that bother you, you're not a good soldier.

I think there are many times when it would be most efficient to use nuclear weapons. However, the public opinion in this country and throughout the world throw up their hands in horror when you mention nuclear weapons, just because of the propaganda that's been fed to them.

...Native annalists may look sadly back from the future on that period when we had the atomic bomb and the Russians didn't. Or when the Russians had aquired (through connivance and treachery of Westerns with warped minds) the atomic bomb - and yet still didn't have any stockpile of the weapons. That was the era when we might have destroyed Russia completely and not even skinned our elbows doing it.


http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/autho ... lemay.html


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eric76
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15 Oct 2012, 9:18 pm

GoonSquad wrote:
eric76 wrote:
Quote:
Had the United States launched an airstrike and invaded Cuba, the Soviet commander on the scene would almost certainly have responded with about 100 tactical nuclear weapons under his control – tactical nuclear weapons JFK did not even know were on the island. The US would have felt compelled to respond in kind triggering an escalation to nuclear Armageddon.


If I understand it correctly, tactical nuclear weapons would be battlefield types of weapons. Their use would be against US forces in Cuba for the invasion, not dropped against US cities. Thus, the US itself would remain untouched by the use of those nuclear weapons. Surely our response would have been limited to tactical nuclear weapons, not strategic nuclear weapons.

No.

There are sources that say the Russians had at least a few medium range missiles ready too. But even if they did not, Curtis LeMay would have ordered a full strike even without presidential authority. I know that sounds crazy, but LeMay was crazy and he did not bother to hide his contempt for the Kennedys or Robert McNamara.


The article claimed that the Soviet commander would have been able to use tactical nuclear weapons on his own authority. I never claimed that anyone in the US military could have used nuclear weapons without the President's authority.

I find it doubtful that the Soviet commander could have used tactical nuclear weapons on his own authority and I question the notion that if he had done so, that would have escalated into a full scale nuclear war. It might have done so, but I don't see it as the most likely outcome.

Quote:
LeMay had the ability to order a full strike as commander of SAC and if the Russians had nuked our invasion force he would have.


I do not believe that he had the authority to order a nuclear strike without the President's approval.



GoonSquad
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15 Oct 2012, 10:07 pm

eric76 wrote:
GoonSquad wrote:
eric76 wrote:
Quote:
Had the United States launched an airstrike and invaded Cuba, the Soviet commander on the scene would almost certainly have responded with about 100 tactical nuclear weapons under his control – tactical nuclear weapons JFK did not even know were on the island. The US would have felt compelled to respond in kind triggering an escalation to nuclear Armageddon.


If I understand it correctly, tactical nuclear weapons would be battlefield types of weapons. Their use would be against US forces in Cuba for the invasion, not dropped against US cities. Thus, the US itself would remain untouched by the use of those nuclear weapons. Surely our response would have been limited to tactical nuclear weapons, not strategic nuclear weapons.

No.

There are sources that say the Russians had at least a few medium range missiles ready too. But even if they did not, Curtis LeMay would have ordered a full strike even without presidential authority. I know that sounds crazy, but LeMay was crazy and he did not bother to hide his contempt for the Kennedys or Robert McNamara.


The article claimed that the Soviet commander would have been able to use tactical nuclear weapons on his own authority. I never claimed that anyone in the US military could have used nuclear weapons without the President's authority.

I find it doubtful that the Soviet commander could have used tactical nuclear weapons on his own authority and I question the notion that if he had done so, that would have escalated into a full scale nuclear war. It might have done so, but I don't see it as the most likely outcome.

Quote:
LeMay had the ability to order a full strike as commander of SAC and if the Russians had nuked our invasion force he would have.


I do not believe that he had the authority to order a nuclear strike without the President's approval.


You need to take a course in cold war history.

I said ability, not authority.

In the late 50s/early 60s tensions between the US/USSR were dreadfully tight. We had nuke-armed bombers in the air 24/7 to offset the dreaded Russian missile gap. We also had a first strike policy/doctrine. We had strategist who assured everyone that nuclear war was winnable (see Herman Kahn).

Whether you choose to believe it or not, at the time, the head of Strategic Air Command and the whole damn Airforce (LeMay) could have ordered a strike without presidential approval.

PS

But I'm not going to argue. Believe what you like. :P

PPS

Okay, I might argue a bit....

Here's some interesting reading:

http://www.armscontrol.org/act/2009_5/Lanouette

Quote:
Gradually, Truman's authority came under challenge, especially after the Soviet Union exploded its first atomic bomb in August 1949. During the Korean War, it was not a dashing lieutenant colonel but a flamboyant general, Air Force Gen. Curtis LeMay, who claimed he was prepared to dispatch nuclear-armed bombers under his command on his own authority.[20] LeMay argued in 1950 that he should have the authority to receive nuclear weapons from the AEC if Washington were ever destroyed by Soviet attack.[21] This claim was not authorized, but the same year, Truman ordered that nine MK-4 non-nuclear assemblies be transferred to the military for training purposes. Then, in April 1951, AEC Chairman Gordon Dean agonized in a memo to fellow commissioners about whether it was legal to heed another order by Truman and transfer to Guam nine complete weapons.[22] Dean did so, ceding physical control of usable nuclear weapons to the military for the first time.

...

Civilian control of the atomic bomb's administration shifted again from the AEC to the Pentagon when, in a more bureaucratic way, the Eisenhower administration created a new post: assistant to the secretary of defense for atomic energy. President Dwight Eisenhower also approved transfer and deployment of weapons to secure U.S. bases overseas.[23] Next, the Atomic Energy Act of 1954 allowed the Pentagon to manufacture weapons and weapons components. That same year, nuclear weapons were dispersed around the United States and abroad to assure their greater safety from Soviet attack and their operational readiness.[24] Still, in the decades since the act's amendment, the Pentagon has continued to rely on the AEC and its successors for nuclear expertise and weaponry rather than developing the capability itself.

...

This trend did not pass unnoticed, however, and in 1960, Representative Chet Holifield (D-Calif.) took to the House floor to sound the alarm. Holifield decried the loss of civilian control over nuclear weapons, blaming in part the "gradual step-by-step surrender to the steady pressure of our strong and entrenched military bloc" while acknowledging "that technological change has made obsolete the old and cumbersome procedures."[27]

...

The Kennedy administration was the first to fit the weapons with electronic permissive action links (PALs), which are coded mechanical or electrical locks. According to political scientist Peter Douglas Feaver, that step provided a change from "custody" of the weapons to "assurance" that weapons could only be used if so ordered by the president.[28] In 1966, AEC Chairman Glenn Seaborg proposed that all finished nuclear weapons be automatically transferred to the Pentagon, a practice Johnson ordered in 1967.[29]



Until the Kennedy administration the President did not have control of the nukes. Kennedy did this, in part, because of crazy bastards like LeMay...
Believe it, or not.

PPPS

eric76 wrote:
ruveyn wrote:
eric76 wrote:
I was in elementary school during the Cuban Missile Crisis and didn't understand what was happening at all. But I do remember by sister who was in high school at the time being upset by it.


I was 26 at the time and silly young me who knew nothing wasn't worried a bit. Little did I know.

ruveyn


As I recollect, my sister was convinced that a nuclear war was imminent.


Even your sister knows better than you. :lol:


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John_Browning
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16 Oct 2012, 1:57 am

GoonSquad wrote:
“My fellow Americans, with a heavy heart, and in necessary fulfillment of my oath of office, I have ordered – and the United States Air Force has now carried out – military operations with conventional weapons only, to remove a major nuclear weapons build-up from the soil of Cuba.”

We already had our SAC bombers deployed when the stand-down agreement was reached.

Quote:
That was such a dangerous and crazy time. People think Dr. Strangelove was a farce. Curtis LeMay was almost as crazy as Buck Turgidson and he considered the settlement of the crisis to be one of the greatest defeats in US history.

As the article above states, the Russians had 100 tactical nukes on the island. I've seen sources that say the Russians had up to 160 tactical and strategic warheads on hand... And the commander in Cuba had authority to use them at his discretion.

If the US had taken any active military action against Cuba, it is almost certain that it would have ended in a full nuclear exchange.

All this happened when only superpowers controlled nukes.... Now any 3rd world hellhole can get them.

Interesting times, then and now.

At least 3rd world countries can be wiped off the map and that fact can be brought to their attention. If a country's leaders expects to collect 72 virgins in the process, pressure can still be brought to bear on their population. For a certain other aspiring nuclear power, their paper mache rockets won't get them very far. All we need now is a president competent to stand up to Vladmir Putin, Hu Jintao, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and that little bus rider Kim Jong-Un. You know the president is a real wanker when he can't stand up to that guy.


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Declension
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16 Oct 2012, 2:22 am

Scary stuff. I hope that when push comes to shove, our leaders will consider themselves human beings first and patriots second. It doesn't matter who started the playground fight when the whole school is about to be destroyed.



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16 Oct 2012, 4:50 am

I have to wonder - would the CIA and the KGB have allowed it to come to a nuclear holocaust? I have to think maybe the spooks would have been working in the shadows to stop it.

-Bill, otherwise known as Kraichgauer



GoonSquad
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16 Oct 2012, 8:10 am

John_Browning wrote:
GoonSquad wrote:
“My fellow Americans, with a heavy heart, and in necessary fulfillment of my oath of office, I have ordered – and the United States Air Force has now carried out – military operations with conventional weapons only, to remove a major nuclear weapons build-up from the soil of Cuba.”

We already had our SAC bombers deployed when the stand-down agreement was reached.

Quote:
That was such a dangerous and crazy time. People think Dr. Strangelove was a farce. Curtis LeMay was almost as crazy as Buck Turgidson and he considered the settlement of the crisis to be one of the greatest defeats in US history.

As the article above states, the Russians had 100 tactical nukes on the island. I've seen sources that say the Russians had up to 160 tactical and strategic warheads on hand... And the commander in Cuba had authority to use them at his discretion.

If the US had taken any active military action against Cuba, it is almost certain that it would have ended in a full nuclear exchange.

All this happened when only superpowers controlled nukes.... Now any 3rd world hellhole can get them.

Interesting times, then and now.

At least 3rd world countries can be wiped off the map and that fact can be brought to their attention. If a country's leaders expects to collect 72 virgins in the process, pressure can still be brought to bear on their population. For a certain other aspiring nuclear power, their paper mache rockets won't get them very far. All we need now is a president competent to stand up to Vladmir Putin, Hu Jintao, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and that little bus rider Kim Jong-Un. You know the president is a real wanker when he can't stand up to that guy.


Well sure... Global holocaust is less likely, but actual use of nukes on a small scale seems almost inevitable--eventually.

There's an essay by George Orwell from the 40's entitled "You and The Bomb," that talks about nukes as the weapons of tyranny and oppression because only superstates could produce them.

He contrasted nukes with "democratic weapons" like guns which are used by the common man to liberate himself. He anticipated the cold war and rightly predicted that the superstates would use their nukes to dominate the world....

Well, now nukes have been democratized. God help us all.


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GoonSquad
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16 Oct 2012, 8:28 am

Kraichgauer wrote:
I have to wonder - would the CIA and the KGB have allowed it to come to a nuclear holocaust? I have to think maybe the spooks would have been working in the shadows to stop it.

-Bill, otherwise known as Kraichgauer


I don't know. I've read/researched/written (papers reviewed by actual historians :P ) a lot of stuff about strategic bombing, the cold war and nuclear game theory.

I really think it depends on the time period and the scenario. In the 70's or 80's with a slower buildup, maybe...

During the 50s or 60s with a fast moving situation like in Cuba, I don't know.

Like Bobby's notes claim, the people advising JFK were bright, able, dedicated people who loved the US. But if 6 of them had been president, they would have likely caused a nuclear war.

I think the same sort of people, thinking the same sort of thoughts, would have been working in the CIA and the KGB at the time.

PS

I'd love to sift through all those "new' papers at the Kennedy library! :D


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