Communist forces under Mao Zedong defeated the Chinese Nationalist forces and took control of China
Communist North Korea invaded the USA’S ally, South Korea – after 3 years of warfare, US forces pushed back the North Koreans
South-east Asia Treaty Organisation (SEATO) established by Secretary of State Dulles
Central Treaty Organisation (CENTO) established by Secretary of State Dulles
The USA and USSR competed in an arms race
Stalin died and was succeeded by Khrushchev
Khrushchev’s statement of ‘de-Stalinising’ Europe led to anti-Soviet rebellions in Poland and Hungary – Soviet troops were sent in to regain control
CIA established by the US
15th May 1957
Engineers from the Soviet Union began testing the world’s first ICBM in Baykonyr in Kazakhstan
The idea of a ‘Missile Gap’ between the USA and the USSR was heavily reported in American media
Eisenhower knew the ‘Missile Gap’ was a myth because of a Soviet source
Kennedy became President of the USA
The USA had developed their own ICBMs – Atlas and Minutemen missiles – Polaris missiles from virtually undetectable submarines
The USA was pulling ahead in the Arms race
Americans were warned about the terrible dangers of a nuclear attack – ‘Duck and Cover’
Fidel Castro overthrew General Batista after a 3-year guerrilla campaign
Eisenhower authorised the CIA to investigate ways of overthrowing Castro
Summer of 1960
Castro had allied Cuba with the Soviet Union – Khrushchev signed a trade agreement giving Cuba $100 million in economic aid
Kennedy broke off diplomatic relations with Cuba
Cuban exiles landed at the Bay of Pigs
The Soviet Union announced publicly it was supplying arms to Cuba
By July 1962
Cuba had the best equipped army in Latin America
By September 1962
Cuba had thousands of Soviet missiles, as well as patrol boats, tanks, radar vans, missile erectors, jet bombers, jet fighters and 5,000 Soviet technicians to maintain the weapons
Kennedy’s own Intelligence Department said it did not believe the USSR would send nuclear missiles to Cuba – it had not done so with any other satellite states and the USA thought it would be too risky
11th September 1962
Kennedy warned the USSR it would prevent Cuba becoming a nuclear base ‘by whatever means might be necessary,
Sunday 14th October 1962
An American spy plane photographed missile sites on Cuba
Tuesday 16th October 1962
Kennedy is informed of the missile build up – Ex Comm (special team of advisors) formed
Saturday 20th October 1962
Kennedy decides on a blockade of Cuba
Monday 22nd October 1962
Kennedy announces the blockade and calls on the Soviet Union to withdraw its missiles
Tuesday 23rd October 1962
Kennedy receives a letter from Khrushchev saying Soviet ships will not observe the blockade – Khrushchev does not admit the presence of nuclear missiles on Cuba
Wednesday 24th October 1962
The blockade begins – 20 Soviet ships stop or turn around
Thursday 25th October 1962
Intensive aerial photography reveals that work on the Cuban missile bases is proceeding rapidly
Friday 26th October 1962
Kennedy receives a long, personal letter from Khrushchev, who claims that the missiles are purely defensive and asks for the USA not to invade Cuba
Saturday 27th October 1962
Khrushchev sends a second letter, in which he explains that his condition for removing the missiles in Cuba is that the USA withdraws its missiles from Turkey
An American U2 plane is shot down over Cuba and the pilot is killed – the President is advised to launch an immediate reprisal attack
Kennedy decided to delay an attack and also ignore the second Khrushchev letter, but accepts the terms of the first – he warns that if the Soviet Union does not withdraw, an attack will follow
Sunday 28th October 1962
Khrushchev agrees to withdraw the missiles from Cuba
The USSR removes its missiles from Cuba
The USA withdraws its missiles from Britain, Italy and Turkey
A Test Ban Treaty was signed by the USA, USSR and Britain – this limited tests
A Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty was signed – the superpowers promised not to supply nuclear weapons to other countries
Khrushchev was replaced as Soviet leader
HAVANA -- The black, sinister-looking Soviet SS-4 intermediate-ranged missile on display at Havana's La Cabana fortress looked old, roughly finished, and rather primitive.
But this missile, and 41 others (including some longer-ranged SS-5's) terrified the United States during the October 1962 missile crisis -- 13 days that shook the world. Each of them could have delivered a one megaton warhead onto America's East Coast cities, starting with Washington D.C. One megaton is a city-buster.
When the Cuban missile crisis erupted 50 years ago this month, I was a student at Washington's Georgetown University Foreign Service School. Cuba was headline news. The Cold War was at its peak.
A CIA-operation to invade Cuba and overthrow Fidel Castro's Marxist government had spectacularly failed at the Bay of Pigs. The new, inexperienced U.S. president, John Kennedy, got cold feet in the last minute and called off vital air cover for an invasion by Cuban exiles. Deprived of air cover, most were killed or captured.
The Pentagon urged a full-scale U.S. invasion of Cuba, backed by massive naval and air power. The Kennedy administration wavered.
Soviet Chairman Nikita Khrushchev seized the moment by sneaking 42 medium-ranged missiles and smaller tactical nukes into Cuba, right under the nose of the Americans. When U.S. U-2 spy planes finally spotted the Soviet missile bases all hell broke loose.
U.S. forces went to DEFCON 3, then DEFCON 2 -- the highest readiness stage before all-out war. Six U.S. army and Marine divisions moved to South Florida and Georgia. Nearly 600 U.S. warplanes were poised to attack. On 25 Oct. nuclear weapons were loaded onto U.S. B-47 and B-52 bombers. Seventy five percent of the Strategic Air Command's bombers were airborne or poised to attack the USSR.
Hot-headed Fidel Castro furiously demanded Khrushchev launch a preemptive nuclear strike on the U.S. Decades later, Castro admitted this was a terrible mistake. Fortunately, the Soviet leadership said "nyet!" A nuclear exchange in 1962 between the U.S. and USSR would have killed an estimated 100 million people on each side.
As Soviet freighters steamed towards Cuba, the Kennedy White House imposed a naval and air blockade on Cuba. But it was called a "quarantine" since under international law a blockade is an act of war. Today, in the undeclared war against Iran, the favored term is "sanctions."
I watched all this from Washington, knowing the city was the first target for a Soviet nuclear strike. Some wise people left town. Wealthy Latin American families chartered aircrafts to bring their children home. The university chapel was filled with students on their knees, many weeping, and saying Hail Marys.
Looking back, I don't know why my friends and I didn't high tail it out of Washington. I guess we simply could not believe that nuclear Armageddon was at hand. But it was. Soviet and U.S. forces were heading for a collision.
Then, the blustering but crafty Khrushchev offered to take Soviet missiles out of Cuba if the U.S. pledged never to invade the island. Kennedy readily accepted the deal. In a secret codicil, Kennedy agreed to quietly withdraw U.S. nuclear-armed Thor and Jupiter missiles targeted on the USSR from Turkey and Italy.
The deal was done. Washington hailed it as a huge victory for President Kennedy, who became a national hero and icon. This mythology persists in the U.S. today. The American public is still largely unaware of the secret deal.
In the end, the Soviet Union came out ahead. Cuba was saved from a U.S. invasion, which was Moscow's principal strategic goal, along with preserving the Castro regime.
U.S. missiles in Turkey and Italy (and likely Britain) threatening the USSR were removed, but the story remained secret for decades. Unaware of it, the Soviet politburo ousted Khrushchev a year later for "reckless, hare-brained schemes" and made the dim Leonid Brezhnev chairman.
Fortunately, the U.S. military was not allowed to invade Cuba: Unknown at the time, Soviet troops there were authorized to use 100 tactical nuclear weapons against any invading force and their bases in South Florida. As Wellington said after Waterloo, "it was a damned near-run thing."
But this "victory" misled America into hubris and over-relying on military action to resolve its future political problems.
Copyright Eric S. Margolis 2012.
Follow Eric Margolis on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ericmargolis