rotating gif.gifFor more on other Cold War events, see USII.19 and World History II.32

Missile Launch Site, Cuba
Missile Launch Site, Cuba

Event Summary

In 1962, Cuba was convinced that the U.S. was planning to attack them and asked the Soviet Union for military assistance. See Digital History: Cuban Missile Crisis
  • The USSR sent Cuba materials to build missile bases and launch sites. When President Kennedy realized that Cuba could launch missiles into America, he demanded that the USSR remove its weapons and troops.
  • In order to prevent the delivery of any additional arms, the U.S. formed a naval blockade of Cuba as the world stood nervously on the brink of nuclear war. In the following days, the two sides managed to reach an agreement.
  • The USSR removed its weapons from Cuba in return for the US pledging not to attack the small communist country.
  • The US removed its Jupiter missiles from Turkey, though this measure was kept secret for decades after the fact.
  • Many believe that the Soviet Union felt provoked into placing missiles in Cuba by the United States decision to deploy Jupiter missiles in Italy and Turkey in 1959. These missile sites had become fully operational by the fall of 1961.

For additional background, see The Lessons of the Cuban Missile Crisis from Time Magazine, September 27, 1982.

President Kennedy Signing Quarantine Proclamation
President Kennedy Signing Quarantine Proclamation


Primary Sources

Nikita Khrushchev Letter to President Kennedy in response to Kennedy's threats of retaliation to the Soviet missiles, October 23, 1962.

Excerpt of Kennedy's address to the nation during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Cuban Missile Crisis, 1962: The Documents from National Security Archive

Cuban Missile Crisis: Historical Documents from AtomicArchive

Nikita Khrushchev, 1962
Nikita Khrushchev, 1962

Multimedia Resources


Thirteen Days Movie Trailer from YouTube

  • Many public buildings and government offices had shelters to protect against nuclear attacks during this time. Tour one of those bunkers here.
  • The government used to be worried about how much people would panic if there was a nuclear attack. See how well you do on this authentic quiz.


Teaching Resources

CIA Cuban Missile Range Map, 1962
CIA Cuban Missile Range Map, 1962

For teaching resources, see The Cuban Missile Crisis, 1962 from George Washington University that includes photographs, audio clips, declassified documents and other materials.

white-house-residence_w725_h420.jpgFor more, see the Cuban Missile Crisis from the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library. View the Library's online exhibit: The World on the Brink: John F. Kennedy and the Cuban Missile Crisis

The Cuban Missile Crisis 50th Anniversary Website from the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the Harvard Kennedy School for Government.

A lesson plan from the John F. Kennedy Presidential library on the Cuban Missile Crisis.

An article, published 50 years after the Cuban Missile Crisis, about the Cuban perspective of the event.

The Cuban Missile Crisis is well-documented as a tense period in time when the United States and the Soviet Union stood on the brink on nuclear war, but as the nuclear arsenals of the two superpowers grew more complex, the potential for a systems accident that could result in a nuclear exchange increased.
  • For an article concerned with several "false alarms" that almost led to nuclear war, click here.
  • To watch a British documentary, 1983: The Brink of Apocalypse, about the nuclear war scare of 1983, click here