John F. Kennedy: The Promise Revisited

By Paul Harper; Joann P. Krieg | Go to book overview

4
The First Day of the Cuban Missile Crisis, October 16, 1962

Lester H. Brune

In October 1983 the John F. Kennedy Library released sensitized transcripts of recordings made in the Cabinet Room of the White House on October 16, 1962. The recordings were of the first two sessions of the Executive Committee of the National Security Council (ExCom), called by the president after U-2 reconnaissance photos showed the Soviet Union was building missile launching pads in western Cuba. Although, as Archivist William Moss noted, no sensational new information appeared on the recordings, the transcripts contain invaluable historical details on the interaction of the ExCom as it considered how the United States should respond to the Soviet challenge. 1

While scholars may find a variety of fascinating details in the recordings, this chapter focuses on three aspects of the October 16 sessions: the tone of the meeting, which permitted a wide-ranging discourse; the consideration of the Soviet motives in creating a Cuban missile base; and the options suggested for the American response. Taken together, these three factors enabled the ExCom and President Kennedy to decide on a modus operandi four days later which, by avoiding the initial impulse to attack the bases, opened the way to the resolution of the Cuban crisis on October 28.

For President John F. Kennedy and the ExCom members, October 16, 1962, must have been a particularly long and tense day. Having learned of the U-2 photographs late the previous evening, ExCom members began meeting on the crisis in their respective departments shortly after 8:00 A.M. McGeorge Bundy, the special assistant for National Security Affairs, spared President Kennedy news about the U-2 photos until an 8:45 A.M. briefing that morning. Immediately, Kennedy told Bundy to call the ExCom meeting for 11:45 A.M. Subsequently, the group's first sessions lasted until 12:57 and the second session from 6:30 to 7:55 P.M. During the afternoon, Kennedy conducted his routine business while

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