For a full account of the Cuban missile crisis, see Roger Hilsman, The Cuban
Missile Crisis: The Struggle Over Policy ( Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 1996), from which
this chapter was drawn.
What is referred to here as an MRBM was designated by American intelligence as
the SS-4 (the SS stands for surface-to-surface), a single-stage rocket. Without the nose
cone, which is how it was normally transported, it was fifty-nine feet long. What is
referred to here as an IRBM was designated by American intelligence as the SS-5, also a
single-stage rocket. Without its nose cone it was eighty-two feet long and eight feet in
The United States believed at the time that the Soviet ground forces in Cuba
numbered only about 20 thousand men and did not learn the true total was about 42
thousand until years after the crisis had been resolved. But low-level reconnaissance flights
instituted on October 23, just after the crisis became public, over the next two or three
days identified fourteen of the battlefield nuclear missile launchers, the weapon that the
Soviets called the Luna and American intelligence called the Frog.
In the conference between Americans, Soviets, and Cubans on the crisis held in Havana in 1992, a Soviet general said that at this time some of the MRBM warheads
were still en route, but that thirty-six had already arrived in Cuba (i.e., that thirty-six
MRBMs were ready to fire, not twenty-four).
"Strangelove" was the name given by the American participants in the crisis after
the movie, Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. In this
movie, the world is destroyed in a nuclear war caused when a single plane, whose radio
had been knocked out by antiaircraft fire, did not get the message to turn back and
dropped a nuclear bomb on the Soviet Union, which in turn set off an American "doomsday" machine of nuclear missiles that were triggered automatically by a nuclear explosion anywhere in the world.
This U-2 incident was important in bringing about the establishment of the socalled "hot line," providing a round-the-clock communications link between Moscow
and Washington, that was established after the crisis.
McGeorge Bundy, Danger and Survival: Choices About the Bomb in the First Fifty
Years ( New York: Random House, 1988), 412.
Robert E Kennedy, Thirteen Days: A Memoir of the Cuban Missile Crisis ( New
York: W. W. Norton, 1971), 45.