One Hell of a Gamble: Khrushchev, Castro, and Kennedy, 1958-1964

One Hell of a Gamble: Khrushchev, Castro, and Kennedy, 1958-1964

One Hell of a Gamble: Khrushchev, Castro, and Kennedy, 1958-1964

One Hell of a Gamble: Khrushchev, Castro, and Kennedy, 1958-1964


John F. Kennedy did not live to write his memoirs; Fidel Castro will not reveal what he knows; and the records of the Soviet Union have long been sealed from public view: Of the most frightening episode of the Cold War -- the Cuban Missile Crisis -- we have had an incomplete picture. When did Castro embrace the Soviet Union? What proposals were put before the Kremlin through Kennedy's back-channel diplomacy? How close did we come to nuclear war? These questions have now been answered for the first time.

This important and controversial book draws the missing half of the story from secret Soviet archives revealed exclusively by the authors, including the files of Nikita Khrushchev and his leadership circle. Contained in these remarkable documents are the details of over forty secret meetings between Robert Kennedy and his Soviet contact, records of Castro's first solicitation of Soviet favor, and the plans, suspicions, and strategies of Khrushchev. This unique research opportunity has allowedthe authors to tell the complete, fascinating, and terrifying story of the most dangerous days of the last half-century.


For a generation of Americans and Russians, there was only one moment in the last half century when a third world war seemed possible. Americans of a certain age recall the flickering and foreshortened image of a handsome John F. Kennedy announcing that Soviet nuclear missiles were in Cuba, the reports of American jets and marines moving toward Florida, and the days of panic buying and uncertainty that ensued. Russians recall harrowing reports from Radio Moscow and the mobilization of the Soviet armed forces. For thirty-five years neither side has known how very close we actually came to a nuclear war in 1962.

On the night of October 22, hours before John Kennedy spoke to the world, the Kremlin indeed seriously considered using nuclear weapons on Americans. The appropriate orders were discussed, and the Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev, stayed the night in his office so that he would be able to cable these orders if they were necessary. At the same time 7,000 miles away the young American president, John Kennedy, was being lectured by senior members of the U.S. Congress who wanted him to invade the island of Cuba despite the presence of Soviet troops and nuclear weapons there. "If we go into Cuba," Kennedy cautioned the congressional leadership, "we have to all realize that we have taken the chance that these missiles, which are ready to fire, won't be fired." We "are prepared to take it"; but, the president noted, it would be "one hell of a gamble."

The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 has opened a period of reexamination of the recent past not experienced since the intense debates of the 1920s over the causes of the First World War. It was only fifteen years ago that Ronald Reagan found the Cold War so threatening that he launched a crusade against the Soviet Union, and the world seemed to have entered another dangerous phase of a drama that had begun in 1946. Yet a decade later the Soviet Union was no more, communism was in retreat everywhere save China, and many people began to ask, What was the Cold War all about?

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