Academic journal article Military Review

DEFCON-2: Standing on the Brink of Nuclear War during the Cuban Missile Crisis

Academic journal article Military Review

DEFCON-2: Standing on the Brink of Nuclear War during the Cuban Missile Crisis

Article excerpt

DEFCON-2: Standing on the Brink of Nuclear War During the Cuban Missile Crisis, Norman Polmar and John D. Gresham, John Wiley & Sons, Hoboken, NJ, 2006, 384 pages, $27.95.

From 24 October through 20 November 1962, the Strategic Air Command (SAC) operated continuously at Defense Condition 2 (DEFCON-2) as the Cuban Missile Crisis brought the United States and the Soviet Union to the edge of nuclear war. The U.S. aggressively disputed Nikita Khrushchev's attempt to protect Fidel Castro's Cuba from invasion and to supplement Soviet strategic weapons by placing intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBMs) on the island.

Norman Polmar and John Gresham retell this crisis from both the Soviet and American perspectives and make a number of interesting points. First, because of the possibility that American U-2 reconnaissance aircraft would be shot down over the island, the U.S. delayed flights for two weeks, thereby allowing the Soviets to achieve their unprecedented deployment in secret; in effect, the United States almost lost the argument before it began. Next, even though the United States eventually learned that Russia had based IRBMs on the island, imagery analysts were never able to locate the nuclear warheads. They also overlooked the presence of hundreds of smaller, tactical nuclear weapons that would have made the planned U.S. invasion of Cuba a bloody prelude to a world war. …

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