Cuban Missile Crisis – Eyeball to Eyeball – Extra History – #2

It’s October 22nd 7 P.M. Camera equipment clutters The Oval Office. 3… 2… 1… The president is live, announcing to a hundred million Americans that there are nuclear weapons in Cuba. “Within the past week Unmistakable evidence has established the fact that a series of offensive missile sites Is now in preparation on that imprisoned Island. To halt this offensive build-up, a strict quarantine on all offensive military equipment under shipment to Cuba is being initiated. It shall be the policy of this nation to regard any nuclear missile Launched from Cuba against any nation in the Western Hemisphere as an attack by the Soviet Union on the United States Requiring a full retaliatory response upon the Soviet Union The US military goes to DEFCON 3. Missiles and bombers can launch within 15 minutes of a presidential order. The clock ticks another minute toward midnight. Music (Birth of The People) This Cold War series is brought to you by DomiNations. If you want to get your Khrushchev on check out the link in the description. Around the world troops are going on the alert. In Cuba, Castro sounds the mobilization, calling up 300,000 troops to defend the island. He dispatches Che Guevera to prepare for a guerrilla war. His brother Raúl surrounds Guantanamo Bay with artillery. A hundred miles away in Florida, a hundred and twenty thousand servicemen gather in an invasion force nearly as large as the one deployed on D-Day. Six hundred aircraft clog the runways. Troops sleep in football stadiums. A cargo plane crashes on the tarmac at Guantanamo Bay, it’s immolated crewmen are the first deaths in a conflict that could kill millions. In Moscow, the Presidium is buckling down for an all-night meeting. First, Khrushchev issues a statement calling this so-called “quarantine” an illegal act of piracy. He knows that the term’s a rhetorical dodge. Kennedy can’t call it a blockade because that would be an act of war. But illegal or not, Khrushchev orders his missile freighters to turn back toward the Soviet Union He can’t risk them being boarded. The other freighters, the ones delivering food and fuel, will continue on. Let Kennedy inspect those, it’ll only embarrass him. Their submarine escorts will hold position just outside the quarantine Ready to move in case war breaks out. One freighter, Khrushchev decides, should steam on ahead as planned. Kennedy has delayed the quarantine a day in order to seek international support, and in that time the freighter full of warheads can still make Cuba. It pulls into a rural port just before dawn. Soviet troops carefully unload its cargo and distribute it to the holding bunkers. Cuba’s missiles now have teeth. At 12:05 p.m., six US Navy jets take off from Florida, tearing over Cuba at a thousand feet. They are low-level reconnaissance craft meant to provide detailed pictures of the missile sites. On the ground below, Cuban anti-aircraft crews are unnerved and itching to strike back Were those recon aircraft, or strike fighters? Were their positions currently being marked for elimination? At 7:06 p.m., Kennedy officially signs the quarantine authorization, but there’s a problem. EXCOMM is still debating how the Navy will enforce it. The Navy thinks it’s simple; They will challenge every ship to stop for inspection. If the ship doesn’t stop, they’ll fire star shells. If it still doesn’t respond, they’ll disable its rudder and board it. If they encounter a submarine, they’ll use practice depth charges to force it to surface. Hearing this, Kennedy goes white. Firing on Soviet ships could start a battle. A battle could lead to a war,
and a war might mean nuclear annihilation. He dispatches the Secretary of Defense to keep watch over the Navy’s war room. There must be no shooting. The Navy was treating this quarantine as if it was their objective to sink ships, but this operation should be meant to communicate with Khrushchev. This isn’t whack-a-mole, it’s sign language with destroyers. That night, Robert Kennedy sneaks into the side door of the Soviet embassy. It’s a back channel that the Kennedys have used before. Robert asks if the Soviet ships will stop when challenged. The Ambassador, uninformed about the missiles and with no orders from Moscow, says that they will not. And furthermore, stopping them will be an act of war. On October 24th at 10:00 a.m. the first suspected weapons freighter is scheduled to hit the quarantine line in minutes. EXCOMM anxiously waits for news… then, a message! The Soviet missile freighters have turned back! We’re eyeball to eyeball,” says the Secretary of State. “And I think the other fellow just blinked.” Little do they know, there was no showdown. The freighters had turned back 30 hours ago. CIA analysts wanted to be certain before passing on the information and naval signals traffic is so busy right now even emergency messages are taking four hours to get through. The closest Soviet weapons freighter halted 500 miles away from the interception point But ships are still coming. In Omaha, Strategic Air Command orders the nuclear force to DEFCON 2. One hundred and forty five missiles stand at the ready. Twenty-three bombers circle outside Soviet airspace. Each with enough firepower to level four cities. It’s 5:15 in the Kremlin. Khrushchev has privately decided that there cannot under any circumstances be a war. But buckling to US pressure could destroy him politically. He needs to walk away from this with a win. He proposes a new strategy: Withdraw the missiles in return for Kennedy’s promise never to invade Cuba. The Presidium agrees to this. He drafts a letter outlining the deal and dispatches it to the U.S Embassy. It will take 8 hours to arrive. On October 25th at 5 P.M, The US ambassador to the UN is famously quiet and careful But Kennedy has made clear what needs to happen. The Soviets are still denying that the missiles exist. He has to go hard and hold their ambassador to account on television “Do you deny that the USSR has placed missiles in Cuba?” asks the ambassador. “Yes or no? Don’t wait for the translation… Yes, Or no?” “I am NOT in an American courtroom.” argues the Soviet ambassador. “The US will have their reply later.” “I am prepared to wait for my answer until hell freezes over.” the Ambassador answers. He raises blown up photographs of the missile sites and lays out his evidence. On October 26th at 1:00 AM in Minnesota, a sentry guarding a radar station sees the silhouette of a man trying to climb the fence. He fires into the darkness and raises a sabotage alarm. It’s happening. A soviet commando raid. Pilots across the midwest scramble into their cockpits But the alarm is canceled just before the first takeoff. It’s a false alarm; a bear had wandered into the wire. At 7:50 a.m. The US Navy boards the first vessel passing the quarantine line. Now, this is a bit of political theater Kennedy has purposely chosen a Lebanese freighter with a Greek crew for his first inspection. There is zero chance of it actually carrying nuclear weapons, but it does get the message across Ships will be stopped At 12 p.m, The CIA briefs EXCOMM Low-level reconnaissance has discovered something new. Soviet cruise missiles, probably nuclear. They’re positioned near Guantanamo Bay and the coast. Any US invasion will probably be met with a tactical nuclear strike. US generals asked for clearance to use their own tactical nukes. In Cuba Castro’s losing patience. He’s annoyed that Khrushchev ordered the freighters to return and furious that the Soviet ambassador is still denying the existence of missiles in Cuba. And most of all, he has had it with the reconnaissance flights. He’s held fire so far to preserve diplomatic efforts, but his spies in the US are reporting that an attack may come as soon as tonight. These planes are violating Cuban sovereignty, Scouting for an invasion, maybe even preparing for a surprise air strike He drafts a letter to the UN threatening defensive fire against any violation of Cuban airspace. At 6:00 p.m. Khrushchev’s proposed deal finally arrives at the White House. The letter is long and rambling which is why it took so long to translate, encrypt, and send; It pleads against a war. Kennedy wants to take this deal, but the press, stonewalled by the White House, and seizing on statements by a bureaucrat, is reporting that an invasion of Cuba is imminent. If the Soviets believe them war may break out before he can accept. On October 27th at 6:00 a.m. Castro has been at the Soviet embassy all night, trying to draft a statement. He thinks that the US will invade at any moment, and that will inevitably trigger nuclear war, but he keeps vacillating on what he wants Khrushchev to do about it. Finally the frustrated ambassador asks, “Are you recommending a first strike?” “Yes or no?” “Yes.” He says. In the event of a US invasion, the USSR must launch. Cuba will be martyred, but the global revolution will survive. Meanwhile in the White House, Kennedy is ordering more recon flights, despite Castro’s warning. CIA reports indicate that the missiles are now operational. If one launches, it will hit New York or Washington in ten minutes. There is ZERO room for error. One slip might mean the end of humanity. At 11:16 a.m, Soviet troops pick up a high-altitude plane over Cuba. It’s probably a U2, and it’s been photographing their positions in depth for an hour Their surface-to-air missiles can knock it out, and their general has issued orders to shoot down airspace violators. They call him for confirmation, but he’s asleep. So, they launched. 72,000 feet above, Major Anderson is listening to his U2’s camera traversing back and forth. Thunk Thunk Thunk Thunk Then a warning siren. An indicator goes red. He tries to evade, the fragile plane creaking as he banks Then, there’s an explosion. Shrapnel rattles through the fuselage. Helmet glass shatters, and then… depressurized silence. Debris falls on the green fields of Cuba. And now, it is a shooting war. [Extra History Theme Begins] This episode was brought to you by DomiNations! Click the link in the description to play the game for free! [Extra History Theme Plays]

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