New Lessons from the Cuban Missile Crisis

Thursday, January 30, 2014
7:00 pm – 8:30 pm EST Enter Classroom Enter Forum


Philip Brenner
Professor of International Relations and Affiliate Professor of History
American University

About the Seminar

On October 16, 1962 President John F. Kennedy was informed that the Soviet Union was building launching sites in Cuba for ballistic missiles with a range of 1000 miles. Cuba is approximately 90 miles from the United States. The missiles could have carried warheads 60 times more powerful than the atomic bomb that destroyed Hiroshima. The Cuban Missile Crisis was the closest the world has ever come to a nuclear Armageddon.

In part because the United States achieved its goal of removing the missiles and avoiding nuclear war, the Missile Crisis has become the basis for lessons taught to students about decision-making and coercive diplomacy for fifty years. But in light of recent scholarship that has uncovered new information about what actually happened in 1962, and how U.S. assumptions about its adversaries were flawed, a new, more appropriate set of lessons has emerged.

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Assigned Readings

  1. “The Missile Crisis Fifty Years Later: What We Should Have Learned,” by Philip Brenner.
  2. "Why We Should Still Study the Cuban Missile Crisis," by Michael Dobbs.
  3. "The Cuba Project [Operation Mongoose]," by DOD, Memorandum, TOP SECRET.
  4. "The Military Significance of the Soviet Missile Bases in Cuba," by R. L. Garthoff.
  5. Letter from Premier Nikita Khrushchev to President John F. Kennedy, October 26, 1962.
  6. Letter from Prime Minister Fidel Castro to Premier Nikita Khrushchev, October 26, 1962.
  7. Letter from Premier Nikita Khrushchev to President John F. Kennedy, October 27, 1962.

Suggested Additional Resources

    Recommended Documents:

  1. “Documents Relating to American Foreign Policy Cuban Missile Crisis,” Mount Holyoke College.
  2. National Security Archive.
  3. “Kennedy Khrushchev Exchanges,” FOREIGN RELATIONS OF THE UNITED STATES, 1961 1963, Volume VI; October 22 - November 22, 1962, Nos. 60-82.
  4. A Report on Plots to Assassinate Fidel Castro, CIA Inspector General, @ May 23, 1967; CIA AJFK@ Series, Record No. 104-10213-10101.
  5. Recommended Videos and Recordings:

  6. “Cuba, (1959-62).” CNN Cold War History, Episode 10.
  7. Fog of War, Errol Morris, director, (2005), movie.
  8. “Clouds Over Cuba” John F. Kennedy Library.
  9. John F. Kennedy “Meeting Recordings,” October 1962; Miller Center for Public Affairs, University of Virginia.
  10. Recommended Books:

  11. Sad and Luminous Days: Cuba’s Struggle with the Russians after the Missile Crisis,, by James G. Blight and Philip Brenner (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2002).
  12. Cuba on the Brink: Castro, The Missile Crisis, and the Soviet Collapse, by James G. Blight, Bruce J. Allyn, and David A. Welch; revised edition (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2002).
  13. One Minute to Midnight: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and Castro on the Brink of Nuclear War, by Michael Dobbs (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2008).
  14. One Hell of a Gamble: Khrushchev, Castro, and Kennedy, 1958-1964, by Aleksandr Fursenko and Timothy Naftali (New York: Norton, 1998).
  15. The Cuban Missile Crisis: A Concise History, by Don Munton and David A. Welch (Oxford University Press, 2007).
  16. The Cuban Missile Crisis in American Memory: Myths versus Reality, by Sheldon M. Stern (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2012).