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The Boston Globe

Ideas

Did a mistake save the world?

John F. Kennedy relied on a history book to guide him in the Cuban Missile Crisis — and we now know that book was wrong

For 13 days in October 1962, President John F. Kennedy faced the task of avoiding Armageddon. American reconnaissance planes had just detected Soviet missiles in San Cristóbal, a city in western Cuba, and the United States was determined to expel them. The Soviets and Cubans were equally determined to keep those weapons in place.

In deciding what to do, Kennedy found himself facing off against his own Joint Chiefs of Staff, who unanimously recommended a full-scale attack and invasion of Cuba, as did other top advisers. Kennedy feared that such an attack would lead to the Soviet Union using nuclear weapons against the United States, to which America would have to respond in kind. Millions, perhaps billions, would be killed.

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