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JFK Library film paints grim alternate history of the Cuban Missile Crisis

Part of Web, social media anniversary efforts

This image of a ruined US Capitol, a symbol of the devastation that the world fortunately avoided, greets visitors to the cloudsovercuba.com website.

The Martin Agency

This image of a ruined US Capitol, a symbol of the devastation that the world fortunately avoided, greets visitors to the cloudsovercuba.com website.

It is a grim alternative history of the Cuban Missile Crisis. When efforts fail to resolve the standoff peacefully, US troops invade Cuba and are bombarded with a tactical nuclear weapon. The Soviet Union unleashes another nuclear bomb on New Orleans, scorching it into a barren wasteland. The United States has no choice but all-out retaliation that leaves its adversary in ruins.

That nightmare scenario is sketched out in a section of an interactive documentary released by the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library to mark the 50th anniversary of the crisis.

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A section of the video, available at cloudsovercuba.com, explores what the present day would be like if the 13-day stretch in October 1962 led to a nuclear disaster, instead of a peaceful resolution. The “what if?” segment includes actors portraying a veteran of the “Cuban War,” a survivor of the New Orleans blast, and a Soviet bomber pilot who regrets the destruction of the Louisiana city.

The site also allows users to get a sense of the crisis unfolding through time by allowing them to import data into their Apple iCal or Google calendars, including recordings of secret meetings and letters between President John F. Kennedy and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, according to a statement released by the library. Users will thus be able “to ‘attend’ the meetings and receive the communications live over the 13 days,” the library said.

As part of an initiative to reach out to a younger audience, the library is also launching a live Twitter feed, mobile app, and traveling exhibit to mark the anniversary.

Tuesday marked “the first day of the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis, one of the most perilous moments in American history, and certainly the greatest test of John F. Kennedy’s presidency,” the library statement said. “As the world waited – and hoped – for a peaceful resolution to the Cuban Missile Crisis, President Kennedy and his advisers negotiated with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev to craft a diplomatic resolution for the removal of Soviet intercontinental missiles from Cuba.”

Library staff will live tweet the unfolding of the missile crisis starting today, from their Twitter account @JFK1962, using information from secret tapes and declassified material, according to the statement.

An exhibit named, “To the Brink: JFK and the Cuban Missile Crisis,” opened last week at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., and will be at the JFK Library from April to November of next year, library staff said.

The exhibit showcases secret tapes, original documents, artifacts, and photographs allowing visitors to experience how “President Kennedy and his advisers work furiously to avert a nuclear war and solve the crisis through strategic diplomacy,” according to the statement.

A free mobile app based on the “To the Brink” exhibit is available through Apple Inc.’s iTunes store or at JFKCMC.org, according to the statement.

Pablo Picasso’s “Rape of the Sabine Women,” a painting inspired by the 1962 crisis, is also on display at the JFK Library until January, according to the statement.

The library hosted a conference on the missile crisis on Sunday. More than 300 people attended the event, at which Sergei Khrushchev, the son of Nikita Khrushchev, and Jack Schlossberg, President Kennedy’s grandson, met for the first time, according to the statement.

Melissa Werthmann can be reached at melissa.werthmann@globe.com.
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