Cuban Missile Crisis: President Kennedy Declares Blockade
At 7:00 EDT the night of Oct. 22, 1962, a stunned audience watched as President John F. Kennedy, in a televised nationwide address, told the American public that the Soviet Union was installing nuclear missiles in Cuba, just 90 miles off the U.S. coast. The U.S. was insisting that the Soviets remove the offensive weapons, Kennedy assured his audience, and was taking all necessary military precautions to back up this insistence—including a naval blockade of Cuba. The 13-day Cuban Missile Crisis was then in its second week, and would prove to be the closest the U.S. and U.S.S.R. came to a nuclear confrontation.
The American military knew the Soviets were installing missiles in Cuba, but had assumed they were short-range defensive missiles intended to thwart an American invasion of the island nation—and invasion that both Cuba and the Soviet Union believed to be imminent. Then, on October 14, a U.S. Air Force U-2 spy plane took more than 900 photographs of suspicious missile base activity in Cuba. Analysis of the photographs on October 15 convinced the experts that the Soviets were installing medium-range and intermediate-range nuclear missiles that could threaten most major cities in the U.S. President Kennedy was alerted the morning of October 16.
Six days later Kennedy’s nationwide address told the American public about the looming crisis. While frantic diplomatic efforts were pursued, the Soviets and Cubans kept on building the missile bases and the American military continued to prepare for action while implementing the naval blockade. Finally diplomacy prevailed, and the Cuban Missile Crisis ended on Oct. 28, 1962, with the Soviets agreeing to remove all nuclear missiles from Cuba and the Americans publicly declaring they would never invade Cuba. Secretly, the U.S. also agreed to remove its nuclear missiles in Italy and Turkey that threatened the U.S.S.R.
This news report of Kennedy’s nationwide speech about the Cuban missiles was published by the Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington) on the front page of its Oct. 22, 1962, issue:
U.S. to Blockade Cuba
Russia Turning Island into Offensive Threat to America, Kennedy Declares
(Compiled from Associated Press and United Press International)
Washington, Oct. 22.—President Kennedy proclaimed a United States naval blockade against Cuba today, saying the Soviets have started turning Cuba into an offensive military base capable of raining nuclear destruction on all the Americas.
Mr. Kennedy said “unmistakable evidence” had developed within the last week to prove that a series of offensive missile sites is being established in Cuba. He called it “that imprisoned island.” He added:
“The purpose of these bases can be none other than to provide a nuclear-strike capability against the Western Hemisphere.”
Mr. Kennedy said there are two types of missile installations in the Cuban buildup. These, he said, include facilities for medium-range ballistic missiles with a range of more than 1,000 nautical miles. In other words, he said, each missile could carry a nuclear warhead as far as Washington, the Panama Canal, Cape Canaveral, Mexico City or any other city in the Southeastern United States or the Caribbean area.
The Chief Executive accused the Soviets of lying when they said on September 11 that all military equipment sent to Cuba was exclusively for defensive purposes.
In addition to the quarantine, Mr. Kennedy also announced that he had taken these additional “initial” steps:
1. Continued, increased surveillance of Cuba and its military buildup with orders to the armed forces “to prepare for any eventualities.”
2. A declaration of American policy that this nation will 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.”
But Mr. Kennedy, in his dramatic report on the intensified buildup in Cuba, did not order any direct military action at this time.
The President called upon Soviet Premier Khrushchev [with] a demand that offensive weapons be withdrawn from Cuba, saying the Soviet leader thus had an opportunity “to move the world back from the abyss of destruction.”
The United States, the President said, was asking tonight for an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council where this country will introduce a resolution calling for prompt dismantling and withdrawal of all offensive weapons in Cuba under United Nations supervision. The President said the offensive weapons would have to be removed before the quarantine could be lifted.
Before Mr. Kennedy announced the blockade, United States war ships already had begun leaving East Coast ports.
Until recently, the United States had classified the Soviet buildup in Cuba as consisting largely of defensive weapons, including surface-to-air missiles of only 15 to 25 miles range.
The President disclosed tonight, however, that within the past week the United States had obtained “unmistakable evidence” that a series of offensive missile sites was in preparation in Cuba.
“The purpose of these bases can be none other than to provide a nuclear strike capability against the Western Hemisphere,” he said.
The President called upon Soviet Premier Khrushchev to halt “this clandestine, reckless and provocative threat to world peace and to stable relations between our two nations.”
Mr. Kennedy challenged Khrushchev to join in “an historic effort” to end the arms race.
The President announced that he has ordered reinforcements to the United States naval base at Guantanamo, Cuba; has evacuated dependents of military personnel from the base; and placed additional units on the alert.
The outlook, he acknowledged, is risky.
“My fellow citizens,” Mr. Kennedy said, “let no one doubt that this is a difficult and dangerous effort on which we have set out. No one can foresee precisely what course it will take or what costs or casualties will be incurred.
“Many months of sacrifice and self-discipline lie ahead—months in which both our will and our patience will be tested—months in which many threats and denunciations will keep us aware of our danger. But the greatest danger of all would be to do nothing.”
“One path we shall never choose,” he asserted, “is the path of surrender or submission.”
Two days of official silence in the widely-rumored crisis were broken at midday today when White House press secretary Pierre Salinger announced that the President had sought radio-television time to address the nation.
The President said preliminary but hard information of the installation of offensive weapons in Cuba was received last Tuesday [October 16]. He said he then directed an immediate step-up in American surveillance of Cuba.
Since Tuesday, the President said, the government had confirmed the preliminary evidence.
Mr. Kennedy said the new sites included installations for missiles of more than 1,000-mile range, capable of hitting Washington, Cape Canaveral, the Panama Canal, or virtually any part of the Southeastern United States, Central America or the Caribbean area.
The President also said additional sites not yet completed appeared to be designed for intermediate range ballistic missiles. These weapons are capable of traveling more than 2,000 miles and could cover most major cities of the Western Hemisphere from Canada to Peru.
Mr. Kennedy said that jet bombers capable of carrying nuclear weapons also are now being uncrated and assembled in Cuba while necessary air bases are being prepared.
“This urgent transformation of Cuba into an important strategic base—by the presence of these large, long-range and clearly offensive weapons of sudden mass destruction—constitutes an explicit threat to the peace and security of all the Americas,” the President said.
Through special radio facilities the President also in his speech directed a special message to “the captive people of Cuba.” He spoke of his deep sorrow that their nationalist revolution was betrayed; of his sorrow that their country fell under foreign domination.
“Now your leaders are no longer Cuban leaders inspired by Cuban ideals,” he said. “They are puppets and agents of an international conspiracy which has turned Cuba against your friends and neighbors in the Americas and turned it into the first Latin American country to become a target for nuclear war, the first Latin American country to have these weapons on its soil.”
The President pointed out that many times in the past the Cuban people had risen to throw out tyrants. He expressed confidence that this would happen again and Cubans then would be free from foreign domination, free to choose their own leaders and their own system.
“And then shall Cuba be welcomed back to the society of free nations and to the associations of this hemisphere,” he added.
Mr. Kennedy also made it explicit that the United States does not want war with the Soviet Union.
The President said, however, that it was difficult even to discuss problems with the Soviet Union “in an atmosphere of intimidation.”
For this reason, he said, the Soviet provision of offensive weapons in Cuba was a threat that had to be met with determination.
Furthermore, the President said, any hostile move anywhere in the world against the safety and freedom of those to whom the United States is committed, including West Berlin, would be “met by whatever action is needed.”
Mr. Kennedy said the United States was ready to present its case against the newest Soviet threat “at any time and in any forum—in the Organization of American States, in the United Nations, or in any other meeting that could be useful.” This reference to “any other meeting” might have related to recent informal expressions by Khrushchev of a possible trip to this country, primarily to visit the United Nations and also to talk with Mr. Kennedy.
The President made clear, however, that the presentation of the American case against the Soviet buildup in Cuba would be undertaken “without limiting our freedom of action.”
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