June 8, 2012 – September 3, 2012
For 14 days in October 1962, the Cuban Missile Crisis was the closest the world came to a thermonuclear war and this historic event is detailed in a photographic timeline, Fallout Shelter and the Cold War Home dioramas with artifacts included in the “Cuban Missile Crisis: When the Cold War Got Hot” exhibition opening June 8 through September 3, 2012 at the American Museum of Science and Energy in Oak Ridge.
The United States armed forces were at their highest state of readiness ever and Soviet field commanders in Cuba were prepared to use battlefield nuclear weapons to defend the island if it was invaded. U.S. President John F. Kennedy and Premier Nikita Khrushchev demonstrated bravery and the war was averted.
In 1962, the Soviet Union was desperately behind the United States in the arms race. Soviet missiles were only powerful enough to be launched against Europe but U.S. missiles were capable of striking the entire Soviet Union. In May 1962, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev conceived the idea of placing intermediate-range missiles in Cuba. A deployment in Cuba would double the Soviet strategic arsenal and provide a real deterrent to a potential U.S. attack against the Soviet Union.
Meanwhile, Fidel Castrol was looking for a way to defend his island nation from an attack by the U.S. Ever since the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961, Castro felt a second attack was inevitable. Consequently, he approved of Khrushchev’s plan to place missiles on the island. In the summer of 1962 the Soviet Union worked quickly and secretly to build its missile installations in Cuba.
For the United States, the crisis began on October 15,1962 when reconnaissance photographs revealed Soviet missiles under construction in Cuba. On October 22, U.S. President John F. Kennedy announced the discovery of the missile installations to the public and his decision to quarantine the island. He also proclaimed that any nuclear missile launched from Cuba would be regarded as an attack on the United States by the Soviet Union and demanded that the Soviets remove all of there offensive weapons from Cuba. October 27 was the worst day of the crisis, when a U-2 was shot down over Cuba and a second letter from Khrushchev demanded the removal of U.S. missiles in Turkey in exchange for Soviet missiles in Cuba.
Tensions finally began to ease on October 28, 1962, when Khrushchev announced that he would dismantle the installations and return the missiles to the Soviet Union, expressing his trust that the United States would not invade Cuba. Further negotiations were held to implement the October 28 agreement, including a U.S. demand that Soviet light bombers be removed from Cuba, and specifying the exact form and conditions of U.S. assurances not to invade Cuba.