How would the Cuban Missile Crisis have played out if, instead of a naval blockade, President Kennedy had ordered air strikes to destroy the missiles, followed by an invasion of Cuba? Would I be here to write this post, or you to read it?
No one knows for sure, but the Soviet battlefield nuclear weapons on Cuba – unknown to Kennedy’s advisers, and designed to repel an American invasion – indicate that the risk of a nuclear war would have been even greater than with our naval blockade. While there have been reports, and even tidbits, of the “airstrike speech” that JFK would have given in that event, only recently did the Kennedy Library release the entire speech. Unfortunately, it is part of a 166 page collection, and in a form that makes it very hard to find the speech. Mr. Reid Pauly, research assistant to Stanford Prof. Scott Sagan, has gone through the laborious effort of extracting the speech and has kindly given permission for it to be reproduced here. The speech starts out:
My fellow Americans:
With a heavy heart, and in necessary fulfillment of my oath of office, I have ordered – and the United States Air Force has now carried out – military operations, with conventional weapons only, to remove a major nuclear weapons build-up from the soil of Cuba. This action has been taken under Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations and in fulfillment of the requirements of the national safety. Further military action has been authorized to ensure that this threat is fully removed and not restored.
A separate blog post (coming here soon) explores who wrote this “airstrike speech,” and reaches a surprising conclusion.
You can also download this airstrike speech as a PDF.
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To learn more about the level of nuclear risk we bear, visit my related web site.