ARCHIVAL (DOCUMENTARY, ONE WEEK IN OCTOBER, 1962):ANNOUNCER: In 1962, the United States and the Soviet Union stand on the verge of direct military confrontation.
MICHAEL DOBBS (COLD WAR HISTORIAN): I think the main lesson of the Cuban missile crisis was that as soon as you start escalating a conflict, accidents can happen.
ARCHIVAL (NATIONAL ARCHIVES AND RECORDS ADMINISTRATION, DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE, 1962):ANNOUNCER: Within 12 hours, all units were assembled and ready to go.
MICHAEL DOBBS: The politicians, the leaders, all their plans go out the window.
ARCHIVAL (NATIONAL ARCHIVES AND RECORDS ADMINISTRATION, U.S. INFORMATION AGENCY, 10-22-62):PRESIDENT JOHN F. KENNEDY: We will not prematurely or unnecessarily risk the costs of worldwide nuclear war.
MICHAEL DOBBS: But in a nuclear war, the margin for error is very, very narrow.
ARCHIVAL (CNBC, 9-22-22):SHEPARD SMITH: Vladimir Putin threatens nuclear action.
MICHAEL DOBBS: And then the question is, can the leaders control events that they have set in motion?
ARCHIVAL (1956):ANNOUNCER: Fine style gets aboard in Miami for a fine trip to Havana, Cuba.
MICHAEL DOBBS: Cuba in the 1950s had been a playground for rich Americans. Americans used to go down to Havana to gamble, to enjoy the girls, to enjoy the sunshine.
ARCHIVAL (U.S. ARMY):FRANK MCGEE: Our interest in Latin America has always been high. Today, it is deeper than ever.
NARRATION: Some 90 miles from American shores, the island of Cuba was a major sugar producer and haven for the American mafia.
MICHAEL DOBBS: It was run by a dictator called Fulgencio Batista, who made life very pleasant for visiting American tourists. But he ran Cuba like a personal fiefdom.
NARRATION: Toms Diez Acosta grew up in Cuba during Batistas rule.
TOMS DIEZ ACOSTA (RETIRED LIEUTENANT COLONEL, CUBAN REVOLUTIONARY ARMED FORCES, TRANSLATED FROM SPANISH): The cultural influence of the United States was very strong. The United States was one of the allied countries that fought against the fascist Nazi bloc. But we were wondering why the United States allows a corrupt and violent dictatorship such as Batistas. I felt great sympathy for the fighters who were fighting in the eastern mountains against that dictatorship.
ARCHIVAL (1-5-59):ANNOUNCER: From his stronghold in the wild Sierra Maestra mountains, Cubas Fidel Castro emerged triumphant after two years of guerilla warfare against the Batista regime.
NARRATION: Rising to power in 1959, revolutionary Fidel Castro pushed to rid Cuba of American influence.
ARCHIVAL (U.S. ARMY):ANNOUNCER: Steps taken by Castro aimed at reducing trade between the United States and Cuba
ARCHIVAL (1-22-59):ANNOUNCER: Castro says his revolutionary government has no reason to offer explanations to America or to anyone.
NARRATION: When the promise of democratic elections didnt materialize, along with Castro embracing Soviet leader Nitika Khrushchev, officials in Washington worried Cuba might become the first communist regime in the Western Hemisphere and a new front in the growing Cold War.
MICHAEL DOBBS: Soon there was a plan set in motion by the United States to deal with Castro, to overthrow him.
ARCHIVAL (6-1-65):ANNOUNCER: This was the campground of the proud and optimistic Cuban brigade, trained by the C.I.A. in perhaps the largest covert operation in the history of subversion.
EDUARDO ZAYAS-BAZN (PARTICIPANT, BAY OF PIGS INVASION: I remember being told by our C.I.A. trainer, You know, some of you might not make it.
NARRATION: In the early morning darkness of April 17, 1961, anti-Castro expats trained by the American government came ashore along Cubas Bay of Pigs. Eduardo Zayas-Bazn was one of them.
EDUARDO ZAYAS-BAZN: I joined a group of 12 frogmen. We had no prior military training whatsoever. But we were convinced that if the Americans were backing us that we were going to be successful.
NARRATION: Instead, the mission was a half-baked disaster, easily snuffed out by Castro.
ARCHIVAL (4-19-61):ANNOUNCER: The people have been exhorted by Castro to push back the invaders.
NARRATION: President John F. Kennedy, in office less than three months, had tried to conceal the United States involvement.
ARCHIVAL (4-15-61):ADLAI STEVENSON: These charges are totally false.
ARCHIVAL (1961):ANNOUNCER: The Bay of Pigs disaster was a military and diplomatic defeat for the new president.
EDUARDO ZAYAS-BAZN: The Americans had always been heroes to me. I could not believe the Americans had not only abandoned us. It was treason.
TOMS DIEZ ACOSTA (TRANSLATED FROM SPANISH): Cuba understood that the country had to be prepared, waiting for the United States to strike a blow against the country. The young people of my generation were given the opportunity to participate and I joined the national revolutionary militias.
MICHAEL DOBBS: The Bay of Pigs had the result of pushing Castro further into the arms of the Russians. He actually appeals for military support. And when the Russians offer him nuclear weapons as well, he thinks its his responsibility to accept that offer.
ARCHIVAL (DOCUMENTARY, ONE WEEK IN OCTOBER, 1962):ANNOUNCER: On October 14, a recon plane returns with the first hard photographic evidence indicating the presence of Soviet offensive missiles in Cuba.
NARRATION: In October 1962, aerial photos confirmed what American intelligence suspected.
ARCHIVAL (DOCUMENTARY, ONE WEEK IN OCTOBER, 1962):ANNOUNCER: And even before the new information can be fully assessed, the president orders the leaders of Americas armed forces to prepare for any emergency.
NARRATION: About an hour outside the Cuban capital of Havana, the Soviet Union had installed nuclear missiles within range of the United States.
SERHII PLOKHII (PROFESSOR OF HISTORY, HARVARD UNIVERSITY): Khrushchev told his military that his intention was to put hedgehog in Kennedys pants. The idea was to establish leverage.
MICHAEL DOBBS: After the Bay of Pigs, Kennedy comes into the Cuban missile crisis feeling that he has to reassert American credibility and prove himself. He makes it very clear right from the beginning whatever else happens, Khrushchev has to withdraw those missiles.
ARCHIVAL (DOCUMENTARY, ONE WEEK IN OCTOBER, 1962):ANNOUNCER: Although a direct military confrontation with the Soviet Union may be less than 72 hours away, few civilians are aware of the impending crisis.
SERHII PLOKHII: Kennedy was extremely concerned that any sort of miscommunication or misunderstanding could cause the start of the nuclear war.
ARCHIVAL (10-29-62):PRESIDENT JOHN F. KENNEDY: There isnt any question in your mind, however, that it is an intermediate-range missile?ADVISOR: No. Theres no question in our minds at all.
SERHII PLOKHII: Despite that there were numerous, numerous mistakes, misunderstandings and miscalculations.
NARRATION: Almost immediately, Kennedy was being advised to bomb the missile sites, a decision that could have dramatically escalated the crisis.
ARCHIVAL (10-29-62):PRESIDENT JOHN F. KENNEDY: Well, of course, one, would you suggest taking these out?ADVISOR: Yes, Mr. President.
MICHAEL DOBBS: However, one of the questions he asked the intelligence people was, Are those missiles ready to fire? And the best estimate he got was that weve got another week or two. So Kennedy had a few days to think about his reaction.
ARCHIVAL (NATIONAL ARCHIVES AND RECORDS ADMINISTRATION, U.S. INFORMATION AGENCY, 10-22-62):PRESIDENT JOHN F. KENNEDY: Good evening my fellow citizens.
MICHAEL DOBBS: He decided on an intermediate option. It was to impose a naval quarantine or blockade around Cuba.
ARCHIVAL (NATIONAL ARCHIVES AND RECORDS ADMINISTRATION, U.S. INFORMATION AGENCY, 10-22-62):PRESIDENT JOHN F. KENNEDY: All ships of any kind bound for Cuba from whatever nation or port, will, if found to contain cargoes of offensive weapons, be turned back.
NARRATION: But even the announcement of a blockade nearly resulted in catastrophe.
SERHII PLOKHII: After the announcement of the blockade the Soviet ships turned back. Well, that information arrived in the White House 24 hours later. And a few minutes before it arrived, Kennedy already gave his consent for the possible attack on those ships.
ARCHIVAL (DOCUMENTARY, ONE WEEK IN OCTOBER, 1962):ANNOUNCER: Men and women the world over hang on the news. No one can be sure that he and his family will still be alive at this time tomorrow.
TOMS DIEZ ACOSTA: I was mobilized. And we knew that the first ones to be exterminated would be the Cubans. But we were going to fight and fall with honor.
MICHAEL DOBBS: Both Kennedy and Khrushchev realized very quickly that they were losing control of events. The most dangerous day of the crisis, an American U-2 plane was going on a routine mission up to the North Pole and he made a wrong turn. And ended up over the Soviet Union. That could have been mistaken for an attack. The next day, Khrushchev wrote and said, you know, what are you doing? It turned out that Kennedy knew nothing about that flight.
NARRATION: Before the crisis spiraled any further, Kennedy and Khrushchev came to a compromise.
ARCHIVAL (1962):ANNOUNCER: Perhaps the most frightening week the world has ever known is over.
NARRATION: The Soviets would remove their missiles from Cuba with the assurance the United States would not invade the island. And despite public statements to the contrary, the Americans made a secret agreement they took their missiles out of Turkey, near the Soviet Union.
SERHII PLOKHII: One of the questions we should ask: If there were so many mistakes, misunderstandings and screw ups, why we are still here? Why there was no nuclear war over Cuba? The simplest answer to that is fear. And in particular fear that was shared between Kennedy and Khrushchev of the nuclear war. The two men went through the Second World War. They knew what global wars and nuclear bombings could look like.
NARRATION: Sixty years after Cuba, the United States and Russia again found themselves in a risky military faceoff, this time after Russia invaded neighboring Ukraine.
ARCHIVAL (STATE OF THE UNION ADDRESS, 2-7-23):PRESIDENT JOSEPH BIDEN: Putins invasion has been a test for the ages, a test for America, a test for the world.
ARCHIVAL (NBC, 9-22-22):VLADIMIR PUTIN: This is not a bluff. Those who try to blackmail us with nuclear weapons. The prevailing winds can turn in their direction.
SERHII PLOKHII: This war in Ukraine most likely inaugurates Cold War II. Both Khrushchev and Putin were trying to get on par with the United States.
MICHAEL DOBBS: Putin is a more unpredictable leader. Khrushchev had direct personal experience of war in a way that Putin never had and therefore he is willing to run a greater degree of risk.
ARCHIVAL (CBS NEWS, 60 MINUTES, 9-16-22):SCOTT PELLEY: What you would say to him if he is considering using chemical or tactical nuclear weapons?PRESIDENT JOSEPH BIDEN: Dont.
MICHAEL DOBBS: The peak of the Cuban crisis lasted 13 days. The situation in Ukraine, we dont know when it will end. The longer the crisis continues, the more things are going to happen without anybody expecting it.
ARCHIVAL (CBS, EVENING NEWS, 2-3-23):NEWS REPORT: Humanitarian aid worker from the U.S. was killed in that war-torn country.
MICHAEL DOBBS: Particularly in the nuclear era, everything depends on one or two men. They have incredible power at their fingertips. In the end, Kennedy and Khrushchev understood that they were on the same side. That was what saved the world in 1962. Its unclear whether Biden and Putin are on the same side.