In the fall of 1962, the Soviet Union, under orders from Premier Khrushchev, began to secretly deploy a nuclear strike force in Cuba, just 90 miles from the United States, with missiles that could reach many major U.S. cities in less than five minutes. President Kennedy viewed the construction of these missile sites as intolerable, and insisted on their removal. Khrushchev refused—initially. The ensuing standoff nearly caused a nuclear exchange and is remembered in the United States as the Cuban Missile Crisis.
On October 28, 1962, as the world’s mightiest military forces stood poised for warfare, Khrushchev relented. In secret negotiations Kennedy had offered the Soviet premier a way out. The missile sites, Khrushchev announced, would be dismantled immediately. The peaceful resolution of the Cuban Missile Crisis was one of President Kennedy’s greatest diplomatic achievements.
Three months after the crisis was resolved, the Department of Defense conducted a televised press briefing chronicling the Soviet Union’s build-up and subsequent removal of nuclear weapons from Cuba. This board was used during that briefing to illustrate the gravity of the threat—nearly the entire United States was within range of the missiles.