October 1962: the United States and the Soviet Union stood eyeball to eyeball, each brandishing enough nuclear weapons to obliterate civilization in the Northern Hemisphere. It was one of the most dangerous moments in world history. Day by day, for two weeks, the inner circle of President Kennedy's National Security Council debated what to do, twice coming to the brink of attacking Soviet military units in Cuba--units equipped for nuclear retaliation. And through it all, unbeknownst to any of the participants except the President himself, tape was rolling, capturing for posterity the deliberations that might have ended the world as we know it.
These are the full and authenticated transcripts of those audio recordings. Arguably the most important document in the history of the Cuban missile crisis, these transcripts are also a unique window on a drama rarely if ever witnessed by those outside the halls of power: the moment-by-moment decisionmaking of those with the fate of the West in their hands in a constantly changing, world-threatening situation. At the center of it all is President Kennedy, wary of experts after the debacle of the Bay of Pigs, puzzled and distrustful after confrontations with Khrushchev in Vienna and Berlin, and ever mindful of the responsibility symbolized by the satchel his military aides hold nearby, containing the codes to unleash nuclear warfare.
In one brief segment, midway through the crisis, the President, alone, speaks his thoughts into the machine. In others, he copes with hawks from Capitol Hill and the Pentagon. And in the last meeting, we hear him explaining and defending the formula that finally defused the crisis. With him throughout are his team from the State Department, including Secretary Dean Rusk, Under Secretary George Ball, and Llewellyn Thompson; his Defense team, especially Robert McNamara; his key assistants, Theodore Sorenson and McGeorge Bundy; Secretary of the Treasury Douglas Dillon; Vice President Lyndon Johnson; and, of course, his brother Robert, the Attorney General. All are identified and put into their proper context by the editors, whose introduction makes sense of this singular drama within the history of the Cold War and the Kennedy administration and whose conclusions will shape our understanding of the Cold War.