The Cuban Missile Crisis Started Over A Game Of Soccer

The popular sport almost caused a nuclear war.

Photo by Taylor Peake on Unsplash

After gaining power in the Caribbean island nation of Cuba in 1959, Fidel Castro decided to align his country with the Soviet Union.

Under his leadership, Cuba worked closely with the USSR on military and economic initiatives to further their countries’ strategic goals. However, this decision would quickly lead to one of the most frightening moments of human history.

The U.S.A. and the Soviet Union were engaged in a cold war. So when a C.I.A. consultant noticed multiple soccer fields along Cuba’s coast in September 1962, he quickly became worried. “Cubans play baseball, Russians play soccer,” he said.

Therefore, the C.I.A. consultant suggested the potential existence of a nearby Soviet military camp in Cuba, just a short distance from American shores. At the time, it was a terrifying prospect.

The fact that nuclear-armed missiles were being deployed close to the U.S. mainland (approximately 90 miles southeast of Florida) made the situation critical for American officials. The missiles could easily hit targets, such as major cities, in the eastern United States from that launch point. Thus, if allowed to become operational, the warheads would radically alter the balance of power between the United States and the USSR.

As a result of the newly-uncovered Soviet activities, J.F.K. allowed U2 bombers to fly over the nation of Cuba for reconnaissance. However, he was reluctant to make any bold military moves — as the Bay of Pigs (the CIA-backed invasion to overthrow Castro) was an absolute catastrophe.

The U2 bombers returned and confirmed the President’s worst fears. The Soviets were deploying missiles in Cuba. And after U.S. Intelligence informed him that tens of millions of lives were under threat from a potential nuclear attack, President Kennedy knew he had to do something.

He didn’t want to be the person who caused the annihilation of the human race due to a nuclear conflict with the Soviet Union. Despite intelligence officials advocating for a bombing strike on missile bases and another invasion, J.F.K. opted for a different solution.

The strategy began with a Naval Blockade to prevent the Soviet Union from delivering additional missiles to Cuba. The reason? He wanted to do everything within his power to prevent missiles from reaching American shores — without starting a nuclear conflict. Then, he offered an ultimatum to the USSR leader, demanding that any existing missiles be removed with immediate effect.

On October 22nd, 1962, the President made an infamous speech that quickly became one of his most memorable moments in office. In it, he notified Americans that missiles were in Cuba, and that he ordered a blockade. However, he emphasized that the U.S.A. was prepared to use military force if the situation dramatically worsened.

Many feared the world was on the edge of nuclear war. People around the country hoarded supplies in case of emergency. And so, the entire planet descended into silence as humanity waited for the Soviet response.

Eventually, it came. On October 24th, Soviet ships heading towards Cuba reached the blockade-enforcing line of American ships. Historical analysts suggest that any attempt to pass the blockade would have been met with overwhelming military force. However, the Soviet ships decided to stop, and an imminent crisis was quickly averted.

One massive problem was the missiles still in Cuba. Nobody wanted to back down due to fears they would be seen as weak in their citizens’ eyes. And so, the tense standoff between the two nations continued for several more days.

On October 27th, the entire world thought humanity was about to end (again). An American plane was shot down in Cuba. The pilot was killed. Tensions were already at boiling point. Many thought this would be the nail in the coffin. But thankfully, it wasn’t. Cool heads prevailed, and the two nuclear-armed superpowers managed to avoid a confrontation.

Throughout the events, which have historically been referred to as “The Cuban Missile Crisis,” J.F.K. and Khrushchev (the USSR leader) exchanged letters. In one of them, Khrushchev made an offer. If the U.S.A. promised not to invade Cuba, he would remove the Soviet missiles with immediate effect.

J.F.K. accepted the terms and promised not to invade the island nation. However, secretly, the U.S.A. also agreed to withdraw its missiles from Turkey. So, on October 28th 1962, the crisis officially ended.

After the Cuban Missile Crisis, both nations decided to set up a “hotline” of communication to ensure that any similar situations could be quickly diffused in the future.

However, the outcome of the crisis wasn’t entirely positive. It encouraged both countries to develop intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching pretty much anywhere in the world. And thus, in the present day, we now face a possibility of nuclear war with Russia. All because of a game of soccer.

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