fidel castro

Public Opinion in the JFK Library Archives: The Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962

By Dana Bronson and Stacey Chandler, Archives Reference

On October 14, 1962 an American spy plane photographed the construction of missile sites in Cuba - the result of an agreement between Soviet Union leader Nikita Khrushchev and Cuba leader Fidel Castro, made after the failed U.S. invasion of Cuba’s Bay of Pigs in 1961. The photographs showed that the new missile sites, built with supplies sent by Khrushchev, could be capable of launching thermonuclear weapons into the United States.

President John F. Kennedy and his advisers held hours of secret meetings in the two weeks that followed. Some of his aides encouraged attacking Cuba with an invasion or air strikes, and others argued for a naval “quarantine” to block Soviet ships from bringing more military supplies to Cuba. The President chose the quarantine, and gave a speech on October 22 to tell the world about the missile sites – and what the administration planned to do about them.

After the speech, thousands of people wrote to the White House with their suggestions, criticisms, and concerns. Their letters are now part of the Public Opinion Mail collection at the JFK Library Archives, and we’re working on preserving and organizing them for the first time.


Citizens across the country offered their opinions throughout the crisis – especially about the President’s quarantine decision. Some appreciated what they saw as a cautious approach by the administration, while others worried that the blockade itself could lead to a nuclear World War III.




Other writers urged the President to take an aggressive stance and order a full invasion or attack on Cuba.



As tensions rose, the press began reporting on possible compromises: if the U.S. would withdraw its own missiles from Turkey, the Soviet Union might dismantle its Cuban missile sites. Another proposed solution, advocated by United Nations Secretary General U Thant, suggested that Cuba halt construction in exchange for an American promise to stop the naval quarantine. Other proposals involved giving up the U.S. Military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Some citizens who wrote to the President encouraged him to consider these potential resolutions.




But many writers, including some former residents of Cuba, cautioned the President against making any deals with Khrushchev or Castro.




The Cuban Missile Crisis came to a resolution at the end of October, when it was announced that the Soviet Union would dismantle its Cuban missile sites, while the U.S. would lift the quarantine and pledge never to invade Cuba. In a behind-the-scenes deal that would stay secret for over 25 years, the Kennedy administration also agreed to remove American missiles from Turkey. But while the crisis was over, it remained on the minds of many Americans; the White House continued to receive letters about it for the rest of the Kennedy Presidency.



Spanning roughly 120 boxes in the library’s Public Opinion Mail collection, the Cuban Missile Crisis letters document perspectives that are often overlooked in the telling of this and other famous Cold War histories, including the fears, hopes, and thoughts of ordinary Americans who found themselves living through a tumultuous period.


“Why should some people walk barefoot, so that others can travel in luxurious cars? Why should some live for thirty-five years, so that others can live for seventy years? Why should some be miserably poor, so that others can be hugely rich? I speak on behalf of the children in the world who do not have a piece of bread. I speak on the behalf of the sick who have no medicine, of those whose rights to life and human dignity have been denied.”

— Fidel Castro’s message to the UN General Assembly, 1979

The CIA’s plan to commit terror attacks in America — Operation Northwoods

In the early 1960’s Fidel Castro was becoming one pain in the butt embarrassment for the Central Intelligence Agency.  Cuba represented an immense failure of US foreign policy, as the once American dominated government fell to Castro’s regime in 1959.  In the upcoming years, the CIA would try numerous times to assassinate, discredit, and remove Castro from power.  This culminated with the Bay of Pigs Invasion in 1961 where the CIA attempted a failed military invasion using Cuban counterrevolutionaries, and the Cuban Missile Crises, a showdown between the US and Soviet Union over Soviet nuclear missiles stationed in Cuba.

In 1962 the CIA proposed Operation Northwoods as a drastic but conclusive solution to the Cuban situation.  Operation Northwoods called for a series of terrorist attacks on American military bases and civilian targets, which were to be conducted by CIA personnel disguised as Cuban agents.  With supposed evidence in hand, the US Government would then have full justification for military operations against Cuba.  Operation Northwoods was to begin with an assault on Guantanamo Bay by “Cuban Forces”.  Then a series of terrorist attacks would be conducted by CIA agents in cities such as Miami and Washington.

 Among the plans was a scheme to hijack an airplane then simulate a crash with an empty airplane that would give the appearance of “killing all passengers”.  In Miami CIA agents were to assassinate a number of Cuban refugees, leaving evidence that the murders were conducted by Cuban assassins. It was also suggested that a boatload of Cuban refugees be destroyed, with evidence planted to blame Pro-Castro saboteurs.  The plan even called for the mass shooting of civilians on the street by “Cuban military forces” as well as the bombings of American ships and buildings. There was even a plan to blow up an American ship, creating a “USS Maine” propaganda moment to galvanize Americans against Cuba.  Finally, Operation Northwoods called for a fleet of American captured MiG fighter jets to fly over American airspace, harassing civil aviation and perhaps even shooting down an American airliner bound for the Caribbean.  

The plan was drafted by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, signed by Chairman Gen. Lyman Lemnitzer, and forwarded to President John F. Kennedy by Robert Mcnamara.  Horrified by such a corrupt and unethical plan, JFK refused to approve of it.  Fortunately, Operation Northwoods never happened.  Documents of Operation Northwoods were declassified in 1997.  A copy of a Defense Department memo on Northwoods can be found in the link below.


Yousuf Karsh (December 23, 1908 – July, 13, 2002) was one of the most accomplished photographers of his time. Karsh’s work stood out in portrait photography with his distinct use of artificial light. Karsh would experiment with lights in his studio to give his images a dramatic effect.-