10 Scare-inducing Moments in History


Cuban Missile Crisis

An American P2V Neptune patrol plane flies over a Soviet freighter in 1962. MPI/Getty Images
An American P2V Neptune patrol plane flies over a Soviet freighter in 1962. MPI/Getty Images

"As I walked out [of the President's Oval Office] I thought I might never live to see another Saturday night" [source: National Security Archive]. Now that's a scary quote no matter who said it and what they were talking about. But when you realize that it was John F. Kennedy's Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara, taking about a possible nuclear strike against the United States, it's downright terrifying. It just goes to show how close the world came to all-out nuclear war during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.

The issue at hand was the Soviet Union's use of Cuba as a launching pad for nuclear weapons capable of striking the United States. Kennedy had warned Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev not to do it, so when American spy planes identified missile launch sites on the communist island nation, things got tense. Really tense. On Oct. 22, Kennedy ordered a naval quarantine of Cuba in order to prevent Soviets from delivering any offensive weapons. Negotiations went on for six days while the United States Strategic Air Command, which was responsible for the nation's strategic nuclear strike forces, stood at DEFCON 2, the highest level of readiness ever ordered [source: U.S. Department of State].

Thankfully, cooler heads prevailed, or else none of us might be here. On Oct. 28, Khrushchev agreed to remove the missiles from Cuba in exchange for an American promise not to invade the island, as well as the withdrawal of American missiles from Turkey. The brush with nuclear war was a wakeup call to the rival superpowers, which instituted a direct telephone line between the Kremlin and the White House as a result [source: State Department].