The Cuban Missile Crisis — 13 days that shook the world — began when President Kennedy was brought reconnaissance photos showing ominous dark gray patches where they shouldn't be: Ninety miles south of the United States.
Details of the national security meetings that followed remained shrouded in mystery. But unknown to anyone but the president, Kennedy was a bit of a Nixon — he'd been discreetly taping his Oval Office gatherings.
Now, on the 35th anniversary of their recording, the Missile Crisis tapes (excerpted in TIME magazine) — have been published by Harvard University Press.
The 700-page transcript paints a frightening picture of how clearly America's top officials could visualize an all-out thermonuclear exchange — or, as they euphemistically put it, "general war." Sample extract: "There's bound to be a reprisal from the Soviet Union," says Kennedy. "Going in and taking Berlin by force. Which leaves me only one alternative, which is to fire nuclear weapons, which is a hell of an alternative."
Thanks to the late President's paranoia — well-justified, it seems, considering the military mutterings of "cowardice" captured on the tapes — we have a glimpse today of one of the darkest moments in human history.