October 17 was the second of the “Thirteen Days” Bobby Kennedy referred to in the title to his book about the Cuban Missile Crisis.
After two meetings on Tuesday, October 16, ExComm met early on October 17 without JFK being present. Pictures from two more U-2 missions came in, and 5 strategic missile sites were now identified. The Joint Chiefs of Staff in the Pentagon, prepared a list of targets to be bombed in a surprise attack, but both Kennedy brothers, as well as others in ExComm, had begun to draw uncomfortable parallels between a surprise air raid on Cuba and the Pearl Harbor attack twenty-one years earlier.
As this was the height of the campaign season for midterm elections, the President continued to maintain a normal schedule of public appearances, though he was thoroughly briefed about the day’s ExComm meetings. The Soviets expected to have some of the missile sites operational by the upcoming weekend, and did not yet suspect that the Americans had discovered them.
As mentioned yesterday, JFK had ordered a recording system to be installed in the Cabinet room, which he could operate by pressing a button under the table. As a result, virtually all ExComm meetings were recorded; these recording were released to researchers and the public only in the last decade or so.
While many people think that Richard Nixon was the first president to tape White House conversations, the practice went back to FDR. The biggest difference between Nixon’s system and those of his predecessors was that the Nixon system was fully automatic, and earlier systems were turned on and off at the President’s discretion.
Guest post by Douglas Niles, author of Final Failure: Eyeball to Eyeball, an alternate history of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Doug and I co-authored three alternate history military thrillers: Fox on the Rhine, Fox at the Front, and MacArthur’s War. He is also known for his fantasy novels and is an award-winning game designer.
Follow the inside story of the Cuban Missile Crisis as it evolves day by day from now through October 28!
(Image: This map of Cuba, with a partial listing of Soviet military sites on the island, was used in the October 17 ExComm meetings.)