Fifty years ago today, on October 16, 1962, President John Kennedy was shown aerial photographs of offensive Soviet nuclear weapons in Cuba. Thus began the Cuban missile crisis and history’s highest-stakes game of chicken.
During the following thirteen days, my grandfather, Paul Nitze, then a high-ranking official in the Defense Department, was a member of ExComm, a small group of men who debated how the United States should respond. The President secretly recorded many of the conversations, but Nitze was the only participant authorized to take notes.
A few years ago, while researching a book about Nitze and his long-time friend and rival George Kennan—“The Hawk and the Dove: Paul Nitze, George Kennan and the History of the Cold War”—I came upon these notes, sitting in a box, behind a boiler, in a building at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, a school which Nitze had helped to found and where he worked when not in government. I quoted from them in the book, and donated them to the Library of Congress as part of a large collection that is now available for viewing. In honor of the anniversary, I’m also putting them all online today. Nitze’s handwriting isn’t great, and my digital photography isn’t either. But they provide a real-time glimpse at decisions made during a moment of terror.