2 June 1962

During the FIFA World Cup, police had to intervene multiple times in fights between Chilean and Italian players in one of the most violent games in football history.

12 September 1962

President Kennedy delivers his “We choose to go to the Moon” speech at Rice University.

Kennedy, in a blue suit and tie, speaks at a wooden podium bearing the seal of the President of the United States. Vice President Lyndon Johnson and other dignitaries stand behind him.
President John F. Kennedy speaking at Rice University on September 12, 1962

"We choose to go to the Moon", officially titled as the Address at Rice University on the Nation's Space Effort, is a speech delivered by United States President John F. Kennedy about the effort to reach the Moon to a large crowd gathered at Rice Stadium in Houston, Texas, on September 12, 1962. The speech, largely written by Kennedy advisor and speechwriter Ted Sorensen, was intended to persuade the American people to support the Apollo program, the national effort to land a man on the Moon.

In his speech, Kennedy characterized space as a new frontier, invoking the pioneer spirit that dominated American folklore. He infused the speech with a sense of urgency and destiny, and emphasized the freedom enjoyed by Americans to choose their destiny rather than have it chosen for them. Although he called for competition with the Soviet Union, Kennedy also proposed making the Moon landing a joint project.

The speech resonated widely and is still remembered, although at the time there was disquiet about the cost and value of the Moon-landing effort. Kennedy's goal was realized posthumously, in July 1969, with the successful Apollo 11 mission.


When John F. Kennedy became President of the United States in January 1961, many Americans perceived that the United States was losing the Space Race with the Soviet Union, which had successfully launched the first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1, almost four years earlier. The perception increased when, on April 12, 1961, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space before the U.S. could launch its first Project Mercury astronaut.[1] American prestige was further damaged by the Bay of Pigs fiasco five days later.[2][3]

Convinced of the political need for an achievement which would decisively demonstrate America's space superiority, Kennedy asked his vice president, Lyndon B. Johnson, in his role as chairman of the National Aeronautics and Space Council, to identify such an achievement. He specifically asked him to investigate whether the United States could beat the Soviet Union in putting a laboratory in space, or orbiting a man around the Moon, or landing a man on the Moon, and to find out what such a project would cost. Johnson consulted with officials of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Its new administrator, James E. Webb, told him that there was no chance of beating the Russians to launching a space station, and it was uncertain as to whether NASA could orbit a man around the Moon first, so the best option would be to attempt to land a man on the Moon. This would also be the most expensive option; Webb believed it would require $22 billion to achieve it by 1970. Johnson also consulted with Wernher von Braun; military leaders, including Lieutenant General Bernard Schriever; and three captains of industry: Frank Stanton from CBS, Donald C. Cook from American Electric Power, and George R. Brown from Brown & Root.[4]

Kennedy stood before Congress on May 25, 1961, and proposed that the US "should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth."[5] Not everyone was impressed; a Gallup Poll indicated that 58 percent of Americans were opposed.[4]

Kennedy's goal gave a specific mission to NASA's Apollo program. This required the expansion of NASA's Space Task Group into a Manned Spacecraft Center. Houston, Texas was chosen as the site, and the Humble Oil and Refining Company donated the land during 1961, with Rice University as an intermediary.[6] Kennedy took a two-day visit to Houston in September 1962 to view the new facility. He was escorted by astronauts Scott Carpenter and John Glenn, and shown models of the Gemini and Apollo spacecraft. Kennedy also viewed Friendship 7, the Mercury spacecraft in which Glenn had made America's first orbital flight. He took advantage of the opportunity to deliver a speech to drum up support for the nation's space effort.[7][8] Initial drafts of the speech were written by Ted Sorensen, with changes by Kennedy.[9]

Speech delivery

Kennedy's speech on the nation's space effort delivered at Rice Stadium on September 12, 1962. The portion of the speech quoted on the left begins at 7:12.

On September 12, 1962, a warm and sunny day, President Kennedy delivered his speech before a crowd of about 40,000 people, at Rice University's Rice Stadium. Many individuals in the crowd were Rice University students.[8][10] The middle portion of the speech has been widely quoted and reads as follows:

We set sail on this new sea because there is new knowledge to be gained, and new rights to be won, and they must be won and used for the progress of all people. For space science, like nuclear science and all technology, has no conscience of its own. Whether it will become a force for good or ill depends on man, and only if the United States occupies a position of pre-eminence can we help decide whether this new ocean will be a sea of peace or a new terrifying theater of war. I do not say that we should or will go unprotected against the hostile misuse of space any more than we go unprotected against the hostile use of land or sea, but I do say that space can be explored and mastered without feeding the fires of war, without repeating the mistakes that man has made in extending his writ around this globe of ours.

There is no strife, no prejudice, no national conflict in outer space as yet. Its hazards are hostile to us all. Its conquest deserves the best of all mankind, and its opportunity for peaceful cooperation may never come again. But why, some say, the Moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask, why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas?

We choose to go to the Moon. We choose to go to the Moon...We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win, and the others, too.[11]

John F. Kennedy

The joke referring to the Rice–Texas football rivalry was handwritten by Kennedy into the speech text,[10] and is the part of the speech remembered by sports fans.[12] Although the Rice–Texas rivalry was highly competitive at the time of Kennedy's speech, with Rice holding an 18-17-1 edge over Texas from 1930 to 1966,[13] Rice has only beaten Texas in 1965 and 1994 since Kennedy's speech.[14] Later in the speech Kennedy also made a joke about the heat. The jokes elicited laughter from the audience. While these side comments may have diminished the rhetorical power of the speech, and do not resonate outside Texas, they stand as a reminder of the part Texas played in the space race.[15]


The crowd at Rice University watching Kennedy's speech

Kennedy's speech used three strategies: "a characterization of space as a beckoning frontier; an articulation of time that locates the endeavor within a historical moment of urgency and plausibility; and a final, cumulative strategy that invites audience members to live up to their pioneering heritage by going to the Moon."[16]

When addressing the crowd at Rice University, he equated the desire to explore space with the pioneering spirit that had dominated American folklore since the nation's foundation.[16] This allowed Kennedy to reference back to his inaugural address,[17] when he declared to the world "Together let us explore the stars". When he met with Nikita Khrushchev, the Premier of the Soviet Union in June 1961, Kennedy proposed making the Moon landing a joint project, but Khrushchev did not take up the offer.[18] There was rhetorical opposition in the speech to extending the militarization of space.

Kennedy verbally condensed human history to fifty years, in which "only last week did we develop penicillin and television and nuclear power, and now if America's new spacecraft succeeds in reaching Venus [Mariner 2], we will have literally reached the stars before midnight tonight."[19][11] With this extended metaphor, Kennedy sought to imbue a sense of urgency and change in his audience.[20] Most prominently, the phrase "We choose to go to the Moon" in the Rice speech was repeated three times consecutively, followed by an explanation that climaxes in his declaration that the challenge of space is "one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win."[11]

Considering the line before he rhetorically asked the audience why they choose to compete in tasks that challenge them, Kennedy highlighted here the nature of the decision to go to space as being a choice, an option that the American people have elected to pursue. Rather than claim it as essential, he emphasized the benefits such an endeavor could provide – uniting the nation and the competitive aspect of it. As Kennedy told Congress earlier, "whatever mankind must undertake, free men must fully share."[21] These words emphasized the freedom enjoyed by Americans to choose their destiny rather than have it chosen for them. Combined with Kennedy's overall usage of rhetorical devices in the Rice University speech, they were particularly apt as a declaration that began the American space race.[22]

Kennedy was able to describe a romantic notion of space in the Rice University speech with which all citizens of the United States, and even the world could participate, vastly increasing the number of citizens interested in space exploration. He began by talking about space as the new frontier for all of mankind, instilling the dream within the audience.[23] He then condensed human history to show that within a very brief period of time space travel will be possible, informing the audience that their dream is achievable. Lastly, he uses the first-personal plural "we" to represent all the people of the world that would allegedly explore space together, but also involves the crowd.[24]


Kennedy attending a briefing at Cape Canaveral on September 11, 1962.
With him in the front row are (from left) NASA administrator James Webb, Vice President Lyndon Johnson, NASA Launch Center director Kurt Debus, Lieutenant General Leighton I. Davis and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara.

Paul Burka, the executive editor of Texas Monthly magazine, a Rice alumnus who was present in the crowd that day, recalled 50 years later that the speech "speaks to the way Americans viewed the future in those days. It is a great speech, one that encapsulates all of recorded history and seeks to set it in the history of our own time. Unlike today’s politicians, Kennedy spoke to our best impulses as a nation, not our worst."[10] Ron Sass and Robert Curl were among the many members of the Rice University faculty present. Curl was amazed by the cost of the space exploration program. They recalled that the ambitious goal did not seem so remarkable at the time, and that Kennedy's speech was not regarded as so different from one delivered by President Dwight D. Eisenhower at Rice's Autry Court in 1960; but that speech has long since been forgotten, while Kennedy's is still remembered.[10]

The speech did not stem a rising tide of disquiet about the Moon landing effort. There were many other things that the money could be spent on. Eisenhower declared, "To spend $40 billion to reach the Moon is just nuts."[25] Senator Barry Goldwater argued that the civilian space program was pushing the more important military one aside. Senator William Proxmire feared that scientists would be diverted away from military research into space exploration. A budget cut was only narrowly averted.[26] Kennedy gave a speech to the United Nations General Assembly on September 20, 1963, in which he again proposed a joint expedition to the Moon.[27] Khrushchev remained cautious about participating, and responded with a statement in October 1963 in which he declared that the Soviet Union had no plans to send cosmonauts to the Moon.[28] However, his military advisors persuaded him that the offer was a good one, as it would enable the Soviet Union to acquire American technology.[29] Kennedy ordered reviews of the Apollo project in April, August and October 1963. The final report was received on November 29, 1963, a week after Kennedy's assassination.[18]


Buzz Aldrin on the Moon, 1969 (photograph by Neil Armstrong)

The idea of a joint Moon mission was abandoned after Kennedy's death,[29] but the Apollo Project became a memorial to him. His goal was fulfilled in July 1969, with the successful Apollo 11 Moon landing.[30] This accomplishment remains an enduring legacy of Kennedy's speech, but his deadline demanded a necessarily narrow focus, and there was no indication of what should be done next once it was achieved.[1][18] Apollo did not usher in an era of lunar exploration, and no further crewed missions were sent to the Moon after Apollo 17 in 1972. Subsequent planned Apollo missions were canceled.[18] The Space Shuttle and International Space Station projects never captured the public imagination the way the Apollo Project did, and NASA struggled to realize its visions with inadequate resources. Ambitious visions of space exploration were proclaimed by Presidents George H. W. Bush in 1989, George W. Bush in 2004, and Donald J. Trump in 2017, but the future of the American space program remains uncertain.[31]


The lectern Kennedy spoke from as he gave his speech is on display at Space Center Houston.[32]


  1. ^ a b Logsdon 2011, p. 29.
  2. ^ Young, Silcock & Dunn 1969, p. 109.
  3. ^ Jordan 2003, p. 209.
  4. ^ a b Young, Silcock & Dunn 1969, pp. 109–112.
  5. ^ "Excerpt from the 'Special Message to the Congress on Urgent National Needs'". NASA. May 24, 2004. Retrieved May 24, 2015.
  6. ^ Young, Silcock & Dunn 1969, p. 162.
  7. ^ Jordan 2003, p. 211.
  8. ^ a b Keilen, Eugene (September 19, 1962). "'Visiting Professor' Kennedy Pushes Space Age Spending" (PDF). The Rice Thresher. p. 1. Retrieved March 11, 2018.
  9. ^ Malangone, Abigail (September 12, 2017). "We Choose to Go to the Moon: The 55th Anniversary of the Rice University Speech". The JFK Library Archives: An Inside Look. Retrieved January 6, 2019.
  10. ^ a b c d Boyd, Jade (August 30, 2012). "JFK's 1962 Moon Speech Still Appeals 50 Years Later". Rice University. Retrieved March 20, 2018.
  11. ^ a b c "John F. Kennedy Moon Speech – Rice Stadium". NASA. Retrieved March 19, 2018.
  12. ^ Davis, Brian (September 8, 2015). "Now 53 years later, JFK asks, 'Why does Rice play Texas?'". Austin American-Statesman. Retrieved March 20, 2018.
  13. ^ Khan, Sam Jr. (September 11, 2019). "'Why does Rice play Texas?': How JFK's speech defined a rivalry". ESPN. Retrieved October 13, 2019.
  14. ^ Feigen, Jonathan (September 10, 2015). "When Rice beat Texas: October 16, 1994". Houston Chronicle. Retrieved March 20, 2018.
  15. ^ Hightower, Brantley (April 20, 2016). "Why Does Rice Play Texas?". Medium. Retrieved March 20, 2018.
  16. ^ a b Jordan 2003, p. 214.
  17. ^ "Inaugural Address, 20 January 1961". John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum. Retrieved March 11, 2018.
  18. ^ a b c d Logsdon 2011, p. 32.
  19. ^ Kennedy, John. "Rice University, 12 September 1962". John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. Retrieved March 10, 2018.
  20. ^ Jordan 2003, pp. 217–218.
  21. ^ Kennedy, John. "Special Message to Congress on Urgent National Needs, May 25, 1961". John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. Retrieved March 10, 2018.
  22. ^ Jordan 2003, pp. 219–220.
  23. ^ Jordan 2003, pp. 220–221.
  24. ^ Jordan 2003, p. 224.
  25. ^ Young, Silcock & Dunn 1969, p. 197.
  26. ^ Young, Silcock & Dunn 1969, pp. 197–198.
  27. ^ "Address at 18th U.N. General Assembly". John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum. September 20, 1963. Retrieved March 11, 2018.
  28. ^ Young, Silcock & Dunn 1969, pp. 202–207.
  29. ^ a b Glass, Andrew (September 20, 2017). "JFK Proposes Joint Lunar Expedition with Soviets, September 20, 1963". Politico. Retrieved March 19, 2018.
  30. ^ Neilon, John J. (July 18, 2013). "Eastern Launch Facilities, Kennedy Space Center". Encyclopedia of Space Science and Technology. Hoboken, NJ, USA: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. doi:10.1002/0471263869.sst045. ISBN 978-0-471-26386-9.
  31. ^ Logsdon 2011, p. 33.
  32. ^ "John F. Kennedy Podium". Space Center Houston. Retrieved March 13, 2020.


  • Jordan, John W. (Summer 2003). "Kennedy's Romantic Moon and Its Rhetorical Legacy for Space Exploration". Rhetoric and Public Affairs. 6 (2): 209–231. doi:10.1353/rap.2003.0047. ISSN 1094-8392. JSTOR 41940312. S2CID 143264606.
  • Logsdon, John M. (Spring 2011). "John F. Kennedy's Space Legacy and Its Lessons for Today". Issues in Science and Technology. 27 (3): 29–34. ISSN 0748-5492. JSTOR 43315485.
  • Young, Hugo; Silcock, Bryan; Dunn, Peter M. (1969). Journey to Tranquility. London: Jonathon Cape.

Further reading

  • DeGroot, Gerard (2008). The Dark Side Of The Moon: the Magnificent Madness of the American Lunar Quest. London: Vintage Books. ISBN 978-1-84413-831-9. OCLC 438328453.
  • Launius, Roger D. (2011). After Apollo: The Legacy of the American Moon Landings. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-230-11010-6. OCLC 707157323.
  • Logsdon, John M. (2011). John F. Kennedy and the Race to the Moon. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 978-0-230-11010-6. OCLC 707157323.

External links

19 March 1962

The Algerian War of Independence ends.

The Secret Army Organization was founded in 1961 as a response to General De Gaulle’s speech on Algeria’s right to self determination. It was formed by a group of pied noirs that called themselves “counter-terrorists” and had carried out attacks against the F.L.N since early in the war. By acts of sabotage and assassination in France and French Algerian territories, the O.A.S attempted to prevent Algerian Independence. On September 1961 the O.A.S attempted to assassinate De Gaulle but failed.

Despite the O.A.S attempts to stall and prevent Independence, Evian peace talks were held on March 7th between the F.L.N’s provisional government and De Gualle. The Evian Agreement was signed on March 18, 1962, and a cease fire was called on the 19th . It was also agreed Algeria would be able to vote for its future Independence on 1st of July.

Now desperate on saving “French Algeria”, the O.A.S reacted more violently than ever. The three months between the cease fire and the day of Independence the O.A.S unleashed a series of attacks. Their hope was that these attacks would to force the F.L.N to abandon cease fire therefore revoking any agreement between the F.L.N and the French government. In April they raided Muslim hospitals in Algiers, killing ten patients in their beds and wounding seven others. On the 3rd of May they filled a truck with explosives and killed 62 Muslims and wounded 110. On May 10th thirty Muslim women were killed in the streets of Oran and Algiers. Other actions included blowing up part of the library of the University of Algiers and the assassination of a famous Berber writer. Despite the O.A.S’s violent provocations, the F.L.N did not retaliate and kept the cease fire agreement. In June 1962 a cease fire was agreed between the O.A.S and the F.L.N.

20 November 1962

The Cuban Missile Crisis ends.


President Kennedy called on Premier Khrushchev tonight to carry out his promised missile pullback “at once” so that the U.S. and Russia could move promptly “to the settlement of the Cuban crisis.”

Officials disclosed that the U.S. would insist on a time line in the UN negotiations on pullout details. Informed sources said it should be a “very, very short” period, a matter of days, because some of the missiles already are operational.

In a new letter to the Kremlin leader the President declared that he now believed he and Khrushchev had reached “firm” agreement on the terms for ending an ominous East-West clash that had carried the world to the brink of nuclear war.

In return for a speedy missile pullback in Cuba, under UN supervision, the President said the U.S. would lift the sea blockade and offer Russia assurances against a Cuban invasion.

“I hope that the necessary measures can at once be taken through the United Nations, as your message says,” Kennedy told Khrushchev, “so that the U.S. in turn will be able to remove the quarantine measures now in effect.”

In a separate gesture to smooth the path to a final settlement the President voiced “regret” that an American plane collecting fallout samples in the atmosphere had slipped into Soviet air space in far northeast Siberia. He promised that “every precaution” would be taken to prevent a recurrence.

Kennedy’s letter was made public less than eight hours after the Moscow radio broadcast a Khrushchev letter agreeing to Kennedy’s missile pullout demands. It seemed to mark the beginning of the end of the fateful cold war collision.

Around the world the news brought a sigh of relief despite Administration attempts to ward off any premature victory statements.

Even Kennedy suggested in his letter that a solution was at hand. Underlining this was the fact that Kennedy spent the first afternoon away from his desk since the crisis erupted.

5 October 1962

The first James Bond movie, Dr. No, is released.


Dr. No is a 1962 British spy film, starring Sean Connery, with Ursula Andress and Joseph Wiseman, filmed in Jamaica and England. It is the first James Bond film. Based on the 1958 novel of the same name by Ian Fleming, it was adapted by Richard Maibaum, Johanna Harwood, and Berkely Mather and was directed by Terence Young. The film was produced by Harry Saltzman and Albert R. Broccoli, a partnership that would continue until 1975.

In the film, James Bond is sent to Jamaica to investigate the disappearance of a fellow British agent. The trail leads him to the underground base of Dr. No, who is plotting to disrupt an early American space launch with a radio beam weapon. Although the first of the Bond books to be made into a film, Dr. No was not the first of Fleming’s novels, Casino Royale being the debut for the character; the film makes a few references to threads from earlier books. This film also introduced the criminal organisation SPECTRE, which would also appear in six subsequent films.

Produced on a low budget, Dr. No was a financial success. While critical reaction was mixed upon release, over time the film has gained a reputation as one of the series’ best instalments. The film was the first of a successful series of 24 Bond films. Dr. No also launched a genre of “secret agent” films that flourished in the 1960s. The film also spawned a spin-off comic book and soundtrack album as part of its promotion and marketing.

21 April 1962

The Seattle World’s Fair opens.

The Century 21 Exposition – also known as the Seattle World’s Fair – was held between April 21 and October 21, 1962 drew almost 10 million visitors. A defining moment in the history of Seattle, this fair began life as the brainchild of City Councilman Al Rochester. By 1955, the councilman had generated considerable interest in his idea from decision makers at the state and city level, and in January Washington’s legislature allocated $5,000 for a small commission to study the feasibility of such a fair. Public excitement, spurred on by effective advertisement, soon gave the project further momentum; in 1957 Seattle voters passed a $7.5 million Civic Center bond for possible fairground development, an amount which was then matched by the legislature.

By April 1962, all that remained to be done was to open the doors to the public, which occurred during an extravagant opening ceremony on the 21st. Amidst 538 clanging bells, 2000 balloons, and 10 Air Force F-102 fighters swooping overhead, Exposition president Joseph Gandy officially opened Century 21 for business. For the next six months, visitors would be entertained not just by the many exhibits, but also by an array of musicians, orchestras, dance troupes, art collections, singers, comedians, and other various shows traveling through the fair during its run. Adding to the star-studded atmosphere was the presence of the ‘King of Rock and Roll,’ Elvis Presley, who arrived to shoot a film, It Happened at the World’s Fair. Indeed, a number of celebrities came to the Exposition as tourists, including Vice-President Lyndon Johnson, Walt Disney, and Prince Phillip of Great Britain. By the close of the fair on October 21, a total of 9,609,969 people officially visited, largely satisfying attendance goals.

19 March 1962

The Algerian War of Independence ends.

 photo 2012-10-03Grafik4594230478217451407_zps6jkuhbi0.jpg

Algerian War, also called Algerian War of Independence, war for Algerian independence from France. The movement for independence began during World War I and gained momentum after French promises of greater self-rule in Algeria went unfulfilled after World War II . In 1954 the National Liberation Front began a guerrilla war against France and sought diplomatic recognition at the UN to establish a sovereign Algerian state. Although Algerian fighters operated in the countryside—particularly along the country’s borders—the most serious fighting took place in and around Algiers, where FLN fighters launched a series of violent urban attacks that came to be known as the Battle of Algiers. French forces managed to regain control but only through brutal measures, and the ferocity of the fighting sapped the political will of the French to continue the conflict. In 1959 Charles de Gaulle declared that the Algerians had the right to determine their own future. Despite terrorist acts by French Algerians opposed to independence and an attempted coup in France by elements of the French army, an agreement was signed in 1962, and Algeria became independent.

Upon independence, in 1962, 900,000 European-Algerians fled to France, in fear of the FLN’s revenge, within a few months. The French government was totally unprepared for the vast number of refugees, which caused turmoil in France. The majority of Algerian Muslims who had worked for the French were disarmed and left behind as the treaty between French and Algerian authorities declared that no actions could be taken against them. However, the Harkis in particular, having served as auxiliaries with the French army, were regarded as traitors by the FLN and between 50,000 and 150,000 Harkis and family members were murdered by the FLN or by lynch-mobs, often after being abducted and tortured. About 91,000 managed to flee to France, some with help from their French officers acting against orders, and as of 2016 they and their descendants form a significant part of the Algerian-French population.

8 January 1962

A train crash in Harmelen, Netherlands killed 93 people.

The Harmelen train disaster was the worst railway accident in the history of the Netherlands on 8 January 1962. Harmelen, in the central Netherlands, is the location of a railway junction where a branch to Amsterdam leaves the Rotterdam to Utrecht line. It is common at high-speed junctions to avoid the use of diamond crossings wherever possible — instead a ladder crossing is employed where trains destined for the branch line cross over to the track normally employed for trains travelling in the opposite direction for a short distance before taking the branch line.The accident spurred the installation on Dutch railways of the system of automatic train protection known as Automatische treinbeïnvloeding (ATB) which automatically overrides the driver in such a “signal passed at danger” situation. The junction itself was later rebuilt as a flying junction.The accident happened 1.5 year after the Woerden train accident, the derailment of a British furlough train nearby.

28 October 1962


The Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev orders the removal of the Soviet missiles from Cuba, ending the Cuban missile crisis.

As the Cuban missile crisis unfolded in October 1962, President John F Kennedy found himself wondering why Nikita Khrushchev would gamble with putting nuclear missiles into Cuba. The Soviet leader felt he had justification enough. There were American missiles in Turkey and Italy; US bases dotted the globe; and Castro was a friend and ally under threat from the US.

It was a gamble, and most observers argue that Khrushchev lost. In his memoirs, Khrushchev claims that the outcome of the missile crisis was a “triumph of Soviet foreign policy and a personal triumph”, but few, even on the Soviet side, have seen it that way. Khrushchev’s then foreign minister, the dour Andrei Gromyko, in his scanty memoir account of the Cuban events praises Kennedy. While the crisis is historically the “Cuban” crisis, Cuba was perhaps a subsidiary consideration for Khrushchev, as Castro later noted – ruefully – in conversation with Soviet emissary Anastas Mikoyan.