Cuban Missile Crisis: the 3 most surprising things you didn't know

Fifty years ago, the Cuban Missile Crisis brought the United States and the Soviet Union within a hair’s breadth of nuclear war. Here are three things that many Americans don’t know about what historians routinely call “the most dangerous moment in human history.”

2. Fidel Castro was pushing for nuclear annihilation of the US

This revelation came during a conference convened in 1989 with Soviets and Americans to learn the lessons of the Cuban Missile Crisis. It was then that Sovietologist Bruce Allyn, former director of Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School-Soviet Joint Study on Crisis Prevention, was confronted with a bombshell during a lunch break of Pepsi and Russian beet salad.

He was sitting with McNamara and Sergei Khrushchev, son of the Soviet leader, who had transcribed his father Nikita’s uncensored memoirs. Dr. Allyn, author of the new book on the Cuban Missile Crisis, “The Edge of Armageddon,” recalls that “Sergei leaned forward and quietly said, ‘I just wanted you to know that Castro wanted to launch a preemptive strike against the US.’ ”

The younger Khrushchev provided proof in his father’s uncensored memoirs. The plea for a nuclear strike came in a cable from Castro to Khrushchev, which warned that a US invasion of Cuba was imminent and urged Soviets to fire their nuclear missiles preemptively at the US.

Castro wrote: “If [the imperialists] actually carry out the brutal act of invading Cuba in violation of international law and morality, that would be the moment to eliminate such danger forever through an act of clear and legitimate defense, however harsh and terrible the solution would be, for there is no other.”

The cable left the elder Khrushchev in “utter shock,” Allyn recounts. In his uncensored memoirs, Nikita Khrushchev reported his own reaction: “Is he proposing that we start a nuclear war? This is insane.”

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