NPIC Photo Interpreter: Gentlemen, as most of you now know, a U-2 over Cuba Sunday morning took a series of disturbing photographs. Our analysis at NPIC indicates that the Soviet Union has followed up its conventional weapons build-up in Cuba with the introduction of surface-to-surface, medium-range ballistic missiles, or MRBMs. Our official estimate at this time is that the missile system is the SS-4 'Sandal'. We do not believe that the missiles are as yet operational. Iron Bark reports that the SS-4 can deliver a three-megaton nuclear weapon 1,000 miles. So far we've identified 32 missiles serviced by about 3,400 men, undoubtedly all Soviet personnel. Our cities and military installations in the southeast as far north as Washington, D.C., are in range of these weapons, and in the event of a launch would have only five minutes warning.
General Marshall Carter: Five minutes, gentlemen.
Gen. Maxwell Taylor: In those five minutes, they could kill 80 million Americans - and destroy a significant percentage of our bomber bases, degrading our retaliatory options. The Joint Chiefs' consensus, Mr. President, is that this signals a major doctrinal shift in Soviet thinking - to a first-strike policy. It is a massively destabilizing move.
Robert Kennedy: How long until they're operational?
NPIC Photo Interpreter: General Carter can answer that question better than I can.
Taylor: GMAC - Guided Missiles Intelligence Committee - estimates 10-14 days. A crash program could limit that time. However, I must stress that there may be more missiles - that we don't know about. We'll need more U-2 coverage.
President Kennedy: Gentlemen, I want first reactions here. Assuming for the moment that Khruschev has NOT gone off the deep end - and intends to start World War Three - what are we looking at?
Dean Rusk: Mr. President, I believe my team is in agreement. If we permit the introduction of nuclear missiles to a Soviet satellite nation in our hemisphere, the diplomatic consequences will be too terrible to contemplate. The Russians are trying to show the world they can do whatever they want, wherever they want, and we're powerless to stop them. If they succeed...
Robert Kennedy: It'll be Munich all over again.
Rusk: Yes. Appeasement only makes the aggressor more aggressive. And the Soviets will be emboldened to push us even harder. Now we must remove the missiles one way or another. Now it seems to me the options are either some combination of international pressure & action on our part, until they give in - or - we hit them. An air strike.
President Kennedy: Dean, how does this all play out?
Dean Acheson: Your first step sir, will be to demand that the Soviet withdraw the missiles within 12 to 24 hours. They will refuse. When they do you will order the strikes, followed by the invasion. They will resist and be overrun. They will retaliate against another target somewhere else in the world, most likely Berlin. We will honor our treaty commitments and resist them there, defeating them per our plans.
Kennedy: Those plans call for the use of nuclear weapons. So what is the next step?
Acheson: Hopefully cooler heads will prevail before we reach the next step.
[O'Donnell and Kennedy meet in the Oval Office after the above discussion. They pause for a moment, then softly laugh]
Kenny O'Donnell: You know, call me Irish, but I don't believe in "cooler heads prevailing."
President Kennedy: You know, I think I froze in there.
O'Donnell: You didn't freeze...You did what you were supposed to do, you stayed out of the corner.
Kennedy: Acheson's scenario is unacceptable, and he's got more experience than anybody.
O'Donnell: There is no expert on the subject, there is no wise old man. There's... shit, there's just us.
Kennedy: The thing is that Acheson's right. Talk alone's not gonna accomplish anything.
O'Donnell: Well, let's bomb the shit out of 'em! Everybody wants to. Even you, I mean, even me, right? It sure would feel good.
Gen. Curtis LeMay: You're in a pretty bad fix, Mr. President.
President Kennedy: [wonders at remark and looks back at LeMay] What did you say?
LeMay: You're in a pretty bad fix.
Kennedy: Well, maybe you haven't you noticed you're in it with me.
Helen O'Donnell: And while you're under a rock somewhere with the President, what am I supposed to do with our five children, Kenny?
Kenny O'Donnell: Honey, we're not going to let it come to that, I promise. Jack and Bobby, they're smart guys.
Helen: You're smart, too.
Kenny: Not like them.
Robert Kennedy: You know, I hate being called the brilliant one, the ruthless one, the guy everybody's afraid of. I hate it. I'm not so smart, you know? I'm not so ruthless.
Kenny O'Donnell: Well you're right... about the smart part.
Kenny O'Donnell: I got a bad feeling about what's going on in there!
President Kennedy: In the morning I'm taking charge of the blockade from the situation room and MacNamara is gonna set up shop at the flagpot at the Pentagon and keep an eye on things there.
O'Donnell: Good. Because you've got armed boarders climbing onto Soviet ships, and shots being fired across bows!
Kennedy: I know. I know.
O'Donnell: Well, what about these low level flights?
Kennedy: We need the flights.
O'Donnell: They're starting them when?
Kennedy: An hour.
O'Donnell: An hour. You realize what you're getting yourself in for?
Kennedy: Kenny, no, we need the flights, because the minute that first missile becomes operational we gotta go in there and destroy it.
O'Donnell: Fair enough, but Castro's on alert and we're flying attack planes over their sites, on the deck! There's no way for them to know we're carrying cameras not bombs.
Kennedy: God damn it!
O'Donnell: They're gonna be shot at, plain and simple.
Dean Acheson: What happened in there?
Gen. Maxwell Taylor: I thought he was going to give us his decision.
McGeorge Bundy: Look, I know them. They just need to make sure there's no other way. They'll get there.
Acheson: Remember, the Kennedys' father was one of the architects of Munich. There's only one responsible choice here. So, let's hope appeasement doesn't run in families. I fear weakness does.
[EXCOM meets in discussion]
Robert Kennedy: No, no, NO! Now there is more than one option here, and if one isn't occurring to us, it's because we haven't thought hard enough.
Dean Rusk: Bobby, sometimes there is only one right choice, and you thank God when it's so clear!
Kennedy: You're talking a sneak attack. How will that make us look? A big country blasting a little country to the Stone Age. Yeah, we'll be everyone's favorites.
Dean Acheson: Come on Bobby, that's naive. This is the real world. You know that better than anybody.
John McCone: And you weren't so ethically particular when we were talking about options for removing Castro over at CIA.
Robert Kennedy: At this moment in time the United States is accepting the terms of Secretary Khrushchev's letter of Friday night. If the Soviet Union halts construction immediately, removes the missiles, and submits to UN inspection, the United States will pledge to never invade Cuba, or to aid others in that enterprise.
Anatoly Dobrynin: If your Jupiter missiles in Turkey were removed also, such an accommodation could be reached.
RFK: That's not possible. The United States cannot agree to such terms under threat. Any belief to the contrary was in error.
Dobrynin: You want war?
RFK: [RFK makes a frustrated gesture; Dobrynin reaches for his briefcase as if to leave]However...while there can be no quid pro quo on this matter, the United States can offer a private assurance. Now our Jupiter missiles in Turkey are obsolete, and have been scheduled for withdrawal for some time. This withdrawal should take place within, say, six months. Of course any public disclosure of this assurance would negate the deal, and produce the most stringent denials from our government.
Dobrynin: This private assurance, represents the word of the highest authority?
Dobrynin: And it can be relayed beyond Comrade Khrushchev ears, to the top circles of my government?
RFK: Our pledge can be relayed to any government official Secretary Khrushchev sees fit to satisfy. With the caveat that it is not to be made public in any way, shape, or form. And we must have an answer tomorrow. I cannot stress this point enough.
RFK: [firmly] Tomorrow.
Dobrynin: Then, you must excuse me, [stands to leave] and permit me to relay the substance of our discussion to my superiors.
RFK: Of course.
Dobrynin: We have heard stories that some of your military men wish for war. [Puts his hand on RFK's shoulder] You are a good man. Your brother is a good man. I assure you there are other good men. Let us hope the will of good men is enough to counter the terrible strength of this thing that was put in motion.
Kenny O'Donnell: The president has instructed me to pass along an order to you. You are not to get shot down.
Commander William B. Ecker: Uh, we'll do our best, sir.
O'Donnell: I don't think you understand me, Commander. You are not to get shot down under any circumstances. Whatever happens up there, you were not shot at. Mechanical failures are fine, crashing into mountains fine. But you and your men are not to be shot at, fired at, or launched upon.
Ecker: Excuse me sir, what the hell is going on here?
O'Donnell: Commander, if you are fired upon, the President will be forced to attack the sites that fire on you. He doesn't want to have to do that. It's very important that he doesn't, or things could get very badly out of control.