Thirteen Days (book)

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Thirteen Days: A Memoir of the Cuban Missile Crisis
Author Robert F. Kennedy
Country United States
Language English
Publisher W. W. Norton
Publication date
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)
Preceded by N/A

Thirteen Days: A Memoir of the Cuban Missile Crisis is Robert F. Kennedy's account of the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. The book was released in 1969, a year after his assassination.[1]

Thirteen Days describes the meetings held by the Executive Committee (ExComm), the team assembled by US President John F. Kennedy to handle the tense situation that developed between the United States and the Soviet Union following the discovery of Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba, 90 miles (140 km) from Florida. Robert Kennedy, who was the US Attorney General at the time, describes his brother John's leadership style during the crisis as involved, but not controlling. Robert Kennedy viewed the military leaders on the council sympathetically, and recognized that their lifelong concentration on war was difficult to set aside.

The book was used as the basis for the 1974 television play The Missiles of October. In 2000, the theatrical film Thirteen Days was produced using the same title, but based on an entirely different book, The Kennedy Tapes: Inside the White House During the Cuban Missile Crisis by Ernest May and Philip Zelikow. That book contained some information that Kennedy was not able to reveal because it was classified at the time.

1. Development With the thirteen days under the threat of nuclear war still fresh in his mind, Robert Kennedy began to write memorandums in order to remember the key details of his experience. This eventually turned into his memoir, Thirteen Days. The account was written during the 60s, and was published posthumously in 1969, after Robert Kennedy's eventual death. The updated version of the memoir includes a foreword by Arthur Schlesinger Jr. and an afterward by Richard E. Neustadt and his colleague, Graham T. Allison.

2. Synopsis

The memoir centers around John F. Kennedy's brother Robert F. Kennedy's experience in the White House during the infamous Cuban Missile Crisis. While the person with the greatest clout during this time period was the President, Rob actually had major influence as well. Throughout the novel, Rob is assigned crucial tasks and is involved in every major decision. This leads to the novel being a must-read since the author was heavily involved in every aspect of one of the scariest and most decisive moments in United States history.

The novel begins with a meeting between Rob Kennedy and his brother, the President. On a Tuesday Morning on October 16, 1962, Kennedy was called in to the President's office to discuss the new great trouble that the United States was facing. The President proceeded to tell Kennedy that the United States had learned of information that the Russians were placing missiles and atomic weapons inside of Cuba. They had discovered this from a U-2 mission that had occurred recently. This moment with the President was when the Cuban Missile Crisis began for Robert F. Kennedy. The President might have known about the situation sooner, but for Rob, this was the moment that would change his life.

On that same day, a formal meeting was called in the Cabinet Room where a presentation would be given by the Central Intelligence Agency. During the meeting, Robert F. Kennedy listened as the dire situation was explained. Charts, pointers, and photographs were introduced as every person with clearance was briefed on the intel.

Kennedy reflects that, "The dominant feeling at the meeting was stunned surprise." It would take a few minutes for things to sink in, but once it did, the President, with Rob at his side, was ready to tackle this enormous problem.

3. Background

The Cuban Missile Crisis was a thirteen day standoff involving the Soviet Union and the United States.[2] When the United States received word that the Soviet Union had placed missiles in Cuba, they debated what their next move should be. October 16, 1962 was when the President first learned of this disastrous news, but it wasn't until a week later that he informed the public of what the course of action would be.

The Soviet Union was thought to have placed the missiles in Cuba for a few reasons: Firstly, the Cubans were miffed at the numerous attempts to overthrow Castro and thought this would be a good show of force.[3] Secondly, the missile gap was stacked heavily in the United State's advantage. Though it had been kept quiet by the U.S government, the U.S actually had a massive nuclear arsenal, while the Soviet Union's arsenal could be considered puny in comparison.[4] In 1961, John F. Kennedy made the decision to place nuclear missiles in Turkey and in Italy—both happened to be in striking distance of the U.S.S.R. Nikita Khrushchev, the leader of the Soviet Union, believed he was leveling the playing field by placing similar missiles in Cuba.

After some time of careful consideration, John F. Kennedy chose to use on of the more conservative options—a naval blockade.[5] On October 22, the news of this meaningful blockade was released to the public. The blockade would consist of a complete stoppage of Soviet shipments to the island of Cuba. Though warned about the ban on shipment, Soviet ships continued towards the quarantined site.[6]

Millions of Americans held their breaths during this period, as they wondered about what the Soviet course of action would be. If the Soviets ignored the blockade and resolved to oppose it, nuclear conflict could have arisen. Luckily, all of the ships stopped short of the blockade. However, the conflict was not yet finished.

The next few days involved many letters of communication passing through the hands of the Soviet Union and the United States. Nothing significantly helpful occurred in this communication until the 26th of October, when the Soviet leader made an enticing offer. He would remove his missiles in Cuba in exchange for a promise that the United States would never invade Cuba, as well as the removal of the missiles the United States had placed in Turkey.[7] Robert Kennedy himself actually delivered the United State's message to the Soviet ambassador in Washington. The answer was a firm yes, but under the condition that the removal of the United State's missiles from Cuba would be kept quiet by the Soviet Union.[8] The Soviet Union, possibly anxious to end this catastrophe once and for all, agreed to the terms, and the Cuban Missile Crisis officially came to a close of October 28, 1962.[9]

The aftermath of the crisis was the removal of Nikita Khrushchev from power in 1964, due to his looking weak to his countrymen in this conflict, and also the eternal glorification of the President of the United States at the time—John F. Kennedy—in which the press made him out to be a hero that had not actually had a hand in starting this near-disaster in the first place.[10] The Cold War continued on for more than two decades after the resolution of the crisis, but there was never a time in these years where the United States came so close to destruction as it did during this thirteen day period.


  1. ^ Haruya Anami, "'Thirteen Days' Thirty Years After: Robert Kennedy and the Cuban Missile Crisis Revisited," Journal of American & Canadian Studies (1994) Issue 12, pp 69-88.
  2. ^ Editors, "Cuban Missile Crisis". Retrieved May 5, 2018. 
  3. ^ Schwarz, Benjamin. "The Real Cuban Missile Crisis". The The Atlantic. Retrieved 19 May 2018. 
  4. ^ The atlantic
  5. ^ Editors, Britannica. "Cuban Missile Crisis". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 19 May 2018. 
  6. ^
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  10. ^ Jordan, Matthew. "The History of The Cuban Missile Crisis". Youtube. Retrieved 19 May 2018.