In President Kennedy’s inaugural address, he warned of the dangers of nuclear weapons and of war that could result in the deaths of millions. As a young and untested president, he would have to balance the need to show American strength in the face of a growing Communist threat around the globe.
But in the lead up to the Cuban Missile Crisis, Kennedy would face a number of embarrassing failures in both Cuba and on the world stage with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev. It would be partly from these failures and other escalations that would embolden Khrushchev to embark on his Atomic Gambit, building nuclear missiles in Cuba and bringing the world the closest it had ever been to nuclear war.
Featuring interviews with Michael Dobbs, Alice L. George, Max Hastings, Sergei Khrushchev, Nina Khrushcheva, Fredrik Logevall, Tom Nichols, Serhii Plokhy, and Brenda Gayle Plummer.
View the transcript for this episode.
From the JFK Library Archives
View documents and photographs referenced in this episode.
John F. Kennedy's Inaugural Address, January 20, 1961 (transcript)
Address Before the American Society of Newspaper Editors, April 20, 1961 (transcript)
Press Conference, April 21, 1961 (transcript)
Radio and Television Report to the American People on Returning from Europe, June 6, 1961 (transcript)
Radio and Television Report to the American People on the Berlin Crisis, July 25, 1961 (transcript)
From the JFK Library
60/20 Podcast: From Satellite Spies to Russian Trolls, October 22, 2020
Essay: The Bay of Pigs
JFK Library Forum: Speeches That Changed the World: JFK at American University and in Berlin, May 28, 2013
Essay: The Nuclear Test Ban Treaty
National Security Archive: Kennedy and Cuba: Operation Mongoose, October 3, 2019.
Office of the Historian: Message From Chairman Khrushchev to President Kennedy, September 28, 1962.
Office of the Historian: Message From the President Kennedy to Chairman Khrushchev, October 8, 1962.
See full source list for this series.
Hosts and producers: Matt Porter and Jamie Richardson
Co-producer: Rick King
Supervisory Producer: Valerie Linson
Research Assistants: Sara Laroussi and Megan McKee
Independent Fact Checker: Ben Schafer
Thank you to The Miller Center at the University of Virginia for providing the White House tapes used in this series.
Thank you to JFK Library archives staff for assistance with researching and digitizing additional material.
Special thank you to Ambassador Caroline Kennedy for permission to use the audio from Jacqueline Kennedy’s 1964 oral history interview.
Podcast Art: Brian Kang
Music: Premium Beat by Shutterstock