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Cuban Missile Crisis — ‘Lost documents’ helped JFK to rewrite history

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“There’s a lot of ways this thing almost went… it literally could have blown up the world,” Dr Alan Diehl told Express.co.uk as he reflected on the Cuban Missile Crisis — the deadly stand-off between the then-USSR and US over nuclear weapons being held on the idyllic island of Cuba, which ended 60 years ago, on October 28, 1962. One of the endless scenarios, the former Whitehouse whistleblower suggested, saw a handful of US states ending up as “nuclear wasteland”, as well as millions dead around the world. But in a plot-twist worthy of a Hollywood film, documents that exposed the military moves the US planned to make against the USSR were lost, giving then-US President John F. Kennedy time to think about how the crisis should really end.

A near-fortnight of standoffs, threats and boasts of nuclear warfare that could have destroyed the planet was perhaps the pinnacle of Cold War tensions. Kennedy, also known as JFK, was up against his counterpart in the USSR, Nikita Khrushchev.

Tension between the two countries escalated after an American U-2 spy plane collected a series of damning images showing USSR missiles being built on Cuba. Kennedy promised swift and devastating action. Khrushchev followed suit.

The world held its breath as nuclear strikes were vowed. Modern reports claim that if such weapons were unleashed by the US and the Soviets, around 200million people would have died. British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan “had nightmares” over what may have happened, his grandson Lord Stockton once famously recalled decades later.

Just as Kennedy was being informed of what the US could do to ensure his nation prevailed from the saga victorious, a plane carrying the detailed military proposals about how the conflict should be fought were lost, Dr Diehl told Express.co.uk, and history’s course was immediately changed. 

But what was in the plans? 

Dr Diehl said the documents were intended to give JFK “a fairly detailed picture of what happened, which units had to be in place” and the US’ chances of success against Soviet Russia. 

He likened them to “a junior version of the World War Two D-Day plans”, as they had “landing zones, the timings, when and where the paratroopers were going to go in, when the Marines would land and on which beaches”.

Dr Diehl recalled: “On Guantanamo, they had beefed up the marine units that were in Cuba already. And the plan was when the signal was given to attack, the Marines would come rushing out… All of this stuff was very critical. It’s like, you know, the Allies planning for D-Day on a much smaller scale, of course.”

The former accident investigator noted that the President had concerns about the proposals as it was likely that their plot to bomb Russia’s arsenal of nukes would “probably get 90 percent of their strategic missiles taken out”.

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“Well you can imagine Kennedy’s reactions when this airforce officer gave him an honest answer, that no, we can’t guarantee 100 percent of those missiles will be taken out,” Dr Diehl continued.

“[Russia] had a couple dozen, probably operational, strategic ballistic nuclear missiles ready. So, if you take out 20 of the 24, for example, then there’s still many American cities that could end up becoming nuclear wasteland. Kennedy thought, ‘Gee, I don’t know if that’s such a good idea’, once he had heard that.”

With the documents seemingly vanished, lost mid-flight somewhere between Washington and Tampa when the “original invasion plans were literally ‘lost’ when a United States Air Force jet’s baggage compartment door came open in flight”, Kennedy had a huge decision to make.

Did he wait a couple of days for new plans to be crafted and delivered to his base? Or, did he press ahead with the plot he already had grave concerns about?

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During the delay, Kennedy, against the wishes of many of his top aides in the military, opted for a naval blockade as opposed to a full-scale quarantine of Cuba to protect the missiles from Russian meddling.

The dilemma facing him during those fateful 13 days 60 years ago form the basis of Dr Diehl’s new novel Armageddon Angels, which takes a part-historical, part-fictional view of the events from the eyes of a character witnessing the chaos unfold before them.

JFK’s decision utlimately paid off, as by October 28, with nowhere to turn, Krushchev confirmed his plans to dismantle the nuclear missiles on Cuba. The world caught its breath. 

But today, things are taking a sinister turn for the worse, as Russia’s contemporary leader, Vladimir Putin, threatens the West with nuclear ambitions of his own. 

Dr Diehl’s new book. Armageddon Angel, will be published in November. Find out more here.

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