Causes summary

In 1962, the Cold War was at its coldest. The Russians had built the Berlin Wall the previous year. Kennedy, who had been elected because he promised to get tough with the Communists, felt that Khrushchev had got one over on him at the Vienna Summit in 1961. In April 1962, the Americans put nuclear missiles in Turkey.

Also, in 1959, a rebel named Fidel Castro took power in Cuba, an island just 90 miles away from Florida. Before Castro took over, the government - led by Colonel Batista - had been a corrupt and right-wing military dictatorship, but the Americans had many business interests in Cuba.

When Castro came to power, however, he nationalised American companies in Cuba. In retaliation, the Americans stopped all aid to Cuba, and all imports of Cuban sugar. This was a blow to Castro as sugar was the mainstay of the Cuban economy. Castro was forced to look to the USSR for help, and, in 1960, the USSR signed an agreement to buy 1 million tonnes of Cuban sugar every year. Castro, who had not been a Communist when he took power, became a Communist.

Map showing the range of missiles fired from CubaA map showing the range of missiles fired from Cuba

America was alarmed. In April 1961, with Kennedy's knowledge, the CIA funded, trained, armed and transported 1,300 Cuban exiles to invade Cuba. They landed at the Bay of Pigs and made an attempt to overthrow Castro. The invasion was a disaster, and President Kennedy was humiliated.

In September 1961, Castro asked for - and Russia publicly promised - weapons to defend Cuba against America. Which is why on 14 October 1962, the Americans discovered the missile sites in Cuba. These sites brought every town in the US within range of Soviet nuclear missiles. President Kennedy called a meeting of the National Security Council and on 22 October went on TV to tell the American people that they were under threat.

The crisis had begun.