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Kennedy and Cuba

Summary: The Kennedy administration debated a full-on invasion of Cuba in 1962.

During the heat of the Cold War in the early 1960s, President John F. Kennedy’s administration saw the communist revolution on the nearby island of Cuba, just 90 miles from Florida’s coast, and the Soviet Union’s interference there as a direct threat to U.S. national security. Kennedy considered the possibility of an all-out invasion of Cuba to mediate the threat and preserve American interests in the Atlantic Ocean, but wanted to know the extent of the losses if they decided to attack. Kennedy subsequently tasked Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Maxwell Taylor with determining the likely fatalities should the U.S. choose to invade Cuba.

On November 2, 1962, Taylor wrote a memorandum to the president detailing his findings. Declassified on September 29, 2000, the memo describes the likelihood of defensive Cuban military equipment being manned by Soviet military personnel and the “possibility that the enemy may use nuclear weapons to repel invasion.” Taylor goes on to tell President Kennedy that “up to 18,500 casualties [might occur] in the first ten days of operation” should the U.S. attack, and a response to any counterattack by Cuban and Soviet forces “would be rapid and devastating.” This is assuming no nuclear warfare occurred, of course; Taylor is quick to mention that if they decided to use nuclear weapons, “there is no experience factor upon which to base an estimate of casualties.”

In the end, Kennedy decided against invading Cuba after the failed operation at the Bay of Pigs in 1961.

Sources & Further Reading

Taylor, Maxwell. Joint Chiefs of Staff: Memorandum for the President. “Evaluation of the Effect on US Operational Plans of Soviet Army Equipment Introduced Into Cuba.” November 2, 1962.

Written and researched by Jack Gassen. Posted May 2022.