Key Players in the Cuban Missile Crisis

When Kennedy was assassinated one year later, LBJ depended on many of these same men to help him manage the war in Vietnam.

Robert Kennedy, the president’s younger brother, was probably his closest and most trusted adviser, especially when it came to sensitive political matters such as the Cuban crisis.

The Attorney General played a crucial part in the ExComm deliberations, offering very direct, often combative viewpoints that ran counter to the positions of either hawks or doves. In some of the most crucial discussions, Robert Kennedy met secretly with Soviet ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin to communicate the urgency of the situation and find a way to let both nations back away from the nuclear brink.

In 1968, he wrote Thirteen Days, for years the authoritative account of the missile crisis. That same year, he was assassinated, moments after giving his victory speech in the Democratic presidential primary in California.

Next to his brother Robert, President Kennedy looked to long-time political aide Theodore (“Ted”) Sorensen as his most loyal adviser. He served as JFK’s chief speechwriter and special counsel.

He advocated a naval blockade as the best first response to the missile crisis. He wrote Kennedy’s Oct. 22 speech to the nation, in which the president announced the presence of the Soviet missiles and the American response.

Sorenson helped Robert Kennedy write the standard account of the crisis, Thirteen Days, in 1968.

Dean Rusk had served in the State Department under President Truman during the early days of the Cold War. He was the most senior and experienced diplomat within ExComm.

Early in the crisis, Rusk pressed for a “surgical” air strike, but with a prior warning to Castro and Khrushchev. Later, he recommended that Robert Kennedy offer informal assurances to Soviet ambassador Dobrynin that the United States would withdraw its Jupiter missiles from Turkey.

Throughout, Rusk spoke formally and at great length about the need for careful deliberation in foreign affairs. While the president routinely referred to other ExComm members by their first names or nicknames, he always addressed Rusk as “Mr. Secretary.”

McGeorge Bundy was a dean at Harvard and a hereditary Republican when Kennedy tapped him to become his adviser for National Security Affairs in 1961. Like JFK, he had served in the Navy during World War II.

During the missile crisis, Bundy took minutes and sat directly across from the president during ExComm meetings at the White House. Although he advocated careful consideration of how any U.S. action might affect the situation in Berlin, Bundy joined with the hawks in pushing for a massive air strike against Cuba.

After the crisis, he helped formulate American policy in Vietnam.

Before coming to the Kennedy White House in 1961, Robert McNamara had been president of Ford Motor Co.

His approach to foreign affairs was to rationally weigh the costs and benefits of any policy option and then proceed with the cool logic of a technocrat. During the missile crisis, he preferred to keep options open and control the pace of events. As a key member of Kennedy’s ExComm defense team, he objected strongly to an air strike and was one of the most persuasive advocates of the naval blockade.

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