Cuban Missile Crisis for Kids

  • During the Cuban Missile Crisis, leaders of the US and Soviet Union had a tense 13 days where they disagreed about putting missiles in Cuba.
  • The US was afraid that it would make them less safe because they were so close to America’s shores, but Russia did not care because they thought it would keep them safe from other countries.
  • John F Kennedy wanted to use military force to get rid of these missiles if necessary.
  • Following the news of missiles being in Cuba, many people thought there would be a war.
  • But it ended up being okay when the US agreed to take out the Cuban missiles in exchange for the Soviet Union not invading Cuba and deciding not to put any more missiles in Turkey.

What caused the Cuban Missile Crisis

The United States and the Soviet Union fought together during World War II against the Axis powers. But they also had some disagreements because Americans were worried about Soviet communism, and people were worried about Russian leader Joseph Stalin. Keep reading to learn more Cuban Missile Crisis facts.

After World War II, Russia was not allowed to be part of the international community. They were mad because Americans delayed entering the war. When it ended, they had a deep mistrust for Americans.

During the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union were enemies. They fought a lot and had many accidents that could have resulted in a nuclear disaster.

Read more about World War II

The Cuban Revolution

At the end of 1958, some people against Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista began to fight him. By New Year’s Day 1959, these rebels had taken over and become the leaders of Cuba.

This happened because they fought for many years and had propaganda campaigns (to tell people about their ideas). They also did guerrilla warfare (they attacked soldiers with guns) until finally, they won on New Year’s Day 1959.

The people of Cuba took to the streets and welcomed rebels. The rebels disarmed military installations and won without a fight.

Castro entered Havana slowly, visiting towns, cities, and villages along the way where he gave speeches to the cheering crowds. He finally entered Havana on January 9, 1959.

The Castro brothers quickly had power after they overthrew Batista. They got rid of the Batista regime and all of the rebel groups.

Raul Castro and Ché Guevara were in charge of organizing people to find “war criminals” who tortured and killed people under the old regime so they could be brought to trial or execution.

When Fidel Castro took over in Cuba, he became friends with the Soviet Union. He got help from them for military and economic stuff.

Cuban Missile Crisis: Nikita Chrushchev, Fidel Castro, and President John F. Kennedy (from left to right)

Although Castro started as a nationalist, he later became communist and went to the USSR. He stuck up for the USSR in many ways. That made the United States angry. The United States imposed an embargo that hurt Cuba’s people for many years.

During the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union (and their allies) had a terrible political rivalry. They had debates on many issues, but they were generally about politics and economics.

The Missile

Major Richard Heyser, the American U-2 spy plane pilot, flew over Cuba on October 14th, 1962, and photographed a Soviet SS-4 missile being assembled. He traveled to the island and shot hundreds of images of new projects in the Cuban countryside. As Heyser recalled, he was afraid he would be looked at as the man who started a war.

CIA analysts saw many things that show the Soviets were making sites to launch missiles that could hit targets across the United States. American officials were worried because the Cuban missiles were close to the US.

 The missiles are armed with nuclear bombs. If they are allowed to become operational, it will change the nuclear rivalry between the US and USSR.

Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev did not like the number of nuclear weapons that were pointed at him. So he did something about it. He sent missiles to Cuba.

Another factor was that the US and Cuba were not friends in the 1960s. President Kennedy had already attacked the island once, so Khrushchev and Castro also built missiles to stop any more attacks from happening.

President John F. Kennedy met with a team of advisers known as Ex-Comm, to decide how the United States should respond to the missile threat. Robert McNamara, the secretary of defense, brought three choices to President Kennedy.

  1. The president could talk to Cuban Leader Fidel Castro and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev.
  2. The United States might impose a naval quarantine on Cuba.
  3. The third choice was to use soldiers on the ground to destroy the missile sites. This might kill Soviet people and cause a counterattack.

Kennedy did not like the idea of an attack. He thought that quarantine was better because it would give time to negotiate with the Soviet Union about missiles. Because a blockade was considered an act of war, JFK and his advisors avoided using the term.

Cuban Missile Crisis: Negotiations

In a speech transmitted by American television, JFK said that he had “unmistakable evidence” of a missile threat. The president said that the United States would not allow ships to take weapons to Cuba. The government also wanted the Soviets to withdraw their missiles.

A letter was delivered via the US ambassador to the Soviet Union, who also brought a message from John F. Kennedy to Nikita Khrushchev. The message said:

the one thing that has most concerned me has been the possibility that your government would not correctly understand the will and determination of the United States in any given situation, since I have not assumed that you or any other sane man would, in this nuclear age, deliberately plunge the world into a war which it is crystal clear no country could win and which could only result in catastrophic consequences to the whole world, including the aggressor.

Khrushchev wrote a letter to Kennedy. He said that the missiles were for defense, not for attacking others. Kennedy wrote back, telling Khrushchev that he started this crisis by sending missiles to Cuba. Kennedy got a letter from Khrushchev saying that Kennedy was mean to the Soviet Union.

Meanwhile, US ships were already in place near Cuba. Soviet submarines also moved into the Caribbean. These ships were carrying supplies to Cuba, but they stopped because of what was happening.

The Soviet freighters went back and headed towards Europe. Nevertheless,  the oil tanker called Bucharest came into the US quarantine zone. It was headed for Cuba. Two American warships, the USS Essex and the USS Gearing prepared to intercept it. But instead of stopping it like they should have done, President Kennedy let it through because it was not carrying anything bad inside.

The Crisis becomes Dangerous

Castro sent a letter to Khrushchev. He wanted him to attack the US with a nuclear first strike. Khrushchev, however, did not want this and replied that he wanted to work with President Kennedy to make sure we didn’t end up in a thermonuclear war.

On October 27, 1962, a U-2 pilot named Rudolf Anderson was shot down and killed over Cuba. As the Soviet military tracked the intruding aircraft, they wondered if it was taking pictures of weapons near America’s Guantanamo Bay Naval Base. A deputy was instructed by Lieutenant-General Stepan Grechko to “Destroy Target Number 33.”

Two missiles flew up into the sky near the eastern port city of Banes. One missile hit the U-2 jet and killed its pilot. The other missile did not hit anything. The U-2 flew down to an island because it was hurt by shrapnel from the first missile that hit it.

This pilot’s death made it look like war was going to happen. The US government was worried that the Soviets had “fired the first shot.”

The End of the Cuban Missle Crisis

That night, the president sent his brother to meet with the Soviet ambassador and offer a secret deal. The Soviets promised to take their missiles out of Cuba, and in return, America would remove its missiles from Turkey and not invade Cuba.

Khrushchev gave up. He wrote a letter to Kennedy saying that he would take his missiles away from Cuba. The crisis was solved because of Kennedy, who wanted to negotiate.

In 1963, Kennedy spoke these words: “our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.”


The Cuban Missile Crisis made Americans and Soviets both retreat from their war threats. One year later, the superpowers signed two treaties about nuclear weapons to make it less likely that something like this would happen again.

Two actions were taken: A hotline was created to talk between the Kremlin and the White House and the signing of the Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.

The Cold War was going on, and the nuclear arms race was not finished. The crisis convinced the Soviets to increase their investment into an arsenal of missiles that could reach America from Soviet territory.

The Cuban Missile Crisis was a very important event during the Cold War. It made President Kennedy look good, and it also helped to get people’s opinions of him better. The Cuban Missile Crisis might have helped reduce some people’s bad feelings about the Bay of Pigs invasion.


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