Why was the Cuban missile crisis one of the most dangerous moments of the Cold War?
Fourth edition. August 2008.

The Cuban Missile Crisis: Considering its Place in Cold War History offers students a broad understanding of the consequences and dynamics of the Cold War. The materials prepare students to role-play a simulation of the discussion between President Kennedy and his advisors about how to respond.


The unit analyzes the Cold War dynamics that led to the Cuban missile crisis and examines the decision-making process within the Kennedy administration at the height of the confrontation with the Soviet Union. The background reading surveys the evolution of U.S. involvement in the Caribbean and Central America from the early 19th century to the present and prepares students to consider thoughtfully the causes and ramifications of the Cuban missile crisis. A final reading examines what we have learned in recent years.


U.S. Influence in the Caribbean and Central America

After delivering short presentations on topics relating to U.S. influence in the region, students draw connections among the various topics and identify major issues in U.S.-Caribbean relations.

Retracing the Path to October 1962

Through role-play, students recognize and articulate the differing positions of the United States, the Soviet Union, and Cuba on the eve of the Cuban missile crisis.

Role-Playing the Three Options

Working cooperatively to advocate for one of the three options facing President Kennedy in October 1962, students use primary sources to recreate this critical moment in history. A fourth group plays President Kennedy as he questions the groups and evaluates the options presented.

Examining the Documents of the Missile Crisis

Students analyze and interpret the most important documents of the missile crisis: letters between Kennedy and Khrushchev.

The Cuban Point of View

In this lesson students write a letter that was never written: one from Castro to Kennedy. Students consider the impact this letter might have had if it had been written (and read) at the time.

Tracing Forty Years

Students interpret a political cartoon, which sums up the entire history of U.S.-Cuban relations from one perspective.
How did many Cubans view U.S. influence in Cuba in the 1950s?
What were U.S.-Cuban relations like leading up to the Cuban Missile Crisis?
What was the Cuban Missile Crisis?
  • This guide is designed to help students think about complex issues raised by Virtual JFK. The film investigates one of the most debated "what if" scenarios in the history of U.S. foreign policy: What would President John F. Kennedy have done in Vietnam if he had not been assassinated in 1963, and had he been elected in 1964? The story takes place in the midst of the Cold War and tempestuous partisan politics in the United States.

Supplemental Resources

Additional reference material for added context and support.


Beschloss, Michael R. The Crisis Years: Kennedy and Khrushchev, 1960-1963 (New York: Harper Collins, 1991). 816 pages.

Blight, James G., and David A. Welch, eds. Intelligence and the Cuban Missile Crisis (London: Frank Cass Publishers, 1998). 234 pages.

Blight, James G., Bruce J. Allyn, and David A. Welch, Cuba on the Brink, Castro, The Missile Crisis, and the Soviet Collapse (New York: Pantheon Books, 2002). 537 pages.

Chang, Laurence, and Peter Kornbluh, eds. The Cuban Missile Crisis, 1962: A National Security Archive Documents Reader (New York: The New Press, 1998). 429 pages.

May, Ernest R., and Philip D. Zelikow, eds. The Kennedy Tapes: Inside the White House during the Cuban Missile Crisis (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1997). 728 pages.

An overview of the research of the Watson Institute on this the Cuban missile crisis
Collections of documents and photos, as well as recordings of ExComm meetings
Newly available documents, many from the Soviet perspective, and analysis of events
Transcripts and audio from President Kennedy's recordings, plus online exhibits to help students and teachers navigate the volume of material available
A PBS show on Cuba (Many resources on Cuba and U.S.-Cuba relations, both current and historical)
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