Early that morning, U-2 photos turned up evidence of intermediate-range ballistic missile sites in Cuba. The IRBMs had a range about twice that of MRBMs and carried far deadlier warheads. Soviet strategic bombers, with the capacity to carry nuclear payloads, were also discovered. The ExComm reconvened with a renewed momentum for military action—especially an invasion. Support for a surprise bombing attack had begun to erode because it seemed reminiscent of Pearl Harbor. But the president resisted the pressure for an invasion, insisting that many people would regard such an attack as “a mad act by the United States.” He also made two tentative references to the possibility of a deal involving the U.S. missiles in Turkey. There was particular concern that Khrushchev would order Soviet troops into West Berlin if the U.S. attacked Cuba—likely leading to nuclear war. “Now the question really is,” the president declared, “what action we take which lessens the chances of a nuclear exchange, which obviously is the final failure.” The blockade option began to look more and more advantageous.
October 18/19, midnight
President Kennedy returned to the Oval Office alone at midnight to record his recollections of an unrecorded meeting just held in the White House living quarters. He observed that there had been a consensus for a blockade, which he described as a limited action “for a limited purpose.” “I was most anxious,” he stressed, that the blockade proclamation should not include a declaration of war.
Excerpts taken from The Cuban Missile Crisis in American Memory: Myth vs. Reality, by Sheldon Stern.
For more on the Cuban Missile Crisis, be sure to tune in to tonight's episode of Commander in Chief: Inside the Oval Office on the Military Channel