Friday, October 19, 9:45 a.m.
The president met with the Joint Chiefs of Staff to reveal his decision to blockade rather than bomb or invade Cuba. He explained that a limited first step might persuade the Soviets not to retaliate in Berlin—reducing the chance of nuclear war. General Curtis LeMay, air force chief of staff, countered that only an invasion would deter Khrushchev in Berlin and called the blockade “almost as bad as the appeasement at
Munich.” The navy, army, and marine chiefs of staff agreed that the only solution in Cuba was “the full gamut of military action by us.” The president insisted that a Soviet nuclear strike on American cities would result in 80-100 million casualties: “you’re talkin’ about the destruction of a country.” The
point, he contended, “is to avoid, if we can, nuclear war by escalation. . . . We’ve got to have some degree of control.”
October 19, afternoon and eveningThe ExComm met at the State Department (the president had left to campaign in the Midwest) and remained deeply divided about taking military action against Cuba. The tentative consensus for a blockade also began to erode. Robert Kennedy contacted his brother in Chicago and the president, claiming to have a cold and fever, promptly returned to Washington.