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Departures Podcast with Serhii Plokhy

Looking back almost 60 years ago when the United States and the Soviet Union came within an inch of destroying the world via all-out nuclear war, we continue to gain new insights into the dramatic events, the changing of thinking and decision-making that went on in both ExComm and the Presidium.

This week we’re proud to be joined Serhii Plokhy, a professor of history at Harvard University and the author of the excellent book, “Nuclear Folly: A History of the Cuban Missile Crisis.”

Plokhy’s book provides an international perspective on the crisis, featuring unprecedented access to Soviet archives and documentary materials showing how Nikita Khrushchev navigated the incredibly tense diplomatic showdown as well as the struggle for influence going on within the Presidium.

Plokhy’s findings reveal that CIA intelligence could have catastrophically misjudged Russia’s ability to fight in Cuba and launch warheads, including how they appeared to miss the presence of nine short-range Luna missiles with nuclear warheads, each one only slightly less powerful than the Hiroshima bomb. The CIA also greatly underestimated the number of Soviet troops on the island — the actual figure was 40,000, not 4,000.

If the United States attacked Cuba, the Soviets were fully prepared to defend it with conventional and nuclear munitions.  In his discussion with Robert Amsterdam, Dr. Plokhy explores the numerous ways in which, with hindsight, the missile crisis was a political and diplomatic victory for the Soviet Union, considering the circumstances, while also giving us insight into just how close the two countries came to war.