“In the end, it was luck. We were this close to nuclear war, and luck prevented it.”


Time was the problem. It took time to receive information and decide on a reaction to it. It took critical time to convey information and decisions to all parties. With the risk of nuclear war evident, a miscommunication or mis-timing of information could have had disastrous effects.

The military constantly pressured the President for a decision to use force; the President and the Chairman did not want to act with force at all (though each was not confidently aware of the other’s intentions); and there was no time to pursue solution through normal diplomatic channels. Castro’s paranoia and willingness to be a martyr added additional constraints on time and elevated the risk of a catastrophic turn of events.

In response to the problem, Chairman Khrushchev imaginatively used the media to convey critical messages while Kennedy used back-channel communications to do the same. Both were forced to act creatively to ensure this crisis would not erupt into nuclear war. Secretary McNamara may have been right, it could have been luck that prevented nuclear war; luck certainly helped prevent an accident. Creativity and a determination to exhaust every option available short of war before committing to military action were the deciding factors. 118

Robert McNamara's concluding thoughts in The Fog of War