During the post-World War II era, the relationship between the former Allies and now superpowers--the United States and the Soviet Union--has grown increasingly strained. Both countries fear that the other will target its enemy with atomic warheads placed on missiles and perhaps launch those weapons at the slightest provocation. American civilians are engaged in sky watching to provide warning that missiles are on the way. School children are taught to "duck and cover" to "protect" themselves from an attack. The generation born in the late 1940s and in the 1950s has become known as the first atomic or nuclear generation. Fear of a nuclear holocaust occupies the thinking of many people as they go about their daily activities. Some individuals and families even are building costly fallout shelters in cellars or backyards.

As a member of EX-COMM, the Executive Committee of the National Security Council during President John F. Kennedy's Administration, you are very familiar with these fears that United States' security could be severely compromised or even lost by the presence of Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) in the hands of our "enemies" and possibly targeted at U.S. cities. Now that the l960s have arrived, you have noticed that international incidents such as the seizure of the government of Cuba by Fidel Castro, The Bay of Pigs fiasco and the construction of the Berlin Wall seem to be occurring frequently. Today, the morning of October 16, 1962, you receive the following memo (SEE PAGE 2). It, together with the rumors circulating in Washington D.C., convince you that something very significant is afoot.

See teacher notes.

Office of the President of the United States

Washington, D.C.


Date: 16 October, l962

To: Members of EX-COMM

From: ftp://ftp.micro.caltech.edu/pub/PresidentJohnF.Kennedy

Re: Meetings today (1:00 pm) and this evening (7:00 pm)


Clear your calendars to handle crisis situation in progress. Aerial photographs of U-2 flyover Cuba provide compelling evidence of Soviet missiles in Cuba. Incident is highly classified. Imperative that secrecy be maintained. Refer to attached memo. [Student Handout #2]

Declassified January 15, 1989, this document reveals details of a proposed overthrow of Castro.


The Task

You are a member of EX-COMM, the Executive Committee of the U.S. National Security Council (NCS) including members of the upper echelon of the intelligence community. Your task is to advise President Kennedy about an appropriate and effective U.S. response to the apparent Soviet missile installations in Cuba. The President will address the nation and the world on Monday, October 22, l962, revealing the existence of the Soviet missile capacity in Cuba and detailing the U.S. response. Your duty is to prepare a policy brief containing your recommendations for the U.S. reaction to the U2's news. A policy brief contains background information to support a particular position which you will recommend to the President. Time is of the essence and you must do the best job of researching your areas of expertise as possible.

[Meeting of Ex-COMM 18, October, l962.]Source: The National Security Archives. Reprinted with permission.]

The Process

Your teacher will facilitate the allocation of specific roles that students in your class will play on EX-COMM. You may have one or more researchers assist you in the preparation of a brief. You will read from this brief at an important meeting, or possibly a series of meetings, in which you make the President aware of the results of your research.

You and the other members of EX-COMM will present your briefs to President Kennedy on October 20, l962. Following this presentation, there will be a debate on the primary and secondary issues involved in drafting the U.S. response to the potential missile threat. Remember that the possibility of nuclear war is very real. The overall question you must answer as a committee member and that the entire committee must consider is:

How great a threat does the presence of Soviet missiles off the coast of the U.S. pose?

Below are the steps you should take to accomplish this task.

For specific requirements the brief must meet, see Student Handout #2 which is at the end of the student section of this lesson.

[Please be aware that your teacher is merely another resource and will not resolve the problem for you.]

1. Meet as a large group--the EX-COMM. This committee is chaired by John F. Kennedy, to discuss and list the information you need to know to properly address the task. Since there is not enough time (2 days) for each member of Ex-COMM to research everything, it will be necessary for each member to do a piece of the research.

For instance:

  • What events have occurred between the Soviet Union and the U.S. in recent years?
  • How do these events shed light on the current crisis?
  • What do the U-2 reconnaissance photos look like and how solid is this evidence?
Then, EX-COMM will discuss the kinds of information that each member of EX-COMM brings to the table. Include the information in your brief statements of the question involved in this crisis. You should expect your perceptions of the question to change as more information becomes available. This listing of Need-to-know Questions will form the first page(s) of your brief.

2. Conduct your research. Use both the Internet and/or library resources. Refer to the list of resources in the next section. Include a References page at the end of your brief. [Hint: one person on your team can begin writing the brief while another is researching. This organization will save you time.

3. Outline, then write your brief. Remember, you are arguing for an historical position from a particular point of view. Provide evidence (support) for your point of view. Supply a copy of your completed brief to each EX-COMM member.

4. Participate in a debate. Ex-COMM will agree on a problem statement and then have a debate on the possible responses to the problem.

5. Vote on a final recommendation to the President. This vote should be on the best brief or combination of briefs.

6. Organize and write the speech that the President will give to the nation on October 22, l962.

7. Create a rubric for scoring (along with the teacher) each person/group's brief.

8. Score each brief. Turn in comments on grade to teacher.


The following World Wide Web addresses will provide you with detailed and useful information to get you started. Remember that your research time is limited and that you may use search engines such as Yahoo or AltaVista to locate specific information beyond what is provided below.

General on-line introductory information about the crisis:

A brief summary of the crisis.

Information about Ex-COMM:

The ExComm and the secret tapes.

Bibliography of primary and secondary text sources

The World On the Brink: John F. Kennedy and the Cuban Missile Crisis

Photo-reconnaissance information

Reconnaissance and the Cuban Missile Crisis

On-line information to start researching EX-COMM Members:


Brief Manual Search Bibliography

Kennedy, Robert F. Thirteen Days: A Memoir of the Cuban Missile Crisis, New York, l969.

McAuliffe, Mary S., ed. CIA Documents on the Cuban Missile Crisis, l962. Washington, D.C., CIA, l992.

Medland, William J. The Cuban Missile Crisis of l962: Needless or Necessary? N.Y. Praeger, l988.

Scali, John. I Was the Secret Go-Between in the Cuban Missile Crisis..

Family Weekly, October 25, l964.

Learning Advice

1. This activity is intended to allow you to simulate high-level government decision-making during a crisis. You will learn much about team crisis-management, nuclear warheads and nuclear threats, damage control using careful writing and speaking, constructing a logical and cohesive argument, and problem-solving.

2. Each EX-COMM member must remain focused on the central issue: Is the placement of Soviet missiles in Cuba a real threat to U.S. security?

3. Keep in mind that there is a deadline and that research time on the computer during class time is limited. Access to the Internet outside of class would be very helpful.

4. Careful use of words and ideas must dominate your brief and your presentation/debate to the committee.

5. Your opinion means very little unless it is supported with solid evidence/reasoning.

6. If you are new to the Internet, and especially to computers, ask questions of teammates who have some of this knowledge.

7. Your teacher is also playing a role in this simulation--the role of observer/coach/advisor. Feel free to ask for help, especially with the Internet, but not for solutions.


1. Your teacher may use the following methods to assess both the processes you use to solve this problem and the products of your efforts:

  • daily observation of committee work through the use of checklists to gain data on your group process. At all times you should treat members of your group with respect.
  • occasional examination of student efforts in brief preparation or speech writing.
  • use of class-developed rubric during Ex-Comm meeting.
  • application of rubric to final products such as the
    • brief, and/or
    • President's speech, and/or
    • class discussions, and/or
    • notes or journal writing

2. The Ex-COMM will develop a rubric to evaluate each member's (or team's) contribution to advising the President. The students in the class will also use the rubric to assess each team's contribution to the final product, President Kennedy's speech. The rubric will contain these criteria: historical research, historical empathy, task commitment, communication, and problem-solving.


Now that we have simulated this most difficult period in history, it is time to reflect on our experience as an Ex-COMM member and to write some notes for our memoirs. (As your research has probably revealed, many Ex-COMM members have published their memories of these significant events.) As you make notes or write in a journal (you may do this each evening during the simulation if you wish), consider these points:

  • Describe the sequence of events during the last two weeks of October, l962, in as much detail as you can.
  • Describe the quality and quantity of your contribution to the team effort.
  • What aspects of this simulation might have been done better? Explain how.
  • Identify several resources that helped you the most and explain why.
  • What should the people of the U.S. learn from this event? Why?


You undoubtedly have a much clearer understanding of the Cuban Missile Crisis, national crisis management, and the nuclear threat. How do you think the world today is similar to October, l962? How do you think today's world is different? What might have happened had Kennedy and EX-COMM's response been different? Explain. What steps should governments and individuals take to avoid a nuclear holocaust?

Student Handout #1

Teachers, print the following document as Handout #1. It was declassified January 15, 1989, and reveals details of a proposed overthrow of Castro.

(taken from: http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/nsa/publications/cmc/cmcdoc1.html )

Student Handout #2


United States of America


Date: October 18, l962

To: EX-COMM Members

From: McGeorge Bundy

Re: Cuba Brief


Your brief for President Kennedy should contain, but not be limited to the following items:

1. Background information from your perspective and relevant to the crisis at hand.

2. Your rating of the severity of the crisis and a rationale for your rating. Use a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the most severe crisis imaginable.

3. Specific recommendations to the President in the following areas:

a. damage control;

b. communication of the U.S. position to our allies;

c. dealing with the rest of the world;

d. dealing with Nikita Khrushchev and the Soviet Union.

e. our response to the evidence of Soviet missile sites in Cuba.

4. Include a Need-to-Know page and include various statements of the problem.

5. Include a reference page, using APA or MLA style.

6. Length of the entire brief should be no longer than 5 pages.

Last Revised: 04/06/06