President on holiday as crisis mounts

Our "Tweeting the Cuban missile crisis" project has got off to a good start. We picked up a thousand followers during our first week -- and are aiming for 50,000 by next October, the anniversary of the "Thirteen Days." Please help spread the word!

I received an excellent suggestion from a professor at the Naval War College, David Kaiser. He said we should not just tweet missile crisis events: We should put them in context by showing other major events that were on the agenda of the two superpowers. It is important to remember that this was an exceptionally busy time, with confrontations breaking out over Berlin, India/China, and nuclear testing, with a civil rights struggle heating up in the United States. JFK had a lot of other matters on his mind when Khrushchev began his military buildup in Cuba in the summer of 1962.

The photograph above shows a map that the CIA prepared for the president at the height of the crisis, showing the range of Soviet missiles on Cuba. You will note that Oxford, Mississippi, appears on the map, along with much more strategically important places such as Washington and New York. This was an inside joke by the intelligence people, a sly reference to the riots triggered by the struggle to admit an African-American, James Meredith, to the University of Mississippi, Ole Miss.

The point here is that presidents, whether in 1962 or 2012, do not have the luxury to focus on one crisis at once. They are overwhelmed by a rush of unpredictable events both at home and abroad all demanding their attention. By showing how JFK was forced to juggle many balls in the air at once, our tweets will help capture the atmosphere inside the White House as the Cuban crisis deepened.

Presidents also need time to relax. As Khrushchev launched his great nuclear gamble, sending an armada of ships across the Atlantic, an oblivious JFK retreated to Hyannis Port with his family for a holiday. In case you missed our tweet, here is video of Jacqueline Kennedy water-skiing with the astronaut John Glenn, while the president suns himself on his boat, exactly 50 years ago this week. It is great footage -- and another reminder that the real drama back in 1962 had to do with what the president did not know, rather than what he did.