thirteen days: cuban missile crisis

The Cuban Missile Crisis has become a fascinating piece of history for me. We were enthused by the material around it and the learning potential of the context that my friend, Vineeth Harikumar (his LinkedIn profile), and I developed a negotiation game based on it. If you want to directly go to the page where you could download the case documents please visit here: Cuban Missile Crisis Negotiation Game. If you’d like to read about the Cuban Missile Crisis and how I developed an interest in this, please read on.

I’m sure you’d have heard about the ‘Cuban Missile Crisis’ in school even if you do not have a detailed idea about it. It was a serious moment in our human history. A moment when mankind was very close to annihilating itself: we were on the verge of a nuclear catastrophe. Amidst the Cold War, two nuclear armed super powers of the world – USA and USSR – were at the edge of a nuclear face-off. Their leaders were so close to pressing the red button. Fortunately, better sense prevailed and the leaders of the respective countries resolved the differences. Probably one of the most important negotiations in world human history.

For those who don’t quite recall, what led to the crisis was this: In October 1962, USA discovered that USSR had been placing nuclear missiles in Cuba. This action of USSR was deemed as an offensive by the US. Watch this YouTube video for a quick brief on the crisis: The Cuban Missile Crisis (1962) by Simple History

The Cuban Missile Crisis remained a mere page in history for me until I watched the film Thirteen Days. The film dramatizes the US response to the crisis from the workings of the President’s close circle. The film was based on historical archives, recordings of the meetings held with top US government officials during the crisis, and Robert Kennedy’s (he was the US Attorney General during the crisis) memoir on the crisis which is where the film get its name from. Thirteen Days is the entire duration of the crisis – before the threat of a nuclear war was put to rest.

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A scene from the film Thirteen Days.

The film revealed the crisis in full potential to me. It was really captivating to see the interactions, negotiations, and the leadership exhibited in the meetings that John Kennedy’s team had in trying to respond to the crisis. The film quite effectively exhibited the internal dynamics at the top echelons of the US government that included the military chiefs, the cabinet, and the President’s advisers. By this time I had watched the film a few times already and every time I was discovering new lessons in team management and leadership.

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The book Thirteen Days

Later I read the book by Robert Kennedy. A short book of less than hundred pages which plays out in almost the same fashion as the film. I had taken a course on negotiation during my MBA and I tried to apply my learning from the course to draw negotiation lessons from the Cuban Missile Crisis. It was during that research that I read the US government archives on the crisis – it included letters between Kennedy and Khrushchev, CIA’s report to the President on the courses of response and the possible consequences of each. Really fascinating stuff.

A couple of months later, we stumbled upon a great idea: to create a negotiation case out of the Cuban Missile Crisis. We identified five crucial parties in the situation and wrote out case briefings based on references from a variety of resources including the archives, news articles, and the Thirteen Days film and book. The result was a five party negotiation role play.

Now, if you’d like to indulge in a bit of history or leadership or a nuclear war with your friends or in your classroom, visit the following link to understand the role play procedure and download the role briefings: The Cuban Missile Crisis Negotiation Game