But it is the documents relating to the tense 13 days of October 1962 — the closest the world came to a nuclear war — that generated most interest.
One is a draft copy of a letter written for President Kennedy’s signature on Oct. 18, four days before he went on television to reveal American knowledge of the missiles in Cuba.
In it, he gave Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev a short time to dismantle the missiles before the United States would launch air strikes on the missile sites. The letter, signifying a belief by some advisers that the crisis could be kept a secret, was never dispatched.
RFK’s personal musings on his notepad also provided insights into the stakes of the standoff.
When the meeting turned to civil defense — preparing the nation for a nuclear war — he jotted down the numbers of Americans the president and his advisers were told might be affected in different scenarios — “92 million” in one, “40 million” in another.
Some researchers were puzzled by the large number of documents that have portions blocked out for national security reasons.
“It is striking how 50 years after the missile crisis they still see some of this stuff as secret,” said historian Michael Dobbs.
Yet the government did not withhold a document timely today. In a lengthy report provided to Kennedy on May 13, 1963, the CIA predicted that in the event of Castro’s death his “cold and unattractive” younger brother Raul would take the reins. When Castro stepped aside for health reasons in 2008, his brother took over.