How would you behave during the Cuban Missile Crisis?

March 31, 2015 by Joshua
in Art, Choosing/Decision-Making, Leadership, Perception

The movie Thirteen Days illustrated how John Kennedy and the executive branch handled the Cuban Missile Crisis. I recommend the movie (and Robert Kennedy’s book of the same name).

I edited some parts to highlight one aspect of the situation—the personal perspectives and behavior of people closest to the President. While you won’t likely face decisions with stakes as high as nuclear war, you’ll face similar structures of conflict. Many people have written about conflict management, decision-making, avoiding groupthink, and other angles.

I recommend watching these clips actively by trying to put yourself in the places of each character, imagine the exact thoughts that might be going through their heads, the motivations they’d feel to react, how they’d have to manage themselves to behave differently if they considered their first reaction counterproductive, and so on.

Also, try to imagine similar situations you’ve faced yourself—when people annoyed you, when you disagreed with people to the point you couldn’t stand them but still had to work with them, when you felt others’ solutions would undermine your team, etc. How did you react then? How did people in these clips behave? Could you learn from them?

The clips are dramatized, so you may have to use some imagination to make it ring true to your experience if it doesn’t automatically.

Consider also some things that would have been on people’s minds

  • Khrushchev had told JFK the USSR wouldn’t put missiles in Cuba, which JFK communicated to the U.S.
  • JFK approved the Bay of Pigs invasion that was a disaster
  • JFK was the youngest President and many doubted he belonged
  • JFK’s father supported appeasing Hitler in the build-up of World War 2, which many regarded as making the aggressor more aggressive

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