Thirteen Days is a movie that dramatize inside dealings at the White House during the confrontations between the two world superpowers at that time; the United States and the Soviet Union, who were currently involved in the ongoing Cold War. These confrontations were known as the Cuban Missile Crisis, and characterized the hot peace that was felt in the world system, as the two powers tried as much to influence nations across the world to adopt their ideological view.
It is in October 1962 that a U-2, a type of military plane taking surveillance photos over Cuba, reveals that the Soviet Union is placing missiles carrying nuclear weapons in the country. Bruce Greenwood acting as President John F. Kennedy is informed by the security advisers. The missiles are in a position so close that if launched they could wipe the Eastern and Southern parts of the United States in minutes. The president was therefore required to devise a plan to prevent activation of missiles.
The president is reluctant on the decisions by the Joint Chief of Staff; to invade Cuba and destroy the missile site, as this will make the Soviet Union to invade Berlin, which was supported by the United States. At this point a nuclear war between the two powers is not only possible but likely. A decision is reached to place a naval blockade around Cuba, aiming to establish a quarantine that will stop ships entering Cuba, preventing Soviet Ships from entering Cuba.
This act by the United States is seen as an act of war and sent a series of reactions to the Soviets. After a series of hostile confrontation with eminent possibility of war the Soviets agree to withdraw their missile from Cuba on condition that the US agrees never to invade Cuba. After lots of missteps concerning removal of Jupiter missiles from Turkey happened at this time. After deliberations US removes its missiles from southern Italy and Turkey, while the Soviets removed theirs from Cuba.
It is difficult for a movie to detail all the aspects that conspired during a historic or political period, although it is imperative for the writers of such movies to stick to the historical occurrences at that time the movie asserts to act. Most Hollywood productions have not accurately captured the situation leading to the creation of a distorted image in the minds of viewers. It is therefore important to sort out the historical inaccuracies in these movies, for that reason I identified the following historical errors from the movie; Thirteen Days.
First, the movie portrays O’Donnell as the key player during the resolving of the Cuban missile crisis. O’Donnell is seen present very close to the president serving as a close personal advisor, conducting special tasks for the president and attending all executive meeting in the course of the Cuban missile crisis.
However, the real historical occurrence deviates from what the movie shows. O’Donnell did not play a key role during the crisis and was only present in some of the executive meeting. The movie make O’Donnell to be seen as more important figure in the crisis than Attorney General Robert Kennedy or any other member of Executive Committee, the ad hoc group of current or the former executive branch officials that President Kennedy created to respond to the Soviet Union’s covert installation of offensive nuclear missiles in Cuba.
Al O’Donnell had little influence compared to Costner. There is little evidence from the transcripts from the John F. Kennedy Library showing an explicit push for an airstrike by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It is not entirely correct as the movie portrays that the president had contact with pilots and tried to conceal this from the pentagon.
It portrays a wrong image of the Special Advisor to the president, when O’Donnell personally advises the Navy pilot not to disclose to their superiors in case they are shot by the Cuban military. It is also alleged that the congress did not support the president after the meeting on Monday 22 October, but in real case the congressional leaders did support the president at this meeting before he went to address the nation.
The movie clearly portrayed the political tension that existed at that time, showing the fierce exchange of words between the two super powers and the series of meeting that were held in the White House. It is true that the President, John F. Kennedy tried to hide this from the people of United states hoping that they would resolve the issue without their involvement, but rather as depicted in the movie the president was forced to disclose this to the populace.
The sense of fear among the US citizens is clearly captured by the movie, clearly showing the series of prayers that people made in gathering. All this aspects the movie succeeded in explaining through their act.
Allison, Graham et al. 1971. Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis. New York: Addison Wesley Longman.
Kamps, Charles Tustin. 2007. The Cuban Missile Crisis. Air & Space Power Journal. 21: 88-190.
Kennedy, Robert. 1971. Thirteen Days: A Memoir of the Cuban Missile Crisis. London. Norton & Company.
Nelson, Michael. 2001. Thirteen Days’ Doesn’t Add Up. The Chronicle Review 390: 15- 38.
Kennedy, Robert. Thirteen Days: A Memoir of the Cuban Missile Crisis (London: Norton & Company), 14.
Nelson, Michael. Thirteen Days, Doesn’t Add Up. The Chronicle Review. no. 390: 15-38, April 29, 2010.
Allison, G. T. Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis (New York: Addison Wesley Longman., 1971) 111–116.
Kamps, Charles Tustin, “The Cuban Missile Crisis”, Air & Space Power Journal, no. 21(Fall 2007).