The year is 1962 and American surveillance planes discover that the USSR is in the process of placing nuclear ballistic missiles in Cuba. The missiles have a said capability to reach 80 million Americans striking every major city but Seattle. As well they are capable of reaching the majority of the united States Air Force bomber bases effectively crippling their ability to retaliate. It is a race to find a means of removing the missiles before they become operational. Thus the problem for the President is to decide whether to use force or diplomatic means to keep the missiles UN-operational.
Initial diplomatic attempts to come to a peaceful conclusion fail and the Secretary of Defense proposes a naval blockade which they call a “quarantine” and if the Soviets ignore the blockade, the Navy will forcibly remove the ships from going to Cuba. This would quickly escalate the situation which is clearly what the Secretary of Defense wanted but the President with help of his Special Assistant; Kenneth O’Donnell, realized that an invasion of Cuba by Americans would lead to the Soviets invading Berlin effectively causing a World War Ill.
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In he end through unique communication methods between the US and the Soviets the Soviets agree to remove the missiles from Cuba providing the IIS promises never to invade Cuba as well as remove missiles from Turkey. One of the most criticized aspects of the movie is that Kenneth O’Donnell; who was Special Assistant to the President had a very influential and substantial role in the movie. Quite often he is found dissuading President Kennedy from the so called solutions from the Secretary of Defense and his entourage.
He is always reminding Kennedy of the repercussions of the actions that Secretary of Defense Robert Manager proposes. At one point Kenneth said in reference to surveillance flights and the rules of engagement; that if a plan were shot at, the site would be bombed, “This is a setup. The chiefs want to go in. They need to redeem themselves for the Bay of Pigs. ” This seemed quite reasonable as the Bay of Pigs was an unsuccessful attempt at military invasion of Cuba and those in charge needed redemption. Unfortunately; although Kenneth O’Donnell appeared a great protagonist, he did not have that kind of role in the crisis in reality.
Following the release of the movie the actual former Secretary of Defense; Robert Manager, said “For God’s sakes, Kenny O’Donnell didn’t have any role whatsoever in the missile crisis; he was a political appointment secretary to the President; that’s absurd. ” It may seem as though Manager could have just been bitter about the way he was portrayed in the movie but the conclusion he came to was generally what all those involved in the crisis thought about O’Donnell role. Although Manager pointed out that the role O’Donnell played was similar to
Ted Sorenson saying “It was not Kenny O’Donnell who pulled us all together??it was Ted Sorensen. ” Ted Sorensen was President Kennedy’s Special Counsel & Adviser and it makes much more sense for him to have taken on the role O’Donnell portrayed as President Kennedy once called him his “intellectual blood bank. ” leading one to believe that the President must have had great faith in Sorenson. President Kennedy asked Sorenson to take part in foreign policy as well as being a member of Coxcomb (The Executive Committee of the National Security Council) during the Crisis.
All of this would lead one to believe Sorenson must have played the role of O’Donnell in reality. So why didn’t the producer just stick with that in the film? It was because the appearance of Kenneth O’Donnell is much more appealing to the average American. He is the perfect protagonist, just an average middle class American trying to do the right thing. That is why he was given this role and it is understandable why this trade off would be made for entertainment purposes as Thirteen Days is a movie and not a documentary.
Another less criticized aspect of the movie veering from 100% historical accuracy is that nothing is said about President Kennedy’s interests in ridding Fidel Castro of Cuba but in reality he had been made aware of secret missions into Cuba prior to the Bay of Pigs. As well as approving the Bay of Pigs invasion. During the Bay of Pigs the US tried to pass the invasion off as Cuban defectors and US armed forces had no role in the invasion. President Kennedy even said “The armed forces of this county would not intervene in any way.
Even though that is Of course a blatant lie and the Kennedy Administration helped set up and fund the CRY (Cuban Revolutionary Council) to take over after Fiddle’s government had been removed. None of President Kennedy’s knowledge of this is shown in the film because it would not fit with how Kenneth O’Donnell advises him on the subject matter. Both of the previously mentioned deviations from historical accuracy are really relatively minor in the grand scheme of things. The producer went to great lengths to maintain historical accuracy while keeping entertainment value.