JFK Library Relives Cuban Missile Crisis, and Asks: 'What If?'

Harrowingly impressive interactive experience

While suitably impressive as a whole, the most stirring element of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum's immensely detailed and immersive "Clouds Over Cuba" interactive presentation is the slice of "alternate history" that shows what might have happened if the Cuban Missile Crisis hadn't been peacefully resolved 50 years ago this month.
     The material created by The Martin Agency and Tool of North America goes into great depth about the construction of Russian missile bases in Cuba and the tense October 1962 standoff between Kennedy and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev that brought the superpowers perilously close to nuclear conflict. (The approach is similar to a the library's effort three years ago to commemorate the Apollo 11 moon landing, but this work is possibly more comprehensive, and given the subject matter, a lot more harrowing.) The centerpiece is a documentary narrated by Matthew Modine, which is supported by an array of audio, video, memoranda and assorted other data designed to provide an in-depth, panoramic understanding of global events that drove the conflict and the motivations and thought processes of the players involved.     The sheer volume of information to sift through provides an extra level of insight into the complexity of events that unfolded as both sides struggled to make decisions they knew might change the course of human history forever. Users can get a taste for that incredibly charged atmosphere—pressure mounting at the White House and Kremlin as nerves got increasingly frayed—in real time (more or less) by choosing to follow the 13 most important days of the crisis "live" on their 50th anniversary dates.