On October 16, 1962, President John F. Kennedy was shown photographs of Soviet nuclear missile installations under construction in Cuba. The installation of medium-range missiles just 90 miles off the coast of Florida would put the Eastern United States at risk of a nuclear attack that could come on very short notice. President Kennedy called together a group of his closest advisers to discuss how the United States should respond to the specter of Soviet missiles in Cuba: should there be invasion, air strikes, a blockade, or diplomacy?

On the evening of October 18, President Kennedy met with nine of his advisers. The meeting, held after-hours inside the Executive Mansion, was not recorded. So afterward, President Kennedy went to the Oval Office in the West Wing of the White House and recorded his recollections of discussions held that day. He states that a consensus emerged in favor of a blockade.