The Unwritten Rule

The initial reactions of both leaders had been bellicose. Kennedy had favored an air strike; Khrushchev thought seriously about giving his commanders on Cuba authority to use nuclear weapons. After much agonizing, both were now determined to find a way out that would not involve armed conflict. The problem was that it was practically impossible for them to communicate frankly with one another.

The unwritten rule of Cold War diplomacy—never concede anything—made it very difficult for either side to back down. The question was no longer whether the leaders of the two superpowers wanted war—but whether they had the power to prevent it.

One Minute to Midnight, Michael Dobbs