The Cuban missile crisis of October 1962 brought the world to the brink of nuclear war, introduced into the political vocabulary the words "hawk" and "dove" and inflicted an emotional wound on one of the most interesting political figures of the 20th century, Adlai E. Stevenson.

Within six weeks after the crisis ended, Stevenson had been branded a "superdove," a man who "wanted a Munich. He wanted to trade U.S. bases for Cuban bases." In the mythology that quickly took hold, Stevenson had been an appeaser, while President John F. Kennedy and his tougher colleagues had faced down Nikita Khrushchev and forced withdrawal of all medium- and intermediate-range missiles installed in Cuba by the Soviets. That reputation stayed with Stevenson until he died in 1965, cursing the unfairness of it all.

It now appears that Stevenson was not the only "dove" at the White House during the crisis. Kennedy had secretly agreed to a major concession to the Soviet Union that Stevenson had urged as a way to end the crisis short of nuclear war. The evidence is contained in a letter written in March by Dean Rusk, Kennedy's secretary of state. It concerns a proposal that the United States should withdraw Jupiter missiles from Turkey simultaneously with the withdrawal of Soviet missiles from Cuba.

Rusk described the letter, first published yesterday in The New York Times, as a "postscript" to the missile crisis "which only I can furnish." Kennedy, he said, had decided to agree to the missile swap if the Soviets insisted. This was among Stevenson's recommendations throughout the crisis. For advancing his views he was called a latter-day Neville Chamberlain, whereas Kennedy was hailed for his "toughness."

The instrument for branding Stevenson an appeaser was a magazine article published in the Saturday Evening Post on Dec. 8, 1962, about six weeks after the missile crisis had been resolved. Its authors were Stewart Alsop, now dead, and Charles Bartlett, a columnist who was one of Kennedy's closest friends. (Bartlett was in the Caribbean yesterday and could not be reached.)

Their article was a chronological account of what had gone on in the National Security Council during the missile crisis, how policies had evolved and who had emerged as "hawks" and "doves."

"The article," Newsweek reported at the time, "pictured {U.N. Ambassador} Stevenson as a sort of Neville Chamberlain who had come down from New York, belatedly, to argue with the decison {to impose a naval blockade against Cuba} already reached." At one point, the story said, "There is disagreement in retrospect about what Stevenson really wanted. 'Adlai wanted a Munich,' says a nonadmiring official who learned of his proposal. 'He wanted to trade the Turkish, Italian and British missile bases for the Cuban bases.' "

The Alsop-Bartlett piece had enormous resonance in Washington because it had been authorized by Kennedy and had been read and approved in advance by a White House official. There were widespread rumors that the "Munich" quote had come from Kennedy. The fact that Kennedy and Stevenson had been political opponents in the past and that Stevenson was never popular with the Kennedy "inner circle" added spice to this political stew, and created the impression that, as Newsweek said, "there was an official effort under way to dump Adlai Stevenson." Stevenson, the Democratic presidential candidate in 1952 and 1956, never got over the hurt from the incident, according to a close friend.

As the years have passed and memoirs have accumulated, it has become clear, as Kennedy speech-writer Theodore Sorenson has written, that "each of us changed his mind more than once that week on the best course of action to be taken . . . ." Or, as McGeorge Bundy, Kennedy's national security adviser, said yesterday, "During the first and second weeks, people were in many places."

When construction of the Cuban missile sites was confirmed on Oct. 15, 1962 -- barely three weeks before congressional elections in which the Republicans had made Cuba a big issue -- there was a widespread view in the NSC that air strikes should be launched at once and an invasion of Cuba prepared. Stevenson argued that before such action was taken the United States should make clear to the Soviet Union that the missiles stationed near each other's territory should be "negotiable." He subsequently proposed that in exchange for removal of the missiles in Cuba the United States give up Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba and "consider the elimination of NATO bases in Turkey and Italy."

The NSC "hawks" initially insisted on air strikes, then settled for a naval "quarantine" of Cuba. But the idea of withdrawing missiles from Turkey as a quid pro quo for the Soviet Union remained appealing to the president.

On Oct. 27 his brother, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, secretly proposed to the Soviet ambassador here, Anatoliy Dobrynin, that if the Soviet missiles were withdrawn from Cuba, the United States "within three or four months" would withdraw, with no public announcement, its Jupiter missiles in Turkey. It was essential, he told Dobrynin, that it should not appear that such a deal had been struck. Khrushchev eventually agreed to this plan. (Kennedy disclosed these details in 1968; they were not known to many senior officials of the Kennedy administration, including Stevenson, at the time they occurred.)

If Khrushchev had not accepted the deal Robert Kennedy offered to Dobrynin, Rusk revealed in his letter, President Kennedy was willing to go farther and publicly agree to withdraw U.S. missiles in Turkey. The plan, which Rusk said he devised, was to transmit Kennedy's offer to U.N. Secretary General U Thant through Andrew Cordier, a former diplomat who was then an official at Columbia University, with the idea that U Thant could propose the tradeoff publicly and Kennedy would accept his idea. Rusk dictated the proposal to Cordier and told him to deliver it upon receipt of an agreed signal. When Khrushchev accepted the Kennedy-Dobrynin deal, the signal was never sent.

"It was clear to me," Rusk wrote, "that President Kennedy would not let the Jupiters in Turkey become an obstacle to the removal of the missile sites in Cuba because the {obsolete} Jupiters were coming out in any event."

In fact, the Turkish government was eager that the 15 Jupiters -- which technically belonged to NATO, not the United States -- remain on Turkish soil, and though the Kennedy administration perceived the missiles as obsolete, at the time of the missile crisis no NATO decision had been taken to remove them. During the crisis, hawks in the administration argued against removing the missiles on grounds that do so would be a grave blow to NATO.

Rusk prepared his letter for a meeting last March of experts on the Cuban crisis held in Hawk's Cay, Fla. Rusk was unable to attend because of illness and his letter was read to the group by James G. Blight, executive director of the Center for Science and International Affairs of Harvard University. Blight said the letter was "evidence that President Kennedy, in the real dark hours of the crisis . . . was convinced that, first of all, war was likely if things continued on their present course and, secondly, that he did not want war."

One of the conference participants was George Ball, Kennedy's undersecretary of state. He told one scholar that if he had known Kennedy was willing to publicly give up the Jupiters in Turkey, he "would have slept a lot better during those nights."

Another participant was Bundy, who said the transcript will show that there is still considerable tension between the "hawks" and "doves" of 1962 but that it is easy to laugh now about some of the bloopers that came out of the crisis. One involved General Thomas Powers, commander of the Strategic Air Command. Powers inadvertently put out an uncoded message over a clear channel that his nuclear bomber crews should go to a war-alert status.

"That," Bundy said, "was like talking on a party line in Moscow."