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Thank God for Joe Biden. Everyone is so afraid of being natural and engaging in unscripted banter. I suppose they’re afraid of losing their jobs (I’m looking at you Stan “The Man” McChrystal). Americans want their politicians honest and forthright, but when they are they suffer the wrath of the public and media, so they stick to talking points and staged rallies.
We need more McChrystals and Bidens: people who just say what’s on their mind.
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost
The Missiles of October
Or: Thirteen Days of Fear and Loathing
By Jose Rodriguez
The President had outlined their next diplomatic moves: alert the American public about the crisis in a televised address; receive legal approval for the quarantine from the Organization of American States (OAS); and, finally, make their case to the world at the United Nations (UN). It was crucial that they secure approval for their actions from their allies. From a legal standpoint, unilateral action against Cuba would have seriously damaged their reputation, not to mention undermine their legitimacy as the moral leader of the world. As preparations got underway, the New York Times and Washington Post sensed that something was wrong and they began to investigate. When UN Ambassador Adlai Stevenson discovered that the papers were going to print the stories he alerted the President. Both papers agreed to withhold the story after receiving calls from the President, who asked that he first be allowed to present his course of action to the American public.
On Monday October 22, the President remained faithful to his appointments. He even met with Prime Minister Milton Obote of Uganda, who was thoroughly “impressed” and taken by surprise when he watched the President’s speech to the nation and the world (Schlesinger, “A Thousand” 812). According to Wayne Fredericks, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, the Prime Minister said: “I got one of the most impressive experiences of my life: For thirty minutes this afternoon I had the full and undivided attention of the President of the United States of America, and I had not the slightest inkling of the problems he was facing.” (Strober, 387) Though the President had the weight of the world on his shoulders, he still maintained his famous calm and cool composure. By giving time to Obote during this crisis, he signaled to the Prime Minister that he was dedicated to the issues confronting Africa.
The President scheduled a meeting for five o’clock that same evening to explain their situation to Congressional leaders. Congressmen from all over the country were in their districts for re-election, but they did not mind being called back to Washington by the President. O’Donnell recalled one such congressman, “Hale Boggs [who] was fishing on the Gulf of Mexico. An Air Force helicopter picked him up from his boat and carried him to New Orleans, where an Air Force jet took him to Washington.” (O’Donnell, 327) Once everyone was assembled, the meeting began. John McCone kicked off the meeting by presenting the group with aerial photography and explaining their significance. McNamara and Rusk outlined their rationale for the naval quarantine, but it was quickly followed up with denouncements from all of the Congressional leaders. It seemed to those present that the congressmen were trying to outdo one another in their objection to the blockade. Senator Russell, the most vocal critics, attacked the plan as weak and demanded that the President immediately follow a military course of action. “It seems to me,” he said, “that we are at a crossroads. We are either a first-class power or we’re not.” (Dallek, 557) Senator Fulbright also attacked the plan as ineffective and asserted that a military strike against Cuba did not necessarily constitute an act of war against the Soviet Union (Dallek, 557). Unmoved, the President replied, “Last Tuesday, I was for an air strike or invasion myself, but after four more days of deliberations, we decided that was not the wisest first move, and you would, too, if you had more time to think about it.” (O’Donnell, 328) All of them had sided with the JCS on the matter, though a few of them signaled that they would support the President if they could make it part of the public record that they were not consulted before the final decision was made. Bobby, who did not attend the meeting, could see the frustration in his brother afterwards. As the door shut behind him, the President let his anger show: “Oh, sure, we’ll support you, Mister President. But it’s your decision not ours, and if it goes wrong we’ll knock your block off.” (O’Donnell, 328) As the President changed his clothes for the televised address, he muttered half to himself: “If they want this job, they can have it—it’s no great joy to me!” (Sorensen, 703) It seemed clearer and clearer each day that he was one of the few people who were fighting for peace. As the time approached, the President readied himself to make the most important speech of his life.
At 7:00 p.m., the President appeared on over one hundred million television screens across America. Looking grim and speaking in somber tones, he began: “Good evening, my fellow citizens. This Government, as promised, has maintained the closest surveillance of the Soviet military buildup on the island of Cuba. Within the past week, unmistakable evidence has established the fact that a series of offensive missile sites is now in preparation on that imprisoned island. The purpose of these bases can be none other than to provide a nuclear strike capability against the Western Hemisphere.” (Kennedy, 149) He carefully explained the nature of the crisis and explained the risks posed by the missiles and the sites. Not only were these missiles dangerous, but their existence in Cuba represented the duplicity and the deception of the Soviet Union. They were also put there in violation of the Rio Pact of 1947.
The President then went on to explain their course of action. A naval quarantine would be established, he said, in order to halt the transportation of the offensive weaponry. Should the Soviet Union fail to dismantle the sites, the U.S. would be forced to carry out air strikes in order to ensure their destruction. Any missile fired from the island, he warned, would be regarded “as an attack by the Soviet Union on the United States, requiring a full retaliatory response upon the Soviet Union.” (Kennedy, 153) In order to secure legal grounding for their course of action, the President announced that he wanted to present his case to the OAS and to the UN: “We are a peaceful people who desire to live in peace with all other peoples.” (Kennedy, 154)
The last half of the speech was mainly dedicated to the people of Cuba. He implored them to remember their long history of overthrowing tyrants and dictators “who destroyed their liberty.” (Kennedy, 155) The American people, he assured them, were with them in their struggle for freedom. He hoped that one day Cuba would be “welcomed back to the society of free nations and to the association of this hemisphere.” (Kennedy, 156) The President ended the speech with the following words: “The cost of freedom is always high, but Americans have always paid it. And one path we shall never choose, and that is the path of surrender or submission. Our goal is not the victory of might, but the vindication of right; not peace at the expense of freedom, but both peace and freedom, here in this hemisphere, and, we hope, around the world. God willing, that goal will be achieved. Thank you and good night.” (Kennedy, 156)
The President’s speech earned him the immediate support from their NATO allies. It had been watched all across the globe in 38 different languages (Sorensen, 704).
The next morning, Secretary of State Dean Rusk awoke Undersecretary of State George Ball, who had fallen asleep on the couch in his State Department office by saying, “We have won a considerable victory. You and I are still alive.” (Dallek, 559) On this day, Rusk was scheduled to make the case for the quarantine before the Organization of American States, while UN Ambassador Adlai Stevenson was to make their case before the UN. Behind the scenes, the CIA and ExComm members were out trying to rally support among congressional leaders for the President’s plan.
All their efforts were successful. Dean Rusk, “in his finest hour”, was able to obtain a unanimous vote of approval for the President’s quarantine (Dallek, 560). Stevenson, in a dramatic confrontation with Russia’s UN Ambassador Valerian Zorin, was successful in proving to the world that the Soviet Union had indeed placed missile sites on the island of Cuba. He demanded to know if the Soviets had placed the missiles in Cuba, but Zorin refused to answer. Stevenson then gave his historic retort, “I am prepared to wait for my answer until hell freezes over!” (Dallek, 565) Without waiting for a reply, Stevenson presented the aerial photographs of the Russian missile sites to the Security Council, which earned the United States credibility in its claims. The ExComm and CIA were successful in convincing the skeptics and the public that their efforts were justified.
On the morning of Wednesday October 24, just after 10 a.m., two Russian ships, the Komiles and the Gagarin, sailed straight for the quarantine line. Complicating the situation was the presence of a Soviet submarine between the two ships, escorting them across the quarantine line. The night before, the President had issued a proclamation: “Force shall not be used except in case of failure or refusal to comply with directions… after reasonable efforts have been made to communicate them to the vessel or craft, or in case of self-defense. In any case, force shall be used only to the extent necessary.” (Sorensen, 708) They were now on the brink of nuclear war and the President was concerned about the situation getting out of his control and spiraling into disaster. He recalled a part in the book The Guns of August when a German Chancellor was asked how it all began. He replied, “Ah, if we only knew.” (O’Donnell, 330) The President did not want to repeat their mistakes. The room was silent. Bobby looked over at his brother who was covering his mouth with a clenched fist. Suddenly, memories of pain, death, and despair flooded into the mind of Bobby, who thought about their older brother Joseph, who had been killed in World War 2, and about how John had almost been killed during the war. The President looked over at McNamara and asked, “What do we do now? Does the first ship we stop have to be a submarine?” (Sorensen, 332) McNamara reluctantly explained that the submarine could not be ignores: “Our commanders have been instructed to avoid hostilities if at all possible, but this what we must be prepared for, and this is what we must expect.” (Kennedy, 54)
Minutes crawled by.
The Missiles of October
Or: Thirteen Days of Fear and Loathing
By Jose Rodriguez
The next morning, at 9:15, the President met with the JCS for forty-five minutes. The JCS were hoping to get the President alone so that they might be able to convince him that a swift military strike was needed immediately. However, they only succeeded in irritating the President and stiffening his resolve against the military option.
Air Force Chief of Staff Curtis Le May, chomping on his cigar, insisted that the blockade was a weak option. He insisted that “we don’t have any choice except direct military action!” (Talbot, 164) When the President pressed him on the Soviet response, Le May insisted that the Soviets would not respond at all: “They’ll do nothing.” (Talbot, 164) President Kennedy was infuriated by this response because it demonstrated a complete lack of empathy. “Are you trying to tell me that they’ll let us bomb their missiles, and kill a lot of Russians and then do nothing? If they don’t do anything in Cuba then they’ll certainly do something in Berlin.” (Talbot, 164) In a stunning display of insubordination, Le May made a veiled political threat by suggesting that the blockade would be “as bad as the appeasement at Munich. I think a blockade, and political talk, would be considered by a lot of our friends and neutrals as being a pretty weak response to this. And I’m sure a lot of our own citizens would feel that way, too. In other words, you’re in a pretty bad fix.” Appalled by what he had just heard, the President shot back: “What did you say?” “You’re in a pretty bad fix,” Le May repeated. President Kennedy, disgusted with the JCS, retorted, “You’re in there with me.” (Talbot, 166) Because President Kennedy left the recording device running in the Cabinet Room after he left, the device recorded the angry denouncements of the President from the JCS. General David Shoup accused Le May of pulling the “rug right out from under” the President (Dallek, 555). Confused, Le May demanded to know what Shoup meant. Shoup explained: “If somebody could keep them from doing the goddamned thing piecemeal. That’s our problem. You go in there and friggin’ around with the missiles. You’re screwed… You can’t fiddle around with hitting missile sites and then hitting the SAM sites. You got to go in and take out the goddamned thing that’s going to stop you from doing your job.” (Dallek, 555)
On Saturday October 20th the President convened the ExComm again. When asked earlier by Appointment Secretary Kenneth O’Donnell about what would happen if they could not reach a consensus, the President related a story about President Lincoln at one of his Cabinet meetings: “‘All in favor vote “aye”.’ The whole cabinet voted aye, Lincoln voted no, and then announced that the no’s had it.” (O’Donnell, 320) In other words, the President was determined to do what he damn well wanted to do. The meeting began, as usual, with an update on the construction of the missile sites in Cuba. Following that, McNamara began his presentation, known as the “blockade route,” which outlined the initial phases of the blockade. In order to proceed with negotiations, the U.S., he said, must be willing to “accept the withdrawal of United States strategic missiles from Turkey and Italy and possibly agreement to limit our use of Guantanamo to a specified limited time.” (Cuban Missile) He noted that withdrawal of the missiles could take some time, which might cause the President to incur some political damage, but in the long run it was the safest alternative to the military strike. He also noted that as the leader of the free world, it would not be in our long tradition to institute a first-strike policy, especially a sneak attack. The President then asked General Maxwell Taylor how he interpreted the statements made by McNamara. Taylor, speaking on behalf of the JCS, did not agree with McNamara’s belief that “if we used nuclear weapons in Cuba, nuclear weapons would be used against us.” (Cuban Missile) Mac Bundy then briefed the President on the “air strike alternative,” which he argued was their best shot for getting the missiles off the island. McNamara argued that there was no guarantee that all of the sites would be destroyed, thus leaving us open to retaliation.
At this point, Bobby spoke up. He argued that there be a combination of the two plans: an initial blockade, followed, after a set amount of time, by an air strike. This would eliminate the Pearl Harbor analogy by providing the Soviets ample time to respond, but it would also provide justification for removing the missile sites by force if the Soviets fail to dismantle them. This idea seemed to have a positive effect and it won over Secretary of State Dean Rusk to the blockade route. With the Pearl Harbor analogy in mind, Rusk asserted that we had no legal or moral justification for a surprise attack, which meant the U.S. should pursue the blockade route. He added that an air strike would be “chapter 2,” in other words it would be the next phase of the efforts to remove the missile sites. UN Ambassador brought up the idea that we trade our Jupiter missiles in Turkey and Italy for the missile sites in Cuba. The President argued that given the deceptive nature of the Soviets in the transportation of the missiles, and the sensitivity of the allies about these Jupiter missiles, that option was unacceptable. After some discussion about the rules of a possible blockade, Secretary Rusk brought up the idea of calling it a quarantine because a blockade is technically an act of war. As the meeting came to a close the President decided that the blockade route was their best option, followed by air strikes against missile site and missiles if the Soviets refuse to remove them from the island. The group discussed the blockade draft speech by Ted Sorensen that was to be given to the American public in the next few days. The ExComm had finally reached a consensus.
The President’s decision to pursue a naval quarantine, rather than an immediate air strike, undoubtedly saved the world from nuclear oblivion. This not hyperbolic rhetoric. Though they did not know this at the time, the Soviets were bracing themselves for a possible attack or invasion from the U.S.
In Havana, Cuba, 1992, historians James Blight, Bruce Allyn, and David Welch held a conference on the Cuban Missile Crisis. In attendance were the American, Cuban, and Russian officials that participated in the crisis thirty years earlier. Over four days in January, the group debated, discussed, and considered the causes and effects of the crisis, as well as the lessons that could be learned from it. Robert McNamara was quick to admit mistakes in judgment, but he also insisted that his Cuban and Soviet counterparts do the same, but they were a little reticent in that regard. It was during this conference that the U.S. delegation learned just how close they had come to the brink of nuclear war.
General Anatoly Gribkov, who oversaw the secret deployment of missiles and soldiers into Cuba, made several shocking admissions. He first admitted that there had been no fewer than 42,000 Russian soldiers on the island of Cuba. These soldiers were also in possession of 162 short and long range nuclear warheads—including 90 tactical nuclear warheads. However, most alarming of all, was the admission that Premier Khrushchev had authorized the use of these weapons in the event of an American invasion (Blight, 259). This news was so shocking that McNamara nearly fell out of his chair (Kennedy, 9). General Gribkov had been given the authority from Defense Minister Malinovsky, who had been delegated that power from Khrushchev: “If you use the tactical weapons, it must be in the face of an invasion, that is, a penetration into Cuban territory.” (Blight, 259) The reason for such a move was based on the need for quick decisions, which would not be possible if the Soviets had to get permission from Khrushchev himself to use the missiles.
In the documentary Fog of War, by Errol Morris, Robert McNamara talks about how shocked by the news that he nearly called off the conference. Even more shocking was the realization of how close they came to the end of civilization as they knew it: “It wasn’t until January, 1992, in a meeting chaired by Castro in Havana, Cuba, that I learned 162 nuclear warheads, including 90 tactical warheads, were on the island at the time of this critical moment of the crisis. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, and Castro got very angry with me because I said, ‘Mr. President, let’s stop this meeting. This is totally new to me, I’m not sure I got the translation right… Mr. President, I have three questions to you. Number one: did you know the nuclear warheads were there? Number two: if you did, would you have recommended to Khrushchev in the face of an U.S. attack that he use them? Number three: if he had used them, what would have happened to Cuba?’ He said, ‘Number one, I knew they were there. Number two, I would not have recommended to Khrushchev, I did recommend to Khrushchev that they be used. Number three, “What would have happened to Cuba?” It would have been totally destroyed.’ That’s how close we were.” Had President Kennedy followed the recommendations of the JCS, nuclear war would have commenced on the beaches of Cuba and nations would have been destroyed.
The Missiles of October
Or: Thirteen Days of Fear and Loathing
By Jose Rodriguez
Over the next five days, the ExComm routinely met in Under Secretary of State George Ball’s conference room to hammer out a strategy. Part of the President’s strategy was to remain absent from the ExComm deliberations so that the participants would speak more freely and openly about their opinions. In his memoir, Bobby wrote, “Frequently I saw advisers adapt their opinions to what they believed President Kennedy … wished to hear.” (Kennedy, 86) It also provided the group an opportunity to arrive at a consensus. Throughout the deliberations, recalled Gilpatric, “he didn’t, until the very end of our meetings, indicate what he was going to do.” (Strober, 378) In waiting to voice an opinion, he gave the ExComm members more time to discuss their positions. Though President Kennedy did not voice his opinion in the ExComm deliberations that does not mean his influence was not felt. This influence came in the form of the President’s brother– Bobby. The two boys were not close in their youth, due to the difference in their age, but the two formed a close bond when President Kennedy was running for the Senate. For the remainder of the President’s political career, Bobby was his greatest advocate and most trusted advisor. “He was his brother’s spokesperson on most matters,” and his brother’s attack dog when necessary (Dallek, 547). In those ExComm meetings, there is some indication that he was merely reflecting the President’s own views in order to have them vetted by the group, particularly the Pearl Harbor analogy. The reactions and responses would then be reported back to the President in private meetings. According to Arthur Schlesinger jr. however, Bobby came into his own during those thirteen days and seemed to genuinely lead the charge for the quarantine option (Schlesinger, “Robert Kennedy” 532). Either way, the brothers were like-minded on this crisis. Schlesinger recalls in his memoir of Robert Kennedy the last night of the crisis when the President said, almost to himself, “Thank God for Bobby.”
The ExComm was split between “hawks” and “doves,” though these were not terms used during the crisis. It should be noted, however, that the initial majority opinion was in favor of a military strike to remove the missile sites (Kennedy, 25). After subsequent discussions over the course of the first couple of days, a second option surfaced: a naval blockade. A naval blockade is actually an act of war, so, for legal reasons, the group termed the action “quarantine”. This option resulted in the split that divided the group into “hawks” and “doves”. The hawks were led by Dean Acheson and the Joint Chiefs of Staff; the doves were led by Bobby and Robert McNamara. Somehow, these men were supposed to find common ground.
The doves argued strongly for the naval blockade, or “quarantine”. The quarantine would exert the necessary pressure on Russia, but it was an option that “(allowed) the Soviets some room for maneuver to pull back from their over-extended position in Cuba.” (Dallek, 556) If necessary, they argued, the military option was still on the table. Robert McNamara stressed that there was no guarantee, in the event of a military strike, that all of the missile sites would be known, especially considering that they did not know whether or not more sites existed (Kennedy, 27). For Bobby, the military strike was morally unacceptable as it “would rain bombs on Cuba, killing thousands and thousands of civilians in a surprise attack,” a course of action that was not in the American tradition (Kennedy, 29). The American public, nor the rest of the world, would tolerate a “very big nation” blasting a “very small” nation back to the stone age in an act that was reminiscent of Pearl Harbor. Bobby’s position is greatly different from his views just before the crisis broke out, according to Gaylord Nelson who said that Bobby remarked, “What we really should do is make a strike—a huge strike and knock ‘em right out of business.” (Strober, 377) The implication, therefore, is that Bobby’s contradictory position during the ExComm meetings reflected President Kennedy’s behind the scenes opinion.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff, by contrast, were unanimous in their support for a surgical air strike. The hawks argued that the blockade would be “closing the door after the horse has left the barn,” not to mention the fact that there existed the very real possibility that the Russians might “do the same to Berlin.” (Kennedy, 27-28) One of the most vocal hawks was former Secretary of State Dean Acheson, who argued that the President had a moral obligation to take out the missile site that threatened the lives of 90 million Americans (Kennedy, 28-30). They even had plans drawn up to execute 500 sorties over the island, all of which would require ammunition and troop deployments (Kennedy, 29). The missiles provided, in their view, a perfect opportunity “to solve the Cuban problem.” (Talbot, 168)
The ExComm was scheduled to make their proposals to the President on the night of Thursday October 18, but first he had to attend a previously scheduled meeting with Andrei Gromyko, the Soviet Foreign Minister. In a shining example of his cool and calm demeanor, the President gave Gromyko no indication that anything was wrong or amiss. In fact, it was Gromyko who insisted that the U.S. “stop threatening Cuba” and allow them to exist in peace (Kennedy, 31). Again, Gromyko reiterated the Soviet’s position that their support to Cuba was of a defensive nature: “As to assistance to Cuba, I have been instructed to make it clear… that such assistance pursued solely the purpose of contributing to the defense capabilities of Cuba and to the development of its peaceful economy.” (Sorensen, 690) This blatant deception infuriated the President, though he made no outward indication of his feelings. The President, instead, read his statement from September 4th: “All Americans, as well as all of our friends in this Hemisphere, have been concerned over the recent moves of the Soviet Union to bolster the military power of the Castro regime in Cuba… There is no evidence of any organized combat force in Cuba from any Soviet bloc country; of military bases provided to Russia; of a violation of the 1934 treaty relating to Guantanamo; of the presence of offensive ground-to-ground missiles; or of other significant offensive capability either in Cuban hands or under Soviet direction and guidance. Were it to be otherwise, the gravest issues would arise. The Cuban question must be considered as a part of the worldwide challenge posed by Communist threats to the peace. It must be dealt with as a part of that larger issue as well as in the context of the special relationships which have long characterized the inter-American System. It continues to be the policy of the United States that the Castro regime will not be allowed to export its aggressive purposes by force or the threat of force. It will be prevented by whatever means may be necessary from taking action against any part of the Western Hemisphere. The United States, in conjunction with other Hemisphere countries, will make sure that while increased Cuban armaments will be a heavy burden to the unhappy people of Cuba themselves, they will be nothing more.” (Statement) Afterwards, in a meeting with Robert Lovett, the President expressed his frustration: “[Gromyko] who, in this very room not over ten minutes ago, told more barefaced lies than I have ever heard in so short a time. All during his denial that the Russians had any missiles or weapons, or anything else, in Cuba, I had… the pictures in the center drawer of my desk and it was an enormous temptation to show them to him.” (Dallek, 553)
Later that night, in order to maintain secrecy, the ExComm piled into Bobby’s car and drove to the White House. They had all agreed to the blockade proposal before they left for the White House, but that did not last. The group was presented with new aerial photographs that showed that the Soviets were constructing sites to launch intermediate medium range ballistic missiles. The group focused their discussion on whether or not they should act immediately to this new information, which lead to discussions about how and where the Soviet Union would retaliate. Dean Rusk also expressed concerns about how our allies might be affected: “The action also has to be thought of in connection with alliance solidarity, there we’re faced with conflicting elements. Unless we’re in a situation where it is clear that the alliance has worked to understand the problem, then unannounced, unconsulted quick action on our part, could well lead to a kind of odd disunitiveness the Soviets could capitalize upon very strongly.” (Historic Documents) The President then engaged the group in a discussion about whether or not they should alert the Soviet Union before they make any decision, but he seemed t answer his own question: “If we gave say this 24-hour notice, get in touch with Khrushchev, taking no action with our allies. I would assume that they would move these mobile missiles into the woods.” (Historic Documents) McNamara responded by saying that he doubted the Soviets, at this point, could dismantle the sites, especially since it had taken them so long to erect them in the first place. When the subject of the blockade finally came up, the President was still concerned about how they planned to remove the missiles from the island. Llewellyn Thompson suggested that they declare war or find some sort of legal basis that would not only force the Soviets to dismantle the sites, but it would also justify any future actions the U.S. might make to punish them for their defiance. Playing the role of devil’s advocate, Bobby states: “the argument against the blockade is that it’s very slow death, and it kills up, and goes over a period of months, and during that period of time you’ve got all these people yelling and screaming, examination of Russian ships and shooting down of Russian planes that try to land there, you have to do all those things.” (Historic Documents) An unidentified voice asserts that any blockade of Cuba would most assuredly prompt the Soviets to retaliate by blockading Berlin. The meeting ends without any final decision and the President sends the ExComm back to their offices to develop their arguments.
Why They Hate Us
By Jose Rodriguez
The course of history was irrevocably altered by the tragic events of September 11, 2001. The horrific images of the World Trade Center towers replayed on television screens over and over again, like the recurrence of a frightening nightmare. The common refrain, in the following days, was the question, “Why do they hate us?” Those persons in power had a simple answer: these were evil people who hated American freedom and democracy. This explanation seemed to soothe the general populace, and placed the terrorist acts in a context that was black and white, and thus easier to comprehend. The true reasons are far more nuanced and complicated, and would force the American government to admit some level of guilt. The truth is that the attacks on 9/11 are a direct result of American foreign policy in the Middle East. It is the refusal to acknowledge these truths that has exacerbated anti-Americanism in the region and has led to an increase in terrorism around the world.
The concept of blowback is very controversial and it tends to cause heated debates. The idea that one’s own government is responsible for tragedy is abhorrent to many who would describe themselves as patriotic. However, the purpose of such discourse is not to say that America deserved the attacks, nor would any sane individual justify such attacks or apologize for them. Terrorism is reprehensible, regardless of the perpetrators, and regardless of the victims. In a society such as the United States, with the advantage of the freedom of speech, it is absolutely imperative to allow discussions, such as this, so that the root causes of anti-Americanism can be determined and solutions found. It is in this context of openness that the rest of this argument will be placed.
There really should not be any confusion about why we were attacked on 9/11. Osama bin Laden, the mastermind behind the attacks, laid out his grievances in his declaration of war on August 23, 1996 (Bergen, 164). In that declaration, he has three grievances: the occupation of the Holy Lands (Mecca and Medina), the US-led sanctions imposed on Iraq, and the United States’ unwavering support for Israel’s brutal military occupation of Palestinian territory. This declaration is not some fanatical religious tirade, nor does he express any rage or contempt for American democracy and freedom. What he lays out is a clear and rational criticism of US policy in the Middle East. One “effective weapon” against the United States, he argues, is the boycotting of American goods and services (Bergen, 165). He reiterated these points on May 26, 1998 at a news conference in eastern Afghanistan with Ayman al Zawahiri, and urged his followers to conduct acts of terrorism against the United States (Bergen, 202). Not more than two months later, Al Qaeda carried out terrorist attacks against two US embassies in Africa. In retaliation, President Clinton launched cruise missile attacks against Al Qaeda, but failed to kill bin Laden, which only served to elevate his status in the eyes of the Islamic terrorist groups (Bergen, 219). Although he is a radical terrorist, many of his grievances are shared by the Arab world and his defiance is respected across the region.
Osama bin Laden’s hatred for the United States can be traced back to the beginning of the Gulf War. Indeed, even before the Gulf War started, bin Laden was one of the many mujahideen in Afghanistan that benefited from the support of the United States. US support was welcomed by the mujahideen as they were in an armed struggle to expel the atheist Soviet Union from their country. After the war, with the success of the mujahideen over the Soviet forces, the US packed up and left the country to suffer a horrific civil war that resulted in the rise of the Taliban government. However, the return of the United States to the Middle East during the Gulf War enraged and offended Osama bin Laden.
In the years following 9/11, many people tried to connect Iraq with Al Qaeda in a belated attempt to justify the invasion of Iraq. In reality, Osama bin Laden and his followers have been fiercely anti-Saddam due to the late dictator’s secularization of Iraq during his brutal reign. Jamal al-Fadl, a former Al Qaeda agent, testified during the 1998 trial against the seven men accused of the African embassy bombings that bin Laden had been very critical of Hussein and warned that, “one day he going to take all of Gulf area [sic].” (Bergen, 111) Khaled Batarfi, a former friend of bin Laden’s, recalls that in the months before the Kuwait invasion bin Laden had said, “We should train our people, our young and increase our army and prepare for the day when we are eventually attacked This guy [Saddam] can never be trusted.” (Bergen, 111) The warnings were prophetic as Saddam invaded neighboring Kuwait in August 1990. Osama bin Laden went to Saudi intelligence officials and proposed that he be allowed to gather 100,000 mujahideen fighters, trained in the Afghan war, in order to defend itself from Hussein’s expansion (Bergen, 112; Abukhalil, 77).
The Saudi royal family turned down bin Laden’s offer and opted, instead, to allow US forces to defend Saudi Arabia. This was a crucial decision and was opposed not only by bin Laden, but also by Muslim clerics and the crown prince, who warned “that US troops may never leave Saudi territory once they (arrive)”. (Abukhalil, 73) According to the Wahhabiyyah clerics, the presence of non-Muslims, especially when they are soldiers from a predominantly Christian nation, are strictly prohibited from stepping foot on the Holy Lands of Mecca and Medina. Yet, President George H.W. Bush deployed the military to the Holy Lands anyways. Despite being there to defend Saudi land from Iraqi aggression, it was the Saudi military that was responsible for expelling Iraqi troops. The arrival of US forces marked the departure of bin Laden from Saudi Arabia, his homeland. Since then, he believes that the American presence has caused the moral decline of the Saudi royal family. Bin Laden also viewed the presence of US forces as an attempt to establish hegemony over a country rich in oil, oil that belongs to the Arabs.
Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait ended his country’s privilege of being a client state and entered them into the category of “Rogue State”. During the eighties, the United States was providing Saddam with military and diplomatic support as they waged war with Iran (also a former client state). The weapons of mass destruction that the United States harshly criticized Saddam for having, came from the United States to begin with. The mass killings of the northern Kurds was possible because of those weapons, and was later made possible by the refusal of the United States to acknowledge that the atrocities had even occurred (Chomsky, “Middle East Illusions” 201). It was only when the client state got out of control and decided to act without US consent that Iraq became a “Rogue State”. Iraq had to be punished.
The US led sanctions on Iraq fueled anti-Americanism in the region and served as a daily reminder of American hegemony. UNICEF estimates that 1.5 million people died as a direct result of the sanction imposed on Iraq; of those deaths were among children under five years of age (Chomsky, “Acts” 60). When confronted with these statistics on 60 Minutes in May of 1996, Madeline Albright said that, “We think the price is worth it,” when referring to civilian deaths. Iraqi hospitals were filled with people who were dying of illnesses that are perfectly curable, such as dysentery, and the flu. For those individuals with cancer, the only prospect was death. The sanctions prevented the importation of machines for hospital use, medicine, and ambulances (out of fear that they could be used as a troop transporter). Doctors in Iraq struggled to help the elderly, the children, and the chronically ill even without the basic tools they needed. It is difficult to imagine the frustration they felt as they watched, helplessly, as their patients died of completely curable diseases. With such poor conditions and limited tools, it is no wonder that so many people died in Iraqi hospitals.
The sanctions have also prevented Iraqi’s from having the basic necessities for life. Because of these sanctions, Iraqi’s are unable to have the tools or supplies (such as chlorine) necessary for purifying water, which has become filthy and disease-ridden. The conditions were so despicable that the UN’s Humanitarian co-coordinator in Baghdad, Dennis Halliday, resigned in protest, saying, “I don’t want to administer a programme that satisfies the definition of genocide.” (Chomsky, “Middle East Illusions” 200) His successor, Hans von Sponeck, also resigned in protest over the sanctions. The US, until after the US invaded Iraq in 2003, supported the sanctions, believing that they would weaken Saddam Hussein. On the contrary, all evidence suggests that the sanctions only strengthened Saddam’s control over the suffering Iraqi people. They argue that the sanctions are Saddam’s fault., yet the United States government persists in helping him devastate his own population (Chomsky, “Middle East Illusions” 201).
The central issue in the Arab region that inflames anti-Americanism, is the US’ unwavering support for Israel’s brutal military occupation of the Palestinian territories. The UN created the state of Israel as a Jewish homeland in 1948, creating some 1,380,000 Palestinian refugees (Reinhart, 7). These refugees, to this day, have not been allowed to return to their homeland, even though a UN Resolution demanded Israel do just that. This was the beginning of a pattern. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has yet to be resolved because of American intervention. In 1967, Israel expanded its border by seizing the Sinai, Gaza, the Golan heights, and the West Bank, which created another wave of about 250,000 refugees (Reinhart, 8). The United States, watching the situation unfold, took steps to ally itself with Israel. Israel, the logic went, would be a formidable ally in the region and could serve as a base of operations against the Soviet Union. A 1976 UN resolution calling for a Palestinian state was vetoed by the US, a move which signaled to the Arab world that the United States had no intention of allowing the creation of a Palestinian state (Chomsky, “Hegemony” 168). So, the military occupation of the Palestinian lands continued with the full diplomatic support of the United States.
Over the next 40 years, Israel continued its hostile attitude towards the Arab people. In 1982, for example, the Israeli army invaded and occupied southern Lebanon, which left roughly 20,000 Lebanese dead (Chomsky, “Hegemony” 167). However, hostilities actually began in 1976. The UN tried to stop Israeli aggression with a UN resolution, but it, too, was vetoed by the United States. According to Israeli sources, the purpose was to destroy the Palestinian Liberation Organization and to “persuade Palestinians to accept Israeli rule in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.” (Chomsky, “Hegemony” 168) However, in 1987 the Palestinian people organized themselves into an uprising (intifada) against the military occupation of Israel. With this uprising was a formal recognition of Israel’s right to exist in its pre-1967 borders and a call for a free and independent Palestinian state (Reinhart, 10). The first intifada came to an end as both sides came together for the Oslo Accords.
There was an aura of euphoria and excitement as it seemed that peace was at hand. There was rejoicing in the streets and many PLO militants put down their weapons in anticipation of what they believed to be an end to the conflict (Reinhart, 14). However, as the process got underway, it became clearer and clearer that the status quo was to stay the same. Israeli settlements continued unabated, and unemployment in the Palestinian territories increased. The promises made in the Oslo agreements by Israel were never met, nor did they really intend to meet those agreements.
In 2000, President Clinton convened the Camp David meetings in an ostensible attempt to bring about a peace agreement. However, the what the Israeli’s offered Yaser Arafat was nothing more than control over municipal affairs. The Palestinian lands were divided up into cantons that were surrounded on all sides by Israeli territory. In other words, the food, electricity, water, and freedom of movement would still be controlled by Israel. The offer was not acceptable to Arafat. Had he accepted it, he would have been renounced all across the Arab world as a traitor. The failure of Israel to offer anything substantial, the failure of the US to pressure Israel to comply with the Oslo accords of 1993,and Ariel Sharon’s provocative visit to the Temple Mount, led to the second Intifada.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict could be resolved quickly and easily, but there is no desire to do this. The United States has vetoed and rejected symbolic resolutions and treaties that might affect Israel. For instance, in 1987 the UN put forth a resolution condemning terrorism, but the US effectively vetoed the condemnation because it include a clause that gave the right of self-determination and the right to armed struggle against an occupying force. The General Assembly overwhelmingly supported the resolution, with only two votes against it: the US and Israel. Another similar vetoed occurred when the US rejected a Human Rights treaty made in Vienna that included a sentence declaring that, “foreign occupation is a human rights violation.” (Chomsky, “Middle East Illusions” 187) The tanks that roll through the streets of the occupied territories, and the helicopters that rain missiles upon the homes of civilians, are all provided by the United States. The victims and their families all know this. The United States could withhold its economic and military aid (which is the most given to any nation in the world) from Israel until it agrees to the creation of a Palestinian state. This is unthinkable in Washington and would never happen.
The claims by some that the motivations behind the 9/11 attacks are religiously based miss the point entirely. Yes, the people use religious imagery and language, but so too does every other religious nation. The reasons for the attacks are clear. Bin Laden stated clearly that his grievances are with US forces on the Holy Lands, the Iraqi Sanctions, and the support of Israel in its occupation of Palestinian territory. These views are not unique to him, but are shared by virtually all of the Arab world. The only way to combat terrorism is to recognize the root causes of anti-Americanism and then find ways to solve those issues. Violence and the continued support of state terror is not going to end these feelings of resentment, but will only inflame them further. Instead of asking, “Why do they hate us?” we should be asking, “What can we do to help?”
Abukhalil, As’ad. Bin Laden, Islam, and America’s New “War on Terrorism”. New York: Seven Stories Press, 2002.
Bergen, Peter. The Osama bin Laden I Know. New York: Free Press, 2006.
Carter, Jimmy. Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid. New York: Simon and Shuster, 2006.
Chomsky, Noam. 9-11. New York: Seven Stories Press, 2001.
– Acts of Aggression: Policing “Rogue States”. New York: Open Media, 1999.
– Hegemony or Survival. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2003.
– Middle East Illusions. New York: Rowan and Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2003.
– The Umbrella of US Power. New York: Open Media, 1999.
— Power and Terror. New York: Seven Stories Press, 2003.
Reinhart, Tanya. Israel/ Palestine: How to End the War of 1948. New York: Seven Stories Press, 2002.
Zinn, Howard. Terrorism and War. New York: Seven Stories Press, 2002.
The Missiles of October
Or: Thirteen Days of Fear and Loathing
By Jose Rodriguez
The honeymoon did not last however, as President Kennedy suffered his first major foreign policy defeat two months into his term. The April 17th invasion of Cuba by the CIA trained Cuban exiles was a perfect failure. The vastly outnumbered force of roughly fourteen hundred battled for three days against Castro’s armed forces on the beaches of Cuba, suffering 104 deaths (including four CIA “advisers”). The surviving Cuban exiles surrendered and were put into prison. The President was grief stricken when news of the invasion’s failure reached him, but he refused to send in military reinforcements. In Kenneth O’Donnell and Dave Power’s book “Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye” they described the President’s thinking: “As sorry as he felt for the stranded rebels on the beaches, he preferred the embarrassment of defeat to the use of American military force against a small and independent nation. ‘I’ll take the defeat’ he said that night to the generals and admirals, “and I’ll take all of the blame for it.’” (O’Donnell, 270)
Early in 1962, President Kennedy read Barbara Tuchman’s book The Guns of August, a startling account of the outbreak of World War 1. The President was so shocked by what he read that he required his Cabinet members and the National Security Council to read the book. He even gave a copy to England’s Prime Minister Harold Macmillan (Tuchman, vii). Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara recalled that the President explained how the book “graphically portrayed how Europe’s leaders had bungled into the debacle of World War 1. And he emphasized: ‘I don’t ever want to be in that position… we are not going to bungle into war.’” (McNamara, 96) Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy (referred to as Bobby) recalled in his memoir Thirteen Days that the President had criticized Europe’s leaders who “seemed to tumble into war… through stupidity, individual idiosyncrasies, misunderstandings, and personal complexes of inferiority and grandeur.” (Kennedy, 49) Contrary to the assertions made by revisionists Hagan and Paterson, the President was not attempting to flex his military muscle or to provoke a nuclear showdown. According to Bobby, on the night of October 26, 1962, the President spoke to him about the historical implications of their actions: “If anybody is around to write after this, they are going to understand that we made every effort to find peace and every effort to give our adversary room to move. I am not going to push the Russians an inch beyond what is necessary.” (Kennedy, 98) Clearly, Barbara Tuchman’s book, and the lessons it contained, had an enormous influence on the manner in which the President approached each crisis, particularly during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The primary documents and oral histories provide clear and ample evidence that he was determined not to go down in history as the President who bungled his way into nuclear war.
The Soviet Union began moving missiles into Cuba in the summer of 1962, which US intelligence detected in August, after having received assurances from President Kennedy that he would halt all U-2 reconnaissance flights “over Soviet ships in the Caribbean.” (Dallek, 537) By September, it was becoming clearer and clearer that the Soviets were not being entirely honest with their claims that they were only providing defensive armaments to Cuba. On September 4, Bobby held a meeting with Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin: “I told him that we were deeply concerned within the Administration about the amount of military equipment being sent to Cuba… there was some evidence that, in addition to the surface-to-air-missile (SAM) sites that were being erected, the Russians, under the guise of a fishing village, were constructing a large naval shipyard and a base for submarines.” (Kennedy, 20-21) Ambassador Dobrynin assured the Attorney General that the Soviet Union “would do nothing to disrupt the relationship of our two countries during this period prior to the elections.” (Kennedy, 21) To make the point even clearer, the President issued a statement warning the Soviet Union against the introduction of offensive weapons into Cuba. A week later, on September 11, the Soviet Union issued a statement of their own assuring the US that there would be no such course of action and that they had no intention of exporting nuclear weapons to Cuba: “There is no need for the Soviet Union to shift its weapons for the repulsion of aggression, for a retaliatory blow, to any other country, for instance, Cuba. Our nuclear weapons are so powerful in their explosive force and the Soviet Union has so powerful rockets to carry these nuclear warheads, that there is no need to search for sites for them beyond the boundaries.” (Schlesinger, “A Thousand” 799) They also went on to accuse that the US was “preparing for aggression against Cuba and other peace-loving states.” (Schlesinger, “A Thousand” 799) The web of lies and deceit had been spun, but the US had not yet been caught in it. As a precaution, the President stepped up U-2 reconnaissance flights over Cuba.
The Cuban Missile Crisis, for the U.S., started at 8:45 am on Tuesday, October 16, 1962. National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy presented President Kennedy with the news that a U-2 spy plane had photographed evidence of offensive weapons on the island of Cuba. In that first hour, President Kennedy made three crucial decisions: the information was to be shared with only a select few individuals; these individuals would convene for high level meetings to discuss policy and strategy; and, lastly, that everyone should be mindful to keep their appointments, lest they rouse the suspicions of journalists. The President wanted to maintain absolute control over the situation. Pierre Salinger, the White House Press Secretary, explained that President Kennedy wanted to make a decision before he let the “American people… know about the crisis.” (Strober, 379) He was concerned about pressure to act before he had time to consider all of his options.
President Kennedy immediately set-up a meeting and drew up a list of people he wanted at the meeting. At around 9:00 am, he called the person at the top of his list—his brother Bobby. “President Kennedy called and asked me to come to the White House. He said only that we were facing great trouble.” (Kennedy, 19) The rest of the people on his list were instructed to attend the meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House at 11:45 a.m. These few individuals were to form the Executive Committee of the Security Council, otherwise known as the ExComm. Roswell Gilpatric, a member of the ExComm and the Deputy Secretary of Defense, said that “the President must have had in his mind at the beginning how he was going to do something like the missile crisis, because from all accounts and what Mac Bundy told me and others, when Bundy woke him up on Tuesday morning with the news of the discovery of the sites, Kennedy just reeled off the names of ten or twelve of us whom he wanted to come over to the White House that morning.” (Strober, 378) These men were, as Bobby described, “of the highest intelligence, industrious, courageous, and dedicated to their country’s well being.” (Kennedy, 25)
During this meeting, the ExComm was presented with the aerial photography and listened as experts explained the readiness of the sites. The 928 pictures looked like football fields to the President and Bobby, but General Marshall Sylvester Carter (Deputy Director of the CIA) explained that the photographic evidence revealed the existence in Cuba of missile sites that were under construction at San Cristobal and Guanajay, Cuba, not to mention twenty-one crated IL-28 medium range bombers. They also admitted that they had no idea when these sites would become operational. President Kennedy pressed the ExComm advisors to explain Krushev’s motivation for placing the missile sites in Cuba and how they thought these missiles would be removed. Looking back, Dean Rusk said: “We never really knew the answer to that question.” (Strober, 388) During this meeting, however, Rusk proposed that Khrushchev might be trying “to bargain Berlin and Cuba against each other.” (Dallek, 547) Ted Sorensen, the President’s speechwriter and adviser, wrote that there were five theories: (1) That Khrushchev was testing the will of the administration by playing Cold War politics; (2) That Khrushchev was setting a trap that would force the U.S. to respond with violence against “little Cuba and provide the Soviet Union room to move against Berlin; (3) That Khrushchev was trying to protect its ally in the Western Hemisphere against what they thought would be an inevitable invasion; (4) That Khrushchev was using the missile sites as a bargaining tool for future settlements on Berlin; (5) That Khrushchev was trying to compensate for the missile gap by placing the missiles so close to the American mainland that they would “by-pass most of our missile warning systems permitting virtually no time between their launch and their arrival on target.” (Sorensen, 677-678) When the President requested opinions on their response, he received a range of opinions that included doing nothing, responding with massive military force, or blockading the island. Overwhelmingly, the group was in favor of a military strike. This also seemed to be the President’s initial choice, but he was not yet ready to make his decision. As the meeting wore on, Bobby passed a note to the President: “I now know how Tojo felt when he was planning Pearl Harbor” (Kennedy, 25).
The Missiles of October
Or: Thirteen Days of Fear and Loathing
By Jose Rodriguez
It was only through John F. Kennedy’s leadership that the world narrowly avoided nuclear oblivion. The temperature of the Cold War was turned way up when the United States discovered that the Soviet Union had begun construction on several new nuclear sites on the island of Cuba, just 90 miles south of Florida. By the end of the thirteen day stand-off in the Caribbean waters around Cuba, the U.S.S.R. promised to remove the missile sites if the U.S. promised not to invade the island. President Kennedy’s careful judgment was predicated on his ability to empathize and respect his adversary, his ability to weigh all the advice given to him, and his hesitation to use violence as a means to an end. One can only speculate about the holocaust that would have been wreaked on civilization had President Kennedy not been elected in 1960.
This thesis, however, is not shared by many revisionist historians who reject any claims that the crisis represented President Kennedy’s finest hour. The reassessments by these historians place full blame for the crisis on President Kennedy’s shoulders, and virtually give the Communist cohorts, Cuba and the Soviet Union, a pass. President Kennedy, they charge, unnecessarily brought the crisis to the brink of nuclear war in order to appear tough on communism during mid-term elections. They are also quick to point out that the memoirs of those involved in the crisis (Robert Kennedy, Ted Sorensen, Arthur Schlesinger Jr, Walt Rostow, etc.) are all biased accounts that tend to view the President more positively than objectively, and are thus not suitable for any constructive discussion of the Cuban Missile Crisis. These individuals, by implication, have done an injustice to the historical record by creating a false image of the President during those thirteen days. In the final analysis, these revisionists are guilty of ascribing motives to individuals where there is no evidence for such assertions.
Thomas G. Paterson, a revisionist historian, has been very critical of President Kennedy’s handling of the missile crisis. According to Paterson, Professor Emeritus at University of Connecticut, President Kennedy recklessly took the route of confrontation when the route of diplomacy was readily available to him. Why would President Kennedy take this route? In Paterson’s essay Bearing the Burden: A Critical Look at JFK’s Foreign Policy, he states: “The president’s desire to score a victory, to recapture previous losses, to flex his muscle, accentuated the crisis and obstructed diplomacy… Kennedy gave Khrushchev no chance to withdraw his mistake or to save face… He left little room for bargaining but instead issued a public ultimatum and seemed willing to destroy, in Strangelovian fashion, millions in the process.” The appearance of being weak or hesitant to act during an election season was unacceptable, so, according to his assertions, Kennedy built up the threat to be more dangerous than it actually was. Following the disastrous Bay of Pigs debacle, the Kennedy administration was eager for a confrontation that would demonstrate their power and superiority over the Soviets. Paterson concludes that President Kennedy was not the cool and collected decision maker that his adherents have maintained; Instead, President Kennedy was vain, reckless, and impatient, all of which generated the tensions that could very well have resulted in nuclear war.
Another proponent of this theory is Roger Hagan, who has asserted that it was Kennedy’s arrogant and hostile Cuban policies that forced Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev to put missiles on the Cuban island. Like Paterson, Hagan states that “Politics, toughness, a sense of nakedness and military peril, a sense of being tested, silly rage, all were probably mingled into an unanalyzed conviction of the necessity of our action.” Cowboy diplomacy, in other words, was exercised by the President so that he would not appear soft on communism, a position that would have left him weak politically.
In the book The Crisis years, Michael Beschloss asserts that the President’s legacy enjoyed, for some time, an immunity from criticism. The Kennedy White House is described as being at fault for creating an official version of events and then cementing that version into the minds of several generations of Americans who were “relieved by the peaceful end to the crisis, [and] were eager to accept” the White House story (Beschloss, 564). Had the President lived in more modern times, Beschloss writes, he “would not have been so lucky.” (Beschloss, 564) The American people, he argues, ate up the “drama” over the missiles because it was more “comprehensible” than the “abstractions of Berlin.” (Beschloss, 568) By implication, if the public were not so ignorant they would have seen that their President was “(responsible) for provoking the crisis” to begin with (Beschloss, 568). The fact that the public bought the “official version” emboldened President Kennedy’s political status and his appearance of being tough on communism (Beschloss, 568).
Arthur Schlesinger jr criticized the revisionist historians in his memoir of Robert Kennedy. He points out that the left-wing revisionists portray him as a President “driven by psychic and political compulsions to demand unconditional surrender at whatever risk to mankind,” while the hard-liners, such as Dean Acheson, during the crisis thought “him fatally soft.” (Schlesinger, “Robert Kennedy” 554) This appears to be a paradox. Schlesinger, one of the people Paterson accuses of being a perpetuator of the Kennedy legacy, argues that the very individuals that faced off against the President during the crisis thought that he was striving for peace. Khrushchev, for example, wrote that Kennedy “was a man who understood the situation correctly and who genuinely did not want war… Kennedy was also someone we could trust… He showed great flexibility and, together, we avoided disaster… He didn’t let himself become frightened, nor did he become reckless… He showed real wisdom and statesmanship.” (Schlesinger, “Robert Kennedy” 554). He also quotes Cuban President Fidel Castro, who was speaking to Herbert Matthews: “[Kennedy] acted as he did partly to save Khrushchev, out of fear that any successor would be tougher.” (Schlesinger, “Robert Kennedy” 554) The point Schlesinger is trying to make is that the people who were closest to the President and those who went toe-to-toe with him better understood his motivations than those historians who would attempt to ascribe motives to a person they did not know in a situation they did not participate in. Having the benefit of hindsight, these revisionist historians overcompensate for the Kennedy legacy following his assassination by trying to destroy his legacy altogether.
The legacy began when Senator John F. Kennedy narrowly defeated Vice President Richard M. Nixon in the Presidential election of 1960, much to his consternation. However, over the next seventy days, Senator Kennedy transitioned into President Kennedy, earning him a 75% approval rating in the days following the inauguration. Following the election, President-elect Kennedy reached out to President Eisenhower, seeking his advice on two separate occasions about a range of issues. Though the President-elect came away from the meeting unimpressed with the elder statesman’s grasp of the issues, the President gained a new appreciation for Kennedy’s talent and intelligence. He wrote to Clark Clifford in a memo: I had been “misinformed and mistaken about this young man. He’s one of the ablest, brightest minds I’ve ever come across.” (Dallek, 303) President-elect Kennedy also made a show of political unity by meeting privately with Nixon, though, he admitted to Kenneth O’Donnell, “I haven’t the slightest idea” about what to discuss with him, which turned out fine because Nixon did most of the talking during their meeting. The inaugural balls, however, introduced the country to the Kennedy clan and their attractive beauty and youthful vigor. The country, as well as the world, fell in love with the grace and style of the Kennedys.
Keep following my blog. Part 2 of the Cuban Missile Crisis series will be posted soon!