You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘History’ category.

The Missiles of October

Or: Thirteen Days of Fear and Loathing

Part Three

By Jose Rodriguez

John and Bobby Kennedy

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.

Part 2: https://dissentiscool.wordpress.com/2010/06/11/the-cuban-missile-crisis-part-2/

Part 1: https://dissentiscool.wordpress.com/2010/06/07/the-cuban-missile-crisis/

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?”

 Works Cited

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

Part Two

By Jose Rodriguez

John and Bobby Kennedy

John and Bobby Kennedy

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.

World War One

British Soldiers Blinded by Gas

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).

 

Part 1: https://dissentiscool.wordpress.com/2010/06/07/the-cuban-missile-crisis/

The Missiles of October

Or: Thirteen Days of Fear and Loathing

Part One

By Jose Rodriguez

 
 

The Kennedy brothers confer during the crisis.

 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.

Nikita Khrushchev

 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.

Those who watched the debate on television claimed Kennedy had won. Those who listened to the debates on the radio claimed Nixon had won.

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.

President John F. Kennedy

Keep following my blog. Part 2 of the Cuban Missile Crisis series will  be posted soon!

Feel My Twitter

  • Thank you, #PeytonManning for throwing that interception to give the #Cowboys that win. What happened, bro? 5 years ago
  • Troubled to watch the march to war. I hope the President is cognizant of mission creep. We need to reevaluate our middle-eastern policies. 5 years ago
  • I argued for years with conservatives about the PATRIOT Act, warning about the loss of rights and invasion of privacy. Now they care? #WSJ 5 years ago
  • Reading #Noonan in the #WSJ complain about #NSA & Obama. Um... Where were conservatives after 9/11? They loved the PATRIOT Act until Obama. 5 years ago
  • I love to hear ignorant people deny climate change & claim that CO2 is great. Top 3 reasons: God, gov't intervention, & impact on business. 5 years ago

Flickr Photos

July 2019
M T W T F S S
« Dec    
1234567
891011121314
15161718192021
22232425262728
293031  

Top Clicks

  • None

Blog Stats

  • 74,393 hits