Saturday, June 7, 2008

One Minute to Midnight: Kennedy vs. Khrushchev; More Terrible than We Thought

It has become a truism in recent years for us to think that we know all the highpoints of the 1962 confrontation we refer to as the Cuban Missile Crisis. Many books have been written about it, and more than one movie has been made about it. But the history of recent times is still being written piecemeal as documents are slowly declassified by both the U.S. government and the Russian Republic. The latest author to take on the subject is Michael Dobbs, and he has benefited from recent disclosures. The most startling development is that it is now known that the Soviet Union had nuclear cruise missiles on Cuba that were aimed at Guantanomo Bay, the American naval base. These missiles each carried the destructive force of the nuclear bomb which destroyed Hiroshima. It was Khrushchev's intention to use them to wipe out Guantanamo Bay in the event of an American invasion. In a meeting at the Kremlin, Khrushchev had warned William Knox the head of Westinghouse that if the Americans attacked Cuba, Russians and Americans would "meet in hell." He made it quite clear that the American base in Cuba would "disappear" in the event of an invasion by the U.S. This was dismissed as "bluster" at the Kennedy White House, but in fact the Russians were deadly serious and the USA had no idea of what we were facing. The U.S. believed the cruise missiles were "unidentified artillery" and remained unaware they were in fact nuclear weapons. They were targeted on Guantanomo Bay on the very day the joint chiefs of staff urged an all out invasion of Cuba. Had Kennedy not shown restraint, the American base would have been wiped out, and a nuclear war would have been all but unavoidable. Rather than a superlative example of crisis management, the confrontation of 1962 now appears as an event in which the USA operated somewhat blindly, without vital information. However, John F. Kennedy's restraint now seems all the more important, without a doubt his refusal to invade Cuba saved mankind from a dreadful holocaust in which there would have been no victors, only the vanquished living in radioactive rubble. Those who survived a nuclear exchange would have envied the dead. The president himself had once said in a nuclear war "the fruits of victory will be ashes in our mouth." His words are more chilling and more true than he could have ever known. John Kennedy did not have the satisfaction of knowing how narrowly we avoided nuclear annihilation, it was even worse than he imagined. Those in the military such as Curtis LeMay who bitterly protested the peaceful outcome of the crisis should have been grateful that their Commander in Chief was JFK. Thanks to him, they would continue to see the sunrise, as would hundreds of millions of others. In 1961 the joint chiefs had pressed Kennedy for a nuclear first strike on the Soviet Union. The president resisted, and commented "if I give in to what they ask, none of us will be here to tell them they were wrong". At the United Nations Kennedy had warned "Every man, woman and child lives under a nuclear sword of Damocles, hanging by the slenderest of threads, capable of being cut at any moment by accident, or miscalculation, or by madness. The weapons of war must be abolished before they abolish us." America has had many tomorrows since 1962, and it seems we can look forward to more. More than ever, we should be grateful that John F. Kennedy was at the helm in 1962, or there would have been no tomorrow for almost the entire world.


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