EURO-CUBA NEWS: Missile Crisis Special (1) -
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1) Old Foes Exchange Notes on 1962 Missile
Crisis - New York Times
2) How Soviet sub
officer saved world from nuclear conflict - Daily Telegraph
3) Missile crisis standoff left Castro resenting
Soviets - South Florida
4) After 40
years, a closer look - Boston Globe
5) Cuban conference relives missile
crisis - BBC
6) Cold War Protagonists Tour
Cuba - Associated
7) The U.S. ignored a warning from Germany in
1962. - La Jornada
8) A Precedent
That Proves Neither Side's Point - Washington
9) Letter to Castro did little to ease atomic
10) U.S. Tried To Divide Cuba, U.S.S.R. - The
11) 40 Years After Missile Crisis, Players Swap
Stories in Cuba - Washington Post
12) The Missiles of 1962 Haunt the Iraq
Debate - New York Times
At Cuba Conference, Old Foes Exchange Notes on 1962 Missile
New York Times - October 14, 2002 - By DAVID
SAN CRISTÓBAL, Cuba, Oct. 13 — Dino Brugioni had spent decades
poring over every detail from the spy plane photographs of Soviet missiles whose
discovery here, 40 years ago this weekend, brought the superpowers to the brink
of nuclear holocaust. But today the former Central Intelligence Agency officer
learned a few things that had eluded even his careful eye, thanks to none other
than Gen. Anatoly Gribkov, who was the Soviet officer who supervised the
construction of missile bases in Cuba in 1962.
More like old colleagues
than former adversaries, the two men stood this morning in front of an abandoned
bunker, discussing roads, cables and missile locations. Their exchanges
contained more shop talk than sharp words.
"I got a little more detail
than I could see," said Mr. Brugioni, who during the Cuban missile crisis had
prepared briefings based on spy plane photos. "I'm glad I came to talk with my
Russian and Cuban counterparts. It's been 40 years. I've forgiven."
weekend, presidential advisers and military officers from all sides who took
part in the cold war's tensest episode gathered in Cuba to discuss issues
arising from those 13 days, including intelligence failures and independent arms
Those themes have taken on special resonance at a time when
United States officials are considering the possibility of pre-emptive action
against Saddam Hussein to ensure that Iraq does not develop or use weapons of
Participants at the conference — organized by the Cuban
government and the National Security Archive, an American research group that
obtained recently declassified American, Soviet and Cuban documents — did not
explicitly draw comparisons. But they did say President John F. Kennedy's
peaceful resolution of the crisis held a powerful lesson.
"I hope that 10
years from now the Cuban missile crisis will be looked upon as a learning period
for the world in understanding the risk to the human race in continuing huge
nuclear forces," Robert S. McNamara, who was defense secretary at the time, said
in an interview on Friday. "What happened in Cuba is very commonplace. Military
operations are much more complex than civilian ones. The variables are
Mr. McNamara, who headed the American delegation at the
conference, said recent examples of civilian and "friendly fire" casualties in
Afghanistan underscored the hazards of warfare, even when it is confined to
"There isn't any learning period with nuclear
weapons," he said. "You make one mistake and you destroy nations."
Castro, the Cuban president, attended most of the closed-door sessions in Havana
and offered long commentaries. According to those present at a meeting on
Friday, Mr. Castro questioned a retired Soviet military officer at length about
the size of the Soviet nuclear arsenal compared with that of the United States
and the numbers and location of warheads on the island.
know," said Thomas Blanton, the National Security Archive's executive director.
"But he said that they had a sense that the Soviet Union was first with Sputnik,
Yuri A. Gagarin and having the largest bomb." He added that "they assumed the
Soviet Union was at least equal" to the United States militarily.
Americans viewed the Soviet missiles, evidence of which Mr. Kennedy received on
Oct. 16, 1962, as a provocation. But Cuban officials placed the crisis in the
context of the threat of an American military invasion, mindful of the abortive
Bay of Pigs invasion by Cuban exiles in 1961. They had also worried about Cuban
exiles backed by the United States in the destabilization campaign known as
"The United States had already developed subversive
activities including assassination plans against the leaders of the revolution,"
said Esteban Morales, a researcher at the University of Havana.
C. Sorensen, Mr. Kennedy's counsel and chief speechwriter, said Mr. Kennedy had
had no intention of staging an American invasion of Cuba. Rather, the goal was
to isolate Cuba and prevent it from becoming a Soviet military
Nonetheless, at the conference Mr. Sorensen apologized to the
Cubans for the sabotage campaign. "I represent nobody but myself," he said. "I
just thought an apology was due."
Mr. Kennedy's military advisers were urging him to prepare for
an invasion, however, once the United States had responded to the detection of
the missiles by establishing a naval and air blockade to prevent Soviet ships
from reaching Cuba. On Oct. 27, according to documents released at the
conference, events were spinning out of control. An American surveillance plane
was shot down over Cuba, another wandered into Soviet airspace, and an American
destroyer was dropping depth charges to force to the surface a Soviet submarine
that had approached the American blockade line.
The commander of the
Soviet submarine, which had a nuclear-tipped torpedo, "summoned the officer who
was assigned to the nuclear torpedo and ordered him to assemble it to battle
readiness," according to a Soviet document made available at the
"Maybe the war has already started up there, while we are
doing somersaults here," the commander was quoted as saying. "We're going to
blast them now! We will die, but we will sink them all. We will not disgrace our
According to the document, the Soviet commander relented after
conferring with other officers.
While the Americans were able to get the
Soviets to agree on Oct. 28 to withdraw the missiles from Cuba, they were unable
to get the Soviets to persuade the Cubans to allow inspections.
documents portray Mr. Castro as having been angered by the Soviet suggestion of
inspections as infringing on Cuba's sovereignty.
"Recent events have
considerably influenced the moral spirit of our people," Mr. Castro was quoted
as saying to Anastas I. Mikoyan, the Soviet first deputy prime minister, who was
in Havana in early November 1962. "They were regarded as a retreat at the very
moment when every nerve of our country had been strained."
responded that developments were moving so rapidly that a decision had to be
"At the moment the main objective consisted of preventing
an attack," the envoy wrote in the document. "We thought the Cuban comrades
would understand us."
But a Nov. 16 letter to Mr. Mikoyan from Nikita S.
Khrushchev, the Soviet leader, revealed Soviet impatience with the Cubans'
rejection of inspections and their pledge to shoot down American spy
"Cuba, which now does not even want to consult with us, wants to
practically drag us behind it by a leash, and wants to pull us into a war with
the Americans by its actions," Mr. Khrushchev wrote. "We cannot and will not
agree to this."
Cuba never did allow inspections, but by Nov. 20, the
United States lifted its naval blockade.
"In a sense, that is the
message of this entire conference," Mr. Sorensen said in an interview. "It is
very clear that the world was on the brink of a nuclear war, so close. Yet it
was also very clear that not one of the three governments involved wanted a
In April 1963, Mr. Castro traveled to the Soviet Union and was
promised economic and security assistance, which continued to flow until the
Soviet Union's collapse in the early 1990's.
Tucked among documents in
the briefing books prepared for the conference is a recounting of a conversation
between Mr. Mikoyan and Ernesto Guevara, a hero of the Cuban revolution who was
known as Che and a confidante of Mr. Castro.
"We will always be with you
despite all the difficulties," Mr. Mikoyan told Mr. Guevara.
"To the last
day?" Mr. Guevara asked.
"Yes, let our enemies die," Mr. Mikoyan replied.
"We must live and live. Live like Communists. We are convinced of our
Soviet sub officer saved world from nuclear conflict
Telegraph (U.K.) - By David Rennie in Washington - 14/10/2002
caution of a Soviet naval officer saved the world from a nuclear fight to the
death during the Cuban missile crisis, an unprecedented meeting hosted by Fidel
Castro was told this weekend.
Robert McNamara, who was the American
defence secretary when the confrontation took place 40 years ago, said it could
"easily" have become a full-scale conflict.
The world has long known that
it came to the brink of war during the 13-day crisis after American spy planes
confirmed that Moscow had deployed nuclear missiles in Cuba, only 100 miles from
Only later did the West discover how close it came during a
naval skirmish between an American destroyer and a Soviet B-59 submarine off
Cuba on Oct 27, 1962.
The destroyer dropped depth charges near the
submarine to try to force it to surface, not knowing it had a nuclear-tipped
Vadim Orlov, a member of the submarine crew, told the conference
in Havana that the submarine was authorised to fire it if three officers agreed.
The officers began a fierce, shouting debate over whether to sink the ship. Two
of them said yes and the other said no.
"A guy named Arkhipov saved the
world," one of the conference co-hosts, Thomas Blanton, of George Washington
University, told the Washington Post.
The conference studied thousands of
newly declassified intelligence documents and photographs from American
archives. Guests included many who were in leading positions. Besides Mr
McNamara, there were other aides to President J F Kennedy: Arthur Schlesinger Jr
and Theodore Sorensen. Ethel Kennedy, the widow of Robert Kennedy, also
Despite the atmosphere of reconciliation, fostered in part by
Mr Castro's public condemnation of the Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev, for
"misleading" Mr Kennedy over the presence of the missiles, old tensions still
Dino Brugioni, a CIA analyst who interpreted the first U2 spy
plane photographs of the missiles, argued fiercely with Russian delegates who
said the Soviet Union never intended to fire them.
Missile crisis standoff left Castro resenting
South Florida Sun-Sentinel - By William E. Gibson -
October 14, 2002
WASHINGTON -- Forty years ago today , an
American U-2 spy plane secretly swooped over western Cuba and shot photographs
that revealed the first hard evidence of Soviet ballistic missile sites in close
range of the United States.
The photographs shocked President John F.
Kennedy, who led the United States into a dramatic 13-day standoff with the
Soviet Union known as the Cuban Missile Crisis.
This story had a happy
ending, a worldwide cry of relief when the two superpowers pulled back from the
brink of war. Some experts on U.S.-Soviet relations trace détente -- a policy
marked by reduced tensions and arms-control agreements of the 1970s and '80s --
to the peaceful resolution of the missile crisis.
Yet this suspenseful
episode, perhaps the most dangerous moment in world history, cemented an
antagonistic relationship between the United States and Cuba that outlasted the
Cold War and stubbornly persists today.
When Cuban dictator Fidel Castro
talks about the U.S. "blockade" of Cuba, he is comparing the U.S. trade embargo
to the monthlong naval phalanx that put the Caribbean island under quarantine
four decades ago.
When the Bush administration today calls Cuba a sponsor
of terrorism and a potential bioterrorist threat, its suspicions reflect a Cold
War mentality and a constant stream of alienation that goes back to the missile
crisis and before.
"It's famous for being the point where both
superpowers looked over the brink and began to back away. It did lead to a
hotline between Washington and Moscow and much more willingness of both sides
(Soviet and American) to engage in arms-control discussions," said William
LeoGrande, a professor of political science and expert on Cuba and Central
"As for U.S.-Cuba relations, they were as bad as they could get
before the missile crisis, and the missile crisis confirmed them as being bad.
The effect was to confirm Cuba as the enemy of the United States yet also
constrain the U.S. from direct military force against Cuba," LeoGrande
In October 1962, at the height of the Cold War, the immediate task
before Kennedy, Khrushchev and their advisers was to prevent nuclear war.
Recently uncovered documents indicate the risks of annihilation were even
greater than the participants had imagined.
Military convoys rumbled down South Florida's highways and many
Americans around the country were digging bomb shelters even before Kennedy
disclosed the U-2's photographs and warned the Soviets that any nuclear missile
launched from Cuba would be regarded as an attack on the United
"On the main highways we were seeing tanks going south to Key
West and Homestead, not one but hundreds of them, with military jets flying
overhead," recalled Jaime Suchlicki, director of the Institute for Cuban and
Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami. "You knew something serious
In Washington, Kennedy met with his Executive Committee
of top advisers and after seven days of intense debate ordered a naval
quarantine around Cuba -- approved on Oct. 20, 1962, and announced two days
later -- to prevent delivery of Soviet offensive weapons. Robert McNamara,
defense secretary at the time, later recalled going to these meetings wondering
if the world would come to an end.
"The record points to even more danger
than people like McNamara thought. And McNamara thought there was a significant
possibility he would not live to see the sunrise," said Thomas Blanton,
executive director of the National Security Archive at George Washington
"During the crisis, U.S. intelligence never detected a single
nuclear warhead. They knew there were missiles and missile sites and they just
had to assume there were some nuclear warheads. Now we know the Soviets had
nuclear weapons in Cuba all over the place."
Kennedy faced a decision on
whether to launch a pre-emptive strike to destroy the missile sites, similar to
the decision President Bush faces today on whether to invade Iraq to block
acquisition of nuclear weapons.
"When some military officials recommended
a pre-emptive air strike of missile sites followed by invasion, Kennedy asked,
`How sure are you that we can get them all.'" Blanton said, referring to
transcripts of the meetings. "They said, `Well, honestly, 90 percent.' And that
was one of the reasons he decided not to do a pre-emptive
With warheads already
ensconced in Cuba in various places, "the chances of some kind of nuclear
exchange, if only by accident, was even greater than was known at the time,"
The United States also underestimated the extent of
Castro's anger toward the Soviet Union in the wake of the crisis. Furious that
the Soviets had struck a deal with Kennedy behind his back, Castro scorned his
ally for leaving Cuba to stand alone against the wrath of the North American
The full force of Castro's sense of betrayal and vulnerability
was revealed in a recently uncovered text of a "secret speech" he delivered to
his Soviet comrades in 1968.
"As late as January 1968, Cuba felt
extraordinary antagonism toward the Soviet Union," said Philip Brenner,
professor of international relations at American University and co-author of Sad
& Luminous Days, a book just published about the aftermath of the
The "secret speech," Brenner said, debunks the long assumption
that by the mid-1960s Cuba was merely an agent of the Soviets spreading
monolithic communism to other parts of Latin America. The Soviets actually were
trying to curb Castro's foreign adventures, the speech indicates, because they
feared it would undermine Soviet leadership in the Third World and enflame
relations with the United States.
Weeks after the missile crisis, Soviet
Premier Nikita Khrushchev expressed worries that an "irrational" Castro would
renew tensions and possibly provoke war, newly released documents show. Cuba
"wants practically to drag us behind it with a leash, and wants to pull us into
a war with America by its actions," Khrushchev warned in a letter dated Nov. 16,
1962, to diplomatic aides in Cuba.
U.S. officials had always assumed that
Cuba was a puppet of the Soviet Union and they didn't need to deal directly with
the Cubans, Brenner said. "Rather than taking dictation from the Soviet Union,
they were resisting every effort to pressure them to stop this policy [of
exporting revolution.] We misunderstood the Cuban mindset and would have better
served our interests by dealing directly with Cuba rather than going through the
Some evidence indicates that Kennedy had some knowledge of
Castro's bitterness and tried to exploit it by exploring back-channel
discussions that might pull Cuba away from the Soviet orbit. According to
Brenner and other scholars, an unofficial emissary, a French journalist, was
actually meeting with Castro on Kennedy's behalf in Havana when Cuba got word
that Kennedy had been assassinated.
patched up relations with his Soviet patrons, and the United States settled into
a hardline policy toward Cuba that continues today. Both sides abided by the
agreements that were made in an exchange of letters between Kennedy and Soviet
leader Nikita Khrushchev, setting the course of U.S.-Cuba relations through the
Cold War and beyond.
Kennedy had forced the Soviets to back down and
withdraw their missiles, but in exchange he agreed to discretely remove U.S.
missiles based in Turkey. More important for this hemisphere, Kennedy also
promised the Soviets that the United States would never invade Cuba, a bitter
pill for many Cuban-Americans.
"It guaranteed the permanence of Fidel,"
said Suchlicki, the Cuban exile historian. "It allowed Fidel Castro to practice
world politics with some impunity, including supporting terrorist groups and
guerillas in Latin America. Fidel did whatever he wanted with that umbrella and
"Ironically, he was humiliated because the Soviets negotiated
directly with the U.S., but in the long historical view he emerged
Brenner contends that the missile crisis nevertheless left
Castro feeling more vulnerable than before, betrayed by the Soviets and
constantly fearful that the United States would violate its agreement and try to
overthrow him. This fear, further fueled by U.S.-instigated assassination plots
and the tightening embargo, prompted a mania for security and suppression of any
signs of political opposition within Cuba.
Echoes of the missile crisis
still resound today, more than a decade after the demise of the Soviet
Though Castro abandoned his foreign interventions and the
Pentagon long ago concluded that Cuba posed no security threat to the United
States, the Bush administration continues to list it as one of the states that
sponsors terrorism, with the capacity to develop bio-chemical
The confrontational relationship has taken many forms over the
past 40 years, spanning the terms of nine U.S. presidents, yet its underpinnings
remain firmly in place. In that sense, the missile crisis remains a standoff
After 40 years, a closer look
Boston Globe -
By Marion Lloyd, Globe Correspondent, 10/14/2002
US spy pilot
returns to site that touched off Cuban Missile Crisis
CRISTOBAL, Cuba - Captain William Ecker's first glimpse of this unremarkable
patch of Cuban countryside lasted only a few seconds, but it made an impact that
rippled throughout the world.
The date was Oct. 23, 1962. Ecker, a
retired US Navy reconnaissance pilot, flew the first low-level flight over a
Soviet missile site in San Cristobal, an agricultural community 75 miles west of
The photos he brought back to Washington confirmed that the
Soviet Union was deploying offensive nuclear missiles in Cuba, just 80 miles
south of Florida, and pushed President John F. Kennedy into a nuclear showdown
with his Soviet counterpart, Nikita Khrushchev.
Yesterday, Ecker, 78,
returned to the site for the first time along with other veterans of the Cuban
Missile Crisis, including Kennedy administration officials, retired Soviet
generals, and Cuban military officers.
The field trip came at the end of
a three-day conference marking the 40th anniversary of the most dramatic episode
of the Cold War.
''It's kind of nice to be back,'' said Ecker as he
toured the remains of a Soviet missile bunker, the only surviving evidence of
the once-extensive military installations in Cuba. Today, the site is used as a
training base for Cuban army cadets. Swing sets and picnic tables have replaced
the ammunition stockpiles and troop tents.
In 1962, the Soviets had more
than 40,000 soldiers stationed on the island to guard several dozen medium- and
long-range nuclear missiles, as well as hundreds of tactical nuclear weapons.
For the missile crisis veterans, most of whom are now in their 70s and
80s, the visit evoked vivid memories.
''I am kind of a different person
since I took that photo,'' said Ecker, who was accompanied by his wife, Hazel,
of Medford, Mass. Ecker told how moments after returning to his base in Florida,
he was ordered to fly immediately to Washington to debrief the top US military
commander, General Maxwell Taylor, and hand over the spy film. He was later
awarded a medal of valor for carrying out the dangerous mission.
photo I took helped Kennedy back down Khrushchev and [Adlai] Stevenson at the
UN,'' he said. In a pivotal moment of the 13-day crisis, Stevenson, Kennedy's
ambassador to the United Nations, caught the Soviets when he produced the proof
of the missile site in San Cristobal before the UN General Assembly. Previously,
Khrushchev had insisted that the Soviet Union did not have such weapons in Cuba.
''Imagine all that in just two to three seconds,'' Ecker said, referring
to the time it took him to blow by San Cristobal in his F-8 fighter jet.
Ecker's big moment in history was brought to public attention by
Kennedy's nephew Christopher Kennedy Lawford. Lawford, who joined Ecker
yesterday at the missile site, played the pilot in a film about the crisis, ''13
''It's amazing to be here with these guys. Really amazing,''
said Lawford, who earlier sat beside President Fidel Castro of Cuba at a private
showing of the film in Havana in 2000.
Asked how his mission differed
from the movie version, Ecker said that while he was fired on, he was never hit
by Soviet antiaircraft fire. He said vultures flying over another Soviet base
posed a greater danger, since a collision could take off a plane's wing.
''If you really want to protect your missile site, put a bunch of dead
mules all around it, the buzzards will come, and you'll be safe,'' he joked.
Another key figure visiting the site was Anatoly Gribkov, 84, the Soviet
general who was in charge of the secret missile deployment in Cuba. He argued
that despite fears in Washington, the missiles were never intended to be used in
a preemptive strike against the United States, but rather as a deterrent against
an imminent US attack on Cuba.
''Not a single missile was operational,''
he said, pounding his fist against his chest. ''Everything possible was done to
prevent an unsanctioned launching.''
Gribkov described security measures
that included housing the warheads at least 90 miles away from the missile
sites, which were scattered throughout Cuba. However, he told how a jittery
local commander ordered warheads sent to a missile site on Oct. 26, at the
height of the crisis, without having received orders from Moscow.
Details on Soviet security lapses were among several new pieces of
information to surface during the weekend conference, which was the sixth
focusing on the missile crisis.
During the last meeting, in 1992,
scholars and veterans learned from declassified documents that the Soviets
already had tactical nuclear weapons on the island - information that would have
drastically changed Kennedy's thinking.
Cuban conference relives missile crisis
Monday, 14 October, 2002
The silos were very near to seeing
A conference in Havana marking the 40th anniversary of
the Cuban missile crisis has ended with a visit by participants to sites related
to the dispute that brought the United States and the Soviet Union to the brink
of nuclear war.
The delegates - who include politicians, military figures
and academics from the US, Russia and Cuba - travelled to an abandoned silo west
of Havana where Soviet nuclear missiles had been deployed.
I'm very glad
I'm seeing it here for the first time instead of on the back porch of the White
House headed for me!
Former Kennedy aide Ted Sorensen
Amongst those present were the Soviet general who commanded the silo,
Anatoly Kribkov, and the US spy plane pilot, William Ecker, whose aerial
photographs were used to expose its existence.
The crisis ended when the
Moscow agreed to remove the missiles in return for the withdrawal of American
nuclear missiles from Turkey.
Ecker recalled how the last time he visited the site on 23 October he passed it
in a matter of seconds as he made a low-flying pass over the silo in an F-8 jet,
"I was only here for about two or three seconds
the last time. I was smoking, between 400 feet and 500 feet (120 and 150
metres)," he said.
Captain Ecker took the vital photos
there was something there, but I didn't know exactly what until the film was
developed in Florida," he added.
After taking the black and white
pictures Captain Ecker flew straight to Washington where he was immediately sent
into a briefing with President John F Kennedy and the US joint chiefs of staff.
"The pictures I took that day were Kennedy's evidence to back down
Khrushchev," Captain Ecker said.
For his actions Kennedy later awarded
the pilot with the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Former Kennedy aide Ted Sorensen was present at the briefing in
"I have these extremely strong feelings standing on this
site where the photos were taken - the photos we were shown in the briefing
room," he said at the missile silo.
"It could have been the end of the
world, but here we are 40 years later - Americans, Cubans, Russians," he added.
When inspecting a medium range Soviet R-2 missile on display Mr Sorensen
said: "I'm very glad I'm seeing it here for the first time instead of on the
back porch of the White House headed for me!"
Although the Russian
general in command of the missile post denies that the warheads were ever
"Not a single warhead was affixed to a missile. We never
received any order from Moscow to bring the missiles to full combat readiness,"
said General Gribkov.
Cold War Protagonists Tour
Press - By
SAN CRISTOBAL, Cuba (AP) - Retired Navy Capt. William Ecker
stood Sunday before the warhead bunker he photographed from 500 feet four
decades ago, giving President Kennedy extra evidence that Soviet missiles were
being stockpiled in Cuba.
``I knew there was something there, but I
didn't know exactly what until the film was developed in Florida,'' Ecker, 78,
said as a group of key actors from the Cuban missile crisis toured sites related
to the Cold War drama. ``I was really only here for two or three
After the film was developed in Jacksonville, Fla., later that
day of Oct. 23, 1962, Ecker continued on in the same RF-8A plane to Washington.
There, he was rushed to a briefing with Kennedy and the Joint Chiefs of
``The pictures I took that day were Kennedy's evidence to back
down Khrushchev,'' said Ecker, who now lives in Punta Gorda, Fla. ``(U.S.
Ambassador) Adlai Stevenson later showed them at the United
The black and white photograph of the bunker, now whitewashed
and surrounded by towering palm trees, showed several men standing on the roof
and several in front. What appears to be construction materials are piled up off
to the side. ``Probable Nuclear Warhead Bunker Under Construction San Cristobal
Site 1,'' reads the title given by CIA photo analysts.
taken by Ecker's team showed an apparent missile launch site at this military
installation about 80 miles west of Havana. One image showed large tent-like
constructions that CIA analysts said appeared to be sheltering medium-range
missiles that could travel up to about 1,500 miles, along with a missile
Wearing a black navy pilot cap, Ecker pulled out his wallet to
show the black and white photograph taken the following year when Kennedy stood
before him on the tarmac at the naval base in Key West, Fla., to award him the
Distinguished Flying Cross.
The visits Sunday followed a two-day
gathering of American, Cuban and Russian protagonists in the missile crisis
drama, which brought the world to the precipice of nuclear
``I have these extremely strong feelings standing on this
site where the photos were taken - the photos we were shown in the briefing
room,'' said former Kennedy aide Ted Sorensen, who was present when Ecker was
summoned to Washington. ``It could have been the end of the world, but here we
are 40 years later - Americans, Cubans, Russians.''
Studying thousands of
newly declassified materials from the governments involved, conference
participants learned that fast-moving events nearly spun out of control and
brought them closer to nuclear disaster than they earlier imagined.
President Fidel Castro participated in the conference's closed door sessions on
Friday and Saturday as did former Defense Secretary Robert
Later, the former rivals said good-bye late Saturday with a
warm handshake as McNamara left Havana calling for an end to the risks of
McNamara suggested moving ``toward eliminating the
risk of destruction of nations by nuclear weapons. That risk is unacceptable
today. We ought to address it.''
After McNamara left the conference
Saturday evening, Castro said that the former American defense chief mentioned
that he was now 86 and probably would not be around for the next missile crisis
conference 10 years from now.
``But he exhorted me to attend,'' joked
Castro, who is now 76, and said McNamara's good wishes were ``very
The missile crisis began in mid-October 1962 when President
Kennedy learned that Cuba had Soviet nuclear missiles capable of reaching the
United States. The crisis was defused two weeks later when the Soviet Union
agreed to remove the missiles.
Former Kennedy aides Arthur Schlesinger
Jr. and Richard Goodwin also attended the conference, as well as former CIA
analyst Dino Brugioni, who interpreted American spy photos of Soviet missiles in
The U.S. ignored a warning from Germany in
La Jornada - October 13, 2002
The government of
the Federal Republic of Germany warned the U.S. about the eventual presence of
Soviet missiles in Cuba in August of 1962, two months before the breakout of the
crisis which brought the world to the brink of a nuclear war between the US and
the Soviet Union, reports the German magazine Der Spiegel, in its Monday
An investigation based on the declassified documents of the
ministries of Foreign Relations and Defense, revealed that West German diplomats
in Cuba observed a growing movement of Soviet personnel on the island that
According to the version given by Der Spiegel, the Federal German
embassy pointed out to its government on August 17, 1962 that medium range
missiles had been imported into the island.
An informant in Cienfuegos
reported that "heavy materials were unloaded at
the port of Casilda and
delivered to the construction site of a Soviet base
and perhaps missiles, in
a perimeter within Rodrigo, Amaro and Santa
Domingo", a place where 40
launchers of SS-4 medium range missiles with
nuclear warheads had been
located, the magazine reported.
The Foreign Relations Ministry of Bonn
passed on the information to the US
government, but the US dismissed it as
speculation, recalled Konrad
Gracher, the second in command at the German
embassy in Havana.
Meanwhile, some 20 members of the US House of
Representatives introduced a
bill to normalize relations with Cuba. "The
best way to support democratic
change and human rights in Cuba is to promote
trade and travel which would
engage the Cuban people", indicated the
Democratic Representative, Cal Dooley.
A Precedent That Proves Neither Side's
Washington Post - By Jefferson Morley - Sunday,
October 13, 2002
President Bush and Teddy Kennedy don't agree about much,
but they do agree that the Cuban missile crisis is a relevant story today. As
Americans debate whether to wage preemptive war against Saddam Hussein's
dictatorship, both the president and the younger brother of President John F.
Kennedy are citing the events of October 1962 to justify different courses of
In his speech to the nation last Monday, Bush dressed his policy
in JFK's mantle. "As President Kennedy said in October of 1962: Neither the
United States nor the world community of nations can tolerate deliberate
deception and offensive threats on the part of any nation, large or small. We no
longer live in a world, he said, where only the actual firing of weapons
represents a sufficient challenge to a nation's security to constitute maximum
But Sen. Kennedy, in a Sept. 27 speech at the Johns Hopkins
School of Advanced International Studies, maintained that his brother's actions
40 years ago were anything but Bush-like.
"When missiles were discovered
in Cuba -- missiles more threatening to us than anything Saddam has today . . .
some in the highest councils of government urged an immediate and unilateral
strike," Kennedy declared. "Instead the United States took its case to the
United Nations, won the endorsement of the Organization of American States, and
brought along even our most skeptical allies. We imposed a blockade, demanded
inspection, and insisted on the removal of the missiles."
missile crisis seems to be everyone's favorite reference point these days, but
the analogy, while appropriate, can be overdrawn. Today there is no equivalent
of an actor like the Soviet Union. While the sense of existential threat is
similar, the ideological context is completely altered. Indeed, the differences
are as illuminating as the similarities in understanding the bureaucratic power
struggle underway in Washington.
For the president, likening his actions
to JFK's widely admired handling of the missile crisis makes his own course of
action feel less novel and risky, and more legitimate and responsible. By
praising a Democratic president, Bush and his advisers also give their policy a
non-partisan sheen. With polls showing that support for war against Iraq has
actually slipped over the past month, Bush seems to recognize that if he is
serious about risking American lives and wealth, he must reach beyond his
Republican base. His challenge is to show that his course is substantively, not
just rhetorically, like JFK's.
In some ways, the comparison seems apt.
Forty years ago, Fidel Castro's Cuba occupied the role of the bête noire of U.S.
foreign policy, just as Iraq does today. A charismatic former guerrilla leader,
Castro did not have Saddam Hussein's sinister persona or atrocious human rights
record, and he had a broader base of public support within his own country and
abroad. But Washington viewed Castro, like Hussein, as a destabilizing foe. In
the summer of 1962, the United States was secretly planning to assassinate him
and overthrow his communist government. Pentagon contingency plans for invading
Cuba were nearing completion.
To defend his revolution, Castro had
secretly accepted the Soviet Union's offer to install intermediate-range nuclear
missiles in Cuba, hoping to deter an expected U.S. invasion. When U.S.
surveillance planes took aerial pictures of Soviet missile silos under
construction in the Cuban countryside on Oct. 14, 1962, the Kennedy White House
felt duped by the Soviet emissaries who had been insisting, publicly and
privately, that their military assistance to Cuba was purely defensive in
No other moment in American history so closely resembles
America's predicament today. The first parallel: Just as Kennedy saw the Soviet
missiles in Cuba as a menace, Bush perceives Iraq's efforts to obtain weapons of
mass destruction as an imminent threat to U.S. security.
parallel: Both presidents used diplomatic means -- the United Nations and
satellite photos -- to rally world opinion. Kennedy's ambassador to the United
Nations, Adlai Stevenson, showed photographs of the missile sites to great
effect. Similarly, President Bush used satellite photos last week to document
Iraq's efforts to rebuild its nuclear facilities.
A third parallel: Just
as Kennedy used the threat of war to secure the removal of weapons of mass
destruction from Cuba, so Bush mobilizes against Iraq. As U.S. forces mobilized
for an attack on Cuba, Kennedy told the Soviet Union the United States would
"eliminate" the missile sites if they were not dismantled first.
dynamics of Washington in October 2002 are nearly the reverse of October 1962.
Back then, the doves were found in the White House, while hawks dominated the
Congress, State Department and Pentagon. Now, hawks dominate at the White House
and civilian leadership of the Pentagon, while Congress is deferential, and the
armed services, the CIA and State Department (led by former general Colin L.
Powell) are the most dovish forces.
As Ted Kennedy notes, his brother
rejected the counsel of hawkish advisers, such as former secretary of state Dean
Acheson and Maxwell Taylor, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. They
favored attacking Cuba without delay or diplomacy. Instead, JFK imposed a
blockade on the island. In an effort to deescalate the conflict, at least
rhetorically, JFK called his action a "quarantine" because under international
law a "blockade" is an act of war. Bush, by contrast, has deployed dire
rhetoric, and last week added new conditions if Iraq wants to avoid war.
Much more than the Bush administration today, President Kennedy left
open the possibility of a peaceful solution. After Soviet premier Nikita
Khrushchev extracted a promise from Kennedy -- never put in writing -- that the
United States would not invade Cuba, Khrushchev agreed to withdraw the
Bush's invocation of the Cuban missile crisis obscures the
reservations of the armed services and State Department today. The contemporary
military leadership, which came of age in the Vietnam era, is much more cautious
about launching a unilateral war -- even to eliminate an imminent threat. While
active-duty officers are bound to follow civilian orders, a previous Joint
Chiefs chairman, John Shalikashvili, has urged the Bush administration not to
launch a preemptive war without having exhausted diplomatic options. Former NATO
commander Wesley Clark and former Central Command chief Joseph Hoar also said
Bush should do more to gain international support -- a position more dovish than
that of many leading Democrats.
Bush's comparison with 1962 also seeks
to legitimize preemptive action against a nation that has not attacked the
"What would you call the Cuban missile crisis action by
President Kennedy?" Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld asked at a Sept. 26
congressional hearing. "In my view, establishing what he called a quarantine,
what the world thought of as a blockade, and preventing, if you will, the Soviet
Union from placing nuclear missiles in Cuba, that was . . . certainly
anticipatory self-defense, it was certainly preventative, and we were very close
to a crisis of historic proportion. And I think it's not unfair or inaccurate to
say that he . . . engaged in preemption."
However, the records of the
Kennedy White House are abundantly clear: JFK imposed the naval blockade as a
way of buying time to pursue a peaceful solution and forestalling the demands of
Pentagon hawks that he take preemptive military action. As many hawks complained
at the time, Kennedy's naval blockade did nothing to ease the threat to the
United States, because the Soviet missiles were already in Cuba.
contrast, Bush has cast doubt on diplomatic possibilities, arguing that Hussein
is untrustworthy. The position staked out by Powell, an avid student of the
Cuban missile crisis, is actually more akin to JFK's. Like Kennedy, Powell
advocates exploring every diplomatic option first while holding out the real
threat of going to war. Like Kennedy, Powell has defined disarmament, not
removal of the offending regime, as the chief U.S. goal.
Like other past
episodes, the Cuban missile crisis can, in the end, provide no prescription for
the present, only ways of thinking about today's dilemma, especially the key
issues of preemptive attacks and the unknowable risks of combat.
Historians agree that most of Kennedy's advisers felt that a preemptive
attack was incompatible with American ideals. In 1962, Bobby Kennedy described
an attack on Cuba as a "Pearl Harbor in reverse," a view echoed this August by
House Majority Leader Richard K. Armey (R-Tex.), who said, "I don't believe that
America will justifiably make an unprovoked attack on another nation. It would
not be consistent with . . . what we should be as a nation." But there's no
evidence that Bush or his closest advisers share this sentiment. (Armey backed
last week's congressional resolution granting Bush wide latitude to use force.)
With the benefit of hindsight, the risks of conflict can also be seen
more clearly. The Pentagon brass could not assure Kennedy that even a massive
U.S. strike would eliminate the possibility that Cuba might use weapons of mass
destruction. When a congressional delegation urged an invasion of the island,
Kennedy said such an attack would be "one hell of a gamble."
right. At a 1992 conference in Havana attended by former U.S., Soviet and Cuban
officials, retired Russian officers revealed something that U.S. war planners in
1962 did not know: Soviet military commanders in Cuba had short-range nuclear
weapons at their disposal. Phil Brenner, an American University professor and
historian of the missile crisis, says, "Had a local Soviet commander fired one
of these, it would have been the start of a general nuclear war."
while Kennedy feared what he didn't know, the hawks did not. After the missile
crisis, Kennedy's critics argued that he had overestimated the chance of nuclear
war and could have ousted Castro without undue risk. That argument is much
harder to make in light of the new historical record.
So what does the
Cuban missile crisis tell us? First, that the credible threat of war made a
last-minute peaceful solution possible. Second, that when it comes to preemptive
war against a foe whose capabilities are unknown, you can't be too careful. Thus
Kennedy's relatively dovish approach to the crisis of October 1962 does not
constitute a precedent or persuasive argument for Bush's more hawkish course
today. In the end, Kennedy threatened war but chose not to seek "regime change"
via invasion, and settling for disarmament via diplomacy. That clearly is not
Bush's preferred course, at least not yet.
CUBAN MISSILE CRISIS - Letter to
Castro did little to ease atomic showdown
Sentinel - By Matthew Hay Brown - October 13,
HAVANA -- On the most volatile day of the Cuban Missile Crisis, the
United States sent Fidel Castro a message claiming the Soviet Union was about to
betray him, according to papers released Saturday.
The bid to drive a
wedge between Castro and the Soviet leadership, prepared by U.S. officials but
sent as a letter from the Brazilian government, asserted the Soviet Union was
negotiating to withdraw nuclear missiles from the Caribbean island in exchange
for concessions from NATO.
In fact, the United States and the Soviet
Union had not reached a deal, and the Pentagon was readying an attack on the
missile sites within 48 hours.
The letter, released at a 40th-anniversary
conference on the crisis, is the only known attempt by the United States to
communicate with Cuba during the 1962 standoff. Castro on Saturday acknowledged
receiving the message and said he ignored it.
The U.S. discovery of
Soviet missile bases in Cuba on Oct. 14, 1962, forced a confrontation that
brought the superpowers to the brink of global thermonuclear war.
the past week, unmistakable evidence has established the fact that a series of
offensive missiles is now in preparation on that imprisoned island," President
Kennedy announced in a televised address Oct. 22. "The purpose of these bases
can be none other than to provide a nuclear-strike capability against the
Kennedy ordered a blockade on the island, mobilized
troops for an attack and demanded that Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev withdraw
Oct. 27 is widely considered the most dangerous day of the
crisis. In rapid succession that afternoon, an American U-2 spy plane strayed
into Soviet airspace, a second U-2 was downed by an anti-aircraft battery in
Cuba, and a Soviet submarine commander readied a nuclear strike on a U.S.
destroyer. New surveillance photographs revealed the Soviet missiles had been
placed on their launchers, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff recommended an
airstrike and invasion to start within 48 hours.
That day, Kennedy's
Executive Committee of National Security Advisers approved the letter to Cuba.
Kennedy reportedly thought it was poorly drafted; Castro on Saturday
The two-day conference drew veterans from all sides of the
confrontation, including Castro, former U.S. Defense Secretary Robert McNamara
and former Soviet KGB agent Nikolai Leonov.
Other documents released
Saturday indicate the crisis, generally considered to have ended when Khrushchev
agreed on Oct. 28 to take back the missiles, lasted well into November, largely
because Cuba balked at Soviet concessions to the United
Khrushchev had agreed to withdraw the weapons in return for a
public pledge by Kennedy not to invade Cuba and a secret commitment to pull U.S.
missiles out of Turkey. Castro, who had proposed a five-point plan including a
U.S. withdrawal from the naval base at Guantanamo, had been left out of the
Although the missiles were withdrawn, nuclear tactical
weapons remained in Cuba until Nov. 20, according to documents. Castro said
Saturday that Cuba never had control of the weapons and never intended to keep
U.S. Tried To Divide Cuba, U.S.S.R.
Hartford Courant - By MATTHEW HAY BROWN - October 13 2002
HAVANA -- On
the most volatile day of the Cuban Missile Crisis, the United States sent Fidel
Castro a message claiming the Soviet Union was about to betray him, papers
released Saturday show.
The bid to drive a wedge between Castro and the
Soviet leadership, prepared by U.S. officials but sent as a letter from the
Brazilian government, asserted the Soviet Union was negotiating to withdraw
nuclear missiles from the Caribbean island in exchange for concessions from
In fact, the United States and the Soviet Union had not reached a
deal, and the Pentagon was readying an attack on the missile sites within 48
The letter, released at a 40th anniversary conference on the
crisis, is the only known attempt by the United States to communicate with Cuba
during the 1962 standoff. Castro on Saturday acknowledged receiving the message
and said he ignored it.
The U.S. discovery of Soviet missile bases in
Cuba on Oct. 14, 1962, brought the superpowers to the brink of global
"Within the past week, unmistakable evidence has
established the fact that a series of offensive missiles is now in preparation
on that imprisoned island," President Kennedy announced in a televised address
Oct. 22. "The purpose of these bases can be none other than to provide a nuclear
strike capability against the Western Hemisphere."
Kennedy ordered a
blockade of the island, mobilized troops for an attack and demanded that Soviet
Premier Nikita Khrushchev withdraw the missiles.
Oct. 27 is widely
considered the most dangerous day of the crisis. In rapid succession that
afternoon, an American U-2 spy plane strayed into Soviet airspace; a second U-2
was downed by an anti-aircraft battery in Cuba; and a Soviet submarine commander
readied a nuclear strike on a U.S. destroyer. New surveillance photographs
revealed the Soviet missiles had been placed on their launchers, and the Joint
Chiefs of Staff recommended an airstrike and invasion within 48
That day, Kennedy's executive committee of national security
advisers approved the letter to Cuba. Kennedy reportedly thought it was poorly
drafted; Castro agreed Saturday.
The two-day conference drew veterans
from all sides of the confrontation, including Castro, former U.S. Defense
Secretary Robert McNamara and former Soviet KGB agent Nikolai
Other documents released Saturday indicate the crisis, generally
considered to have ended when Khrushchev agreed on Oct. 28 to take back the
missiles, lasted well into November, largely because Cuba balked at Soviet
concessions to the United States.
Khrushchev had agreed to withdraw the
weapons in return for a public pledge by Kennedy not to invade Cuba and a secret
commitment to pull U.S. missiles out of Turkey. Castro had been left out of the
40 Years After Missile Crisis, Players Swap Stories in Cuba
Washington Post - By Kevin Sullivan - Sunday, October 13,
HAVANA, Oct. 12 -- There was pandemonium on the Soviet B-59
submarine. A U.S. destroyer was lobbing depth charges into the water as a
warning: Surface or you will be attacked. The explosions pounded the sub's hull
like blasts from a sledgehammer. Oxygen was running out. Crewmen were
Tensions were extreme: It was Oct. 27, 1962, the height of the
Cuban missile crisis.
Officers on the Soviet were screaming for the
captain to sink the U.S. ship. What the Americans did not know nearly blew up
the world: The Soviet sub, and three others in the waters off Cuba, each carried
one torpedo tipped with a nuclear warhead.
Vadim Orlov, a crewman on the
Soviet sub, recounted the little-known story here this weekend during a
conference marking the 40th anniversary of the missile crisis.
have long noted that the United States and the Soviet Union came within a
whisper of nuclear war during the 13-day standoff, after the United States
discovered that Moscow had secretly installed nuclear missiles in
The account, from Orlov and J.W. Peterson, a crewman from the U.S.
destroyer, made it clear that the Cold War enemies came far closer than anyone
ever realized to stumbling into a nuclear holocaust.
secretary Robert S. McNamara said that a nuclear attack on a U.S. ship could
easily have escalated into a full-scale nuclear exchange between the United
States and the Soviet Union.
Orlov, who published a book earlier this
year on the events, said that came within one word of happening: The sub was
authorized to fire its nuclear torpedo with the approval of three officers
aboard; two wanted to shoot, the third said no.
"A guy named Arkhipov
saved the world," said Thomas S. Blanton, director of the National Security
Archive, a research group at George Washington University that organized this
week's conference with the Cuban government, and arranged the declassification
of thousands of new documents that the participants are reviewing.
been a weekend of casual talk about nuclear annihilation. The conference, in a
sprawling hotel on the outskirts of Havana, brought together men from a
generation that nearly destroyed a world still getting the feel of its nuclear
The participants have come here, they said, to learn more about
an episode that changed their lives in ways that still make them shudder. They
said they have come to make sure it does not happen again, and to offer lessons
for today's crises, most notably President Bush's deliberations about whether to
President Fidel Castro of Cuba sat on one side of the room
in a stiff blue suit, his famous black beard gone thunderstorm gray, his
signature cigars long since given up. Just past his 76th birthday, his voice has
Gray-haired former Russian generals sat along one flank of
the conference table. They had not lost the Soviet gift for cement-thick
oratory, giving long speeches about throw-weights and tonnages. Across from
them, surviving members of President John F. Kennedy's administration were lined
up like a living page from a history book. McNamara sat in a blue and white polo
shirt. Historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. looked out through thick glasses,
wearing his trademark bow tie, addressing his old adversaries with sharp logic
and perfect diction.
Ethel Kennedy, widow of Robert F. Kennedy, sat
behind McNamara with fine posture and fashion, a living reminder of other prices
paid during a tumultuous era.
Kennedy speechwriter Theodore C. Sorensen
was remarkably youthful and trim in a black polo shirt. Fellow Kennedy aide
Richard Goodwin, his hair wild and curly, sat alongside him and told Castro a
story about meeting Ernesto "Che" Guevara, the legendary revolutionary, at a
party in Uruguay in August 1961.
Castro laughed as Goodwin spoke of
sitting cross-legged on the floor talking to Guevara about hemispheric tensions.
He said Guevara gave him a mahogany box filled with Cuban cigars, which Goodwin
delivered to President Kennedy. He said Kennedy immediately grabbed one and lit
it up. Then, in an echo of the CIA's attempts to kill Castro with poisoned
cigars, Kennedy joked that he probably ought to have made Goodwin test a cigar
first, just in case.
William Ecker, 78, a retired U.S. Navy captain, was
a pilot who flew low-level sorties in an F-8 fighter jet to photograph Soviet
missile installations in Cuba. His close-up pictures taken on Oct. 23, proved
beyond doubt the existence of the missiles. On Sunday, the conference
participants were scheduled to tour the remains of the site that Ecker
"It's not just a conference of remembrance, it's also a
conference of reconciliation," Sorensen said. "And that is a pretty good message
to a world on the verge of war."
Also sitting on the American side of the
conference table was Dino Brugioni, a former CIA analyst who interpreted the
first U-2 spy plane photos that showed missiles in Cuba. Brugioni, now 80, has
insistently challenged the Russian participants on their version of
Russians participants said they never intended to fire the
nuclear missiles that were positioned on Cuban soil, and that they were careful
to keep the warheads and the missiles in separate locations. But Brugioni, in a
calm and precise voice, pointed to spy-plane photographs, declassified by the
National Security Archive, that showed trucks loaded with warheads parked next
to the missiles on their launch pads.
In an interview, Brugioni recalled
the events of one day during the crisis, Saturday, Oct. 27, 1962, when events
seemed to be spinning out of control.
On that day, new surveillance
photos showed that the missile sites were now fully operational. He said the
missiles could be fueled and launched on six to eight hours' notice. A U.S. U-2
spy plane had been shot down over Cuba. On the other side of the world, another
U-2 strayed into Soviet airspace and Soviet MiG fighter jets scrambled to
intercept it, adding to already white-hot tensions. Soviet leader Nikita
Khrushchev had not been seen in three days, adding to speculation that he had
been overthrown by hard-liners.
Brugioni's said his boss at the CIA
returned from briefing Kennedy on the new spy-plane photos. "How did it go?"
Brugioni said he asked. "Not good at all," Brugioni said he replied. "The
president is very concerned."
"I called my wife and I said, 'If you get
another call from me, put the kids in the car and head for Missouri,' " said
Brugioni, who brought his 22-year-old grandson to the conference. "October 27 is
a day I'll never forget. The planet could have been destroyed."
The Missiles of 1962 Haunt the Iraq Debate
York Times - October 13, 2002 - By TODD S. PURDUM
WASHINGTON — FOR 13
days starting Oct. 16, 1962, "the world stood like a playing card on edge," as
Norman Mailer put it, while President Kennedy and his closest aides faced down
the threat of Soviet missiles in Cuba. Forty years later, Washington and the
world are again on the brink, and debates about the lessons of that long-ago
October are as fresh as the morning headlines.
Then, as now, the threat
was nuclear weapons and the risk was a wider war. Then, as now, the midterm
elections were approaching and a president put in office by a razor-thin margin
battled doubts about his reputation in the world. Then, as now, some of the
president's aides urged a pre-emptive strike and invasion, while others
counseled diplomatic isolation backed by the threat of force.
has also changed since the crisis that historians have called the most dangerous
moment in recorded time. Then, it was uniformed commanders and some
Congressional leaders who pushed hardest for military action, while a president
all too familiar with World War II combat was skeptical. Now it is uniformed
commanders scarred by Vietnam and politicians shaped by its legacy who most urge
caution, while civilian Pentagon officials and a president who saw no combat as
a home-front National Guard pilot seem more disposed toward force.
as a grizzled group of President Kennedy's New Frontiersmen met this weekend
with Fidel Castro at a commemorative conference in Havana to review hundreds of
newly released documents, current hawks and doves here summoned snippets from
the already voluminous historical record to buttress their
Campaigning for his first term 40 years ago this month, Senator
Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts was warned by his brother's aides not to so
much as mention Cuba, lest the Soviets read too much into his words. Last week,
as the Senate's reigning liberal lion, he took to the floor to recall that "many
military officers urged President Kennedy to approve a preventive attack" to
destroy the Soviet missiles before they became operational. But, he said, their
brother Robert argued that would amount to "a Pearl Harbor in reverse," and he
added: "That view prevailed. A middle ground was found and peace was
Hours later, Mr. Bush made a televised speech to the nation
on the dangers posed by Iraq's efforts to acquire nuclear weapons, and cited
President Kennedy's words to warn: "We no longer live in a world where only the
actual firing of weapons represents a sufficient challenge to a nation's
security to constitute maximum peril." Mr. Bush's aides say Mr. Kennedy wouldn't
have succeeded if he hadn't been genuinely ready to start shooting, and by
week's end Congress went along with the president, voting overwhelmingly to
authorize him to use force.
"It's like fighting over biblical passages,
and what the devil said," said Fred I. Greenstein, an expert on presidential
leadership at Princeton. "On the one hand, there is the Kennedy who arrived at
the judgment that we can't let those missiles stay in place. But Kennedy also
did triple cartwheels to perform in as cautious and unprovocative a way as
possible with the Soviet Union. He was not dealing with Saddam Hussein and a
bizarre banana non-republic, but with Soviets who had proved throughout the cold
war to be rational actors."
Some of Mr. Bush's advisers have pointed to
the Kennedy decision to impose a naval blockade on Cuba — and to threaten
drastic action if the missiles were not removed — as an example of pre-emptive
military action. But Kennedy loyalists say the point was precisely the opposite.
"The whole purpose of it was to avoid an American attack," a participant in the
discussions recalled last week. "And the reason it was called a quarantine and
not a blockade is because a blockade is an act of war. We were trying to find a
way of communicating more forceful than the English language. It was
communicating, not pre-emption."
In 1962, President Kennedy was taken
with Barbara Tuchman's new book, "The Guns of August," a history of the
unintended chain of consequences that led to the devastation of World War I. He
was obsessed with avoiding similar miscalculations.
This fall, White
House aides have been reading another provocative work — by Ms. Tuchman's
daughter, Jessica Tuchman Mathews, the president of the Carnegie Endowment for
International Peace. The institution produced a report advocating a new regime
of "coercive" weapons inspections in Iraq, backed up by force and aimed at
disarming Mr. Hussein without resorting to war. Most military commanders faulted
the idea as impractical, but Mr. Bush incorporated an echo of it in his proposal
for a United Nations resolution that would force Iraq to submit to much more
stringent inspections or face the consequences.
"There are never two
choices in foreign policy," Ms. Mathews said the other day, "and the right
answer is not to choose an unacceptable one, but to look for a third. I think
it's fair to say, in the missile crisis doing nothing was unacceptable, and so
was going to war with the risk of nuclear holocaust." She added: "The other key
lesson was, give your opponent some room to maneuver. Don't back him against the
One problem with this argument: a version of it has already been
tried for the decade since the Persian Gulf war. Kenneth M. Pollack, who as a
C.I.A. analyst and national security official in the 1990's helped formulate the
strategy of containing Iraq through economic sanctions and limited military
actions, has reluctantly concluded in a new book, "The Threatening Storm"
(Random House), that an invasion of Iraq is now the best approach.
fact that a war against Iraq could be potentially quite costly should make us
think long and hard about whether or not we should embark upon such an endeavor,
but it should never be an absolute impediment," he writes. "Often, the costliest
wars are the ones that are the most important to fight."
biggest challenge of any conflict is the unknowns. A C.I.A. analysis released
last week supported President Bush's portrait of Iraq's efforts to acquire
nuclear weapons, but did not echo the White House's depiction of an immediate
threat. In fact, it said, Mr. Hussein might be most inclined to unleash
devastating weapons against the United States if he was convinced an American
strike was inevitable.
In the missile crisis, the debate over invasion
proceeded in ignorance of a threat that only came out 30 years later: the
Soviets already had not only missiles but tactical nuclear warheads on the
island before the quarantine began, and were ready to use them in the event of
"I now conclude that however astutely the crisis may have been
managed," former Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara said in Havana last week,
"luck also played a significant role in the avoidance of nuclear war by a hair's
Graham T. Allison, the Harvard professor who wrote "Essence of
Decision," a seminal study of the crisis recently revised with Philip D. Zelikow
(Addison Wesley, 1999) noted another element: President Kennedy's willingness to
take a secret gamble on Sat. Oct. 27, the last full day of the crisis. The
president's advisers worried that the blockade was failing; a U-2 surveillance
pilot had been shot down over Cuba; the missiles were becoming
"Everybody's been on overdrive for two weeks and is fraying,
and there's a sense of `Well, I guess we played out this hand and it didn't
work,' " Professor Allison said. Then the president circled back to another
possibility: A parallel American withdrawal of obsolete Jupiter missiles from
Turkey. He sent Robert F. Kennedy to convey all this to the Soviet
"Thus you had this rather bizarre package," Professor Allison
added. "A public ultimatum to the Soviets, `missiles out by next week,' and a
pledge not to invade, then a private ultimatum that said, `We really mean this,'
and then, finally, a secret carrot, that if the missiles are withdrawn, then
within six months, the missiles in Turkey will not be there, though Bobby
insisted there could be no quid pro quo."
These details, too, were not
confirmed conclusively until 20 years later. Is it just possible that the Bush
administration could be working on some similar secret diplomacy now, say, exile
for Saddam Hussein?
"I certainly hope so," said President Kennedy's
special counsel, Theodore C.