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JFK: ONE HUNDRED YEARS LATER: PART THREE (OF TEN)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on July 6, 2022 at 10:46 am

By October, 1962, Nikita Khrushchev, premier of the Soviet Union, had supplied Cuba with more than 40,000 soldiers, 1,300 field pieces, 700 anti-aircraft guns, 350 tanks and 150 jets.

The motive: To deter another invasion.       

Khrushchev also began supplying Castro with nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles.

Their discovery, in October, 1962, ignited the single most dangerous confrontation of the Cold War.

George Tames (1919-1994) - President John F. Kennedy, 'The - Catawiki

John F. Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis

On October 16, Kennedy was shown photographs of nuclear missile sites under construction on the island. The pictures had been taken on the previous day by a high-altitude U-2 spy plane.

Suddenly, the two most powerful nuclear countries—the United States and the Soviet Union—appeared on the brink of nuclear war.

Kennedy officials claimed they couldn’t understand why Khrushchev had placed nuclear missiles in Cuba. “Maybe Khrushchev’s gone mad” was a typical musing.

The Kennedy administration never admitted that JFK had been waging a no-holds-barred campaign to overthrow the Cuban government and assassinate its leader.

Kennedy convened a group of his 12 most important advisers, which became known as Ex-Comm, for Executive Committee.

For seven days, Kennedy and his advisers intensely and privately debated their options. Some of the participants—such as Air Force General Curtis LeMay—urged an all-out air strike against the missile sites.

Robert Kennedy, the Attorney General (and the President’s brother) opposed initial calls for an air strike.

It would be, he said, “a Pearl Harbor in reverse.”  And, he added: “I don’t want my brother to go down in history as the Tojo of the 1960s.”

Robert F. and John F. Kennedy

Others—such as Adlai Stevenson, the United States delegate to the United Nations—urged a reliance on quiet diplomacy.

It was Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara who suggested a middle course: A naval blockade—a “quarantine” in Kennedy’s softened term—around Cuba. This would hopefully prevent the arrival of more Soviet offensive weapons on the island.

The President insisted that the missiles had to go—by peaceful means, if possible, but by the use of military force if necessary.

Kennedy finally settled on a naval blockade of Cuba. This would prevent additional missiles from coming in and give Khrushchev time to negotiate and save face.

On October 22, President Kennedy appeared on nationwide TV to denounce the presence of Russian nuclear missiles in Cuba.

He demanded their withdrawal, and warned that any missile launched against any nation in the Western hemisphere would be answered with “a full retaliatory response upon the Soviet Union.”

Kennedy ordered American military readiness raised to a level of Defcom-2—the step just short of total war.

The United States had about 27,000 nuclear weapons; the Soviets had about 3,000. In a first nuclear exchange, the United States could have launched about 3,000 nuclear weapons and the Soviets about 250.

Nuclear missile in silo

On October 28, Khrushchev announced that the missile sites would be destroyed and the missiles crated and shipped back to the Soviet Union.

In return, Kennedy gave his promise—publicly—to lift the blockade and not invade Cuba

Privately, he also promised to remove obsolete Jupiter II nuclear missiles from Turkey, which bordered the Soviet Union. Those missiles were, in effect, the American version of the Russian missiles that had been shipped to Cuba.

The world escaped nuclear disaster by a hair’s-breath.

Khrushchev didn’t know that Kennedy had intended to order a full-scale invasion of Cuba in just another 24 hours if an agreement couldn’t be reached.

And Kennedy and his military advisors didn’t know that Russian soldiers defending Cuba had been armed with tactical nuclear weapons.

If warfare of any type had broken out, the temptation to go nuclear would have been overwhelming.

The Cuban Missile Crisis marked the only time the world came to the brink of nuclear war.

The Right attacked Kennedy for refusing to destroy Castro, thus allowing Cuba to remain a Communist bastion only 90 miles from Florida.

The Left believed it was a needless confrontation that risked the destruction of humanity.

For Kennedy, forcing the Soviets to remove their missiles from Cuba re-won the confidence he had lost among so many Americans following the Bay of Pigs fiasco.

It also made him face the brutal truth that a miscalculation during a nuclear crisis could destroy all life on Earth.

He felt he could now move—cautiously—toward better relations between the United States and the Soviet Union.

Ironically, the crisis had the same effects on Khrushchev—who had witnessed the horrors of Germany’s 1941 invasion of the Soviet Union and the subsequent loss of at least 22 million Soviet citizens.

Slowly and carefully, Kennedy and Khrushchev negotiated the details of what would become the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, which banned nuclear testing in the atmosphere.

Underground tests would continue, but the amounts of deadly strontium-90 radiation polluting the atmosphere would be vastly reduced.

The treaty was signed between the United States and the Soviet Union on July 25, 1963.

Kennedy considered it his greatest achievement as President, saying in a speech: “According to a Chinese proverb, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. My fellow Americans, let us take that first step.”

JFK: ONE HUNDRED YEARS LATER: PART TWO (OF TEN)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on July 5, 2022 at 9:31 am

During the 1960 Presidential campaign, then-Senator John F. Kennedy promised to build a Peace Corps to train people in underdeveloped nations to help themselves.

John F. Kennedy

In March, 1961, the program went into effect, with the President’s brother-in-law, Sergent Shriver, as director.

Starvation, illiteracy and disease were the enemies of the Corps. Any nation wanting aid could request it. The first group of volunteers went to the Philippines, the second to Ecuador and the third to Tanganyika.

The problems of the underdeveloped world were too great for any single organization to solve. But the Corps lifted the spirits of many living in those countries. And it captured the imagination of millions of Americans—especially those of thousands of idealistic youths who entered its ranks.

To combat the growing Communist threat to Latin America, Kennedy established the Alliance for Progress. He defined the Alliance’s goal as providing “revolutionary progress through powerful, democratic means.”

Within two years he could report:

“Some 140,000 housing units have been constructed. Slum clearance projects have begun, and 3,000 classrooms have been built. More than 4,000,000 school books have been distributed.

“The Alliance has fired the imagination and kindled the hopes of millions of our good neighbors. Their drive toward modernization is gaining momentum as it unleashes the energies of these millions.

“The United States is becoming increasingly identified in the minds of the people with the goal they move toward: a better life with freedom,” said Kennedy.

Critics of the program, however, charged that the President was trying to “dress up the old policies” of Franklin D. Roosevelt in new rhetoric. Since FDR’s time, the United States has believed in giving economic aid to Latin America.

Much—if not most—of these billions of dollars has wound up in the pockets of various right-wing dictators, such as Anastasio Somoza and Rafael Trujillo.

Meanwhile, Kennedy was urging action on another front—that of outer space.

“This generation does not intend to founder in the backwash of the coming age of space,” declared the President.  He committed the United States to putting a man on the moon by the end of the decade.

As indeed it happened less than six years after his death—on July 20, 1969.

Kennedy’s idealistic rhetoric masked his real reason for going to the moon: To score a propaganda victory over the Soviet Union.

Another of his anti-Communist goals: To remove Fidel Castro from power in Cuba at almost any cost.

Fidel Castro

Immediately after the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, Kennedy appointed his brother, Robert–who was then the Attorney General—to oversee a CIA program to overthrow Castro.

The CIA and the Mafia entered into an unholy alliance to assassinate Castro—each for its own benefit:

  • The CIA wanted to please Kennedy by overthrowing the Communist leader who had nationalized American corporate holdings.
  • The Mafia wanted to regain its lucrative casino and brothel holdings that had made Cuba the playground of the rich in pre-Castro times.

The mobsters were authorized to offer $150,000 to anyone who would kill Castro and were promised any support the Agency could yield.

“We were hysterical about Castro at about the time of the Bay of Pigs and thereafter,” then-former Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara testified before Congress about these efforts. “And there was pressure from JFK and RFK to do something about Castro.”

Nor was everyone in the CIA enthusiastic about the “get Castro” effort.

“Everyone at CIA was surprised at Kennedy’s obsession with Fidel,” recalled Sam Halpern, who was assigned to the Cuba Project. “They thought it was a waste of time. We all knew [Fidel] couldn’t hurt us. Most of us at CIA initially liked Kennedy, but why go after this little guy?

“One thing is for sure: Kennedy wasn’t doing it out of national security concerns. It was a personal thing. The Kennedy family felt personally burnt by the Bay of Pigs and sought revenge.”

It was all-out war. Among the tactics used:

  • Hiring Cuban gangsters to murder Cuban police officials and Soviet technicians.
  • Sabotaging mines.
  • Paying up to $100,000 per “hit” for the murder or kidnapping of Cuban officials.
  • Using biological and chemical warfare against the Cuban sugar industry.
  • Planting colorful seashells rigged to explode at a site where Castro liked to go skindiving.
  • Trying to arrange for his being presented with a wetsuit impregnated with noxious bacteria and mold spores, or with lethal chemical agents.
  • Attempting to infect Castro’s scuba regulator with tuberculous bacilli.
  • Trying to douse his handkerchiefs, cigars, tea and coffee with other lethal bacteria.

But all of these efforts failed to assassinate Castro–or overthrow the Cuban Revolution he was heading.

“Bobby (Kennedy) wanted boom and bang all over the island,” recalled Halpern. “It was stupid. The pressure from the White House was very great.”

Americans would rightly label such methods as ”terrorist” if another power used them against the United States today. And the Cuban government saw the situation exactly the same way.

So Castro appealed to Nikita Khrushchev, leader of the Soviet Union, for assistance.

Khrushchev was quick to comply: “We must not allow the Communist infant to be strangled in its crib,” he told members of his inner circle.

JFK: ONE HUNDRED YEARS LATER: PART ONE (OF TEN)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on July 4, 2022 at 11:55 am

This October 16 – 28 will mark 60 years since the world hovered on the brink of nuclear oblivion.

It was the most dangerous moment of the Cold War. And it was the supreme test of John F. Kennedy’s leadership as the 35th President of the United States.

He served as President for only two years, ten months and two days.

Yet today—-61 years since he took office, and 59 years since his assassination—millions of Americans still remember Kennedy with reverence, even awe. This despite decades of highly embarrassing revelations about his scandalous private life.

Some have called the Kennedy administration a golden era in American history. A time when touch football, lively White House parties, stimulus to the arts and the antics of the President’s children became national obsessions.

John F. Kennedy

Others have called the Kennedy Presidency a monument to the unchecked power of wealth and ambition. An administration staffed by young novices playing at statesmen, riddled with nepotism, and whose legacy includes the Bay of Pigs, the Vietnam war and the world’s first nuclear confrontation.

The opening days of the Kennedy Presidency raised hopes for a dramatic change in relations between the United States and the Soviet Union.

But detente was not possible then. The Russians had not yet experienced their coming agricultural problems and the setback in Cuba during the Missile Crisis. And the United States had not suffered defeat in Vietnam.

Kennedy’s first brush with international Communism came on April 17, 1961, with the invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs. This operation had been planned and directed by the Central Intelligence Agency during the final months of Dwight D. Eisenhower’s term as President.

The U.S. Navy was to land about 1,400 Cuban exiles on the island to overthrow the Communist government of Fidel Castro. They were supposed to head into the mountains—as Castro himself had done against the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista in 1956—and raise the cry of revolution.

The  invasion would occur after an American air strike had knocked out the Cuban air force. But the airstrike failed and Kennedy, under the pressure of world opinion, called off a second try.

Even so, the invasion went ahead. When the invaders surged onto the beaches, they found Castro’s army waiting for them. Many of the invaders were killed on the spot. Others were captured—to be ransomed by the United States in December, 1962, in return for medical supplies.

It was a major public relations setback for the newly-installed Kennedy administration, which had raised hopes for a change in American-Soviet relations.

Kennedy, trying to abort widespread criticism, publicly took the blame for the setback: “There’s an old saying that victory has a hundred fathers and defeat is an orphan….I’m the responsible officer of the Government.”

The Bay of Pigs convinced Kennedy that he had been misled by the CIA and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Out of this came his decision to rely heavily on the counsel of his brother, Robert, whom he had installed as Attorney General.

The failed Cuban invasion—unfortunately for Kennedy—convinced Soviet Premier Nikita S. Khrushchev that the President was weak.

Khrushchev told an associate that he could understand if Kennedy had not decided to invade Cuba. But once he did, Kennedy should have pressed on and wiped out Castro.

Khrushchev attributed this to Kennedy’s youth, inexperience and timidity—and believed he could bully the President.

On June 4, 1961, Kennedy met with Khrushchev in Vienna to discuss world tensions. Khrushchev threatened to go to nuclear war over the American presence in West Berlin—the dividing line between Western Europe, protected by the United States, and Eastern Europe, controlled by the Soviet Union.

Kennedy, who prized rationality, was shaken by Khrushchev’s unexpected rage. After the conference, he told an associate: “It’s going to be a cold winter.”

Meanwhile, East Berliners felt they were about to be denied access to West Berlin. A flood of 3,000 refugees daily poured into West Germany.

Khrushchev was embarrassed at this clear showing of the unpopularity of the Communist regime. In August, he ordered that a concrete wall—backed up by barbed wire, searchlights and armed guards—be erected to seal off East Berlin.

As tensions mounted and a Soviet invasion of West Berlin seemed likely, Kennedy sent additional troops to the city in a massive demonstration of American will.

Two years later, on June 26, 1963, during a 10-day tour of Europe, Kennedy visited Berlin to deliver his “I am a Berliner” speech to a frenzied crowd of thousands.

JFK addresses crowds at the Berlin Wall

“There are many people in the world who really don’t understand, or say they don’t, what is the great issue between the free world and the Communist world,” orated Kennedy. “Let them come to Berlin.”

Standing within gunshot of the Berlin wall, he lashed out at the Soviet Union and praised the citizens of West Berlin for being “on the front lines of freedom” for more than 20 years.

“All free men, wherever they may live,” said Kennedy, “are citizens of Berlin.  And therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words, ‘Ich ben ein Berliner.’”

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