bureaucracybusters

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

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on May 8, 2017 at 12:08 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.

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.”

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