The Cuban Missile Crisis: background
After outlining how the U.S. was taken over by a cabal of unbalanced individuals at Roosevelt’s death, the Untold History goes on to document some later consequences, starting with the shameful 1954 coup that overthrew Guatemala’s democracy. This criminal action installed a murderous regime for which the U.S. had no criticism so long as it operated in ways that profited U.S. corporations, most particularly United Fruit, many of whose directors did the revolving door thing where they would work for the State Department then return to United Fruit… I’d say serving two masters but actually it was only one. The coup that overthrew Iranian democracy the same year is summarized also and these two “incidents” serve to deconstruct the mythology that the U.S. leadership wishes to promote democracy.
The book then goes on, in a section titled JFK, to lay the ground for the telling of the extremely close call the life system had with a lethal nuclear exchange between the U.S. and Russia. In the early 50s, as today, no one could get near the presidency who did not embrace the religion of anti-communism. Eisenhower thus rejected Kruschev’s call for an international meeting to create a formal framework for non-violent conflict resolution and place nukes in the hands of an international body. Ike wanted nukes as defense-on-the-cheap and seemed to think of them as just another weapon in the arsenal. So an opportunity was again squandered and the nuclear clock moved us a few beats closer to armageddon. It’s possible that Kruschev’s proposal was sincere but that thesis could have been tested rather than rejected. A reason for rejection, that is consistent with what we know about U.S. foreign policy, policy not rhetoric, would be that non-violent conflict resolution is incompatible with domination and hegemony and therefore at odds with prime U.S. goals. Another despicable act under Eisenhower was the assassination of Prime Minister Patrice Lumamba of the Congo, one of numerous historical characters who succumbed to the rule, familiar to the mafia, that if you can’t be bought you can be murdered. The elected Lumamba was replaced by a tyrant who ruled for 30 years, siphoning billions of the nation’s treasury into his own pockets while keeping his citizens in line with the usual methods. The freedom-loving USA had no problem with Joseph Mobutu, maintaining friendly relations for the entirety of his long, bloody career. As if any were needed, more evidence of U.S. duplicity.
What was true of many of our closest allies was claimed about regimes which refused to follow the dictates of the Godfather. Cuba was quickly isolated when, after Castro’s successful revolution, policies were shifted away from service to U.S. corporations and the mafia that was running casinos, prostitution and other unsavory operations. Nationalizing land and instituting other policies revealed the wicked “dictator’s” evil plans to focus government on providing for the needs of the people instead of global corporations – an unacceptable option. Eisenhower appointed CIA veteran Edward Lansdale to organize the overthrow of Castro’s regime. CIA director Dulles called Lumumba the “Castro of Africa”, to utilize the already demonized Castro to demonize the uncooperative prime minister. Now that he was properly disposed of, the noble effort was turned back on Castro.
But there was opposition afoot. Bertrand Russell and Albert Einstein organized prominent scientists to sign a “”manifesto” in 1955 attempting to awaken the public to the dangers of nuclear weapons. Similar efforts were happening in Europe – a lesson for us perhaps, that organized citizens can have an impact. These efforts set off a reaction among the ah,.. reactionaries. Ike and his team, using taxpayer funds of course, attempted to brand these efforts unpatriotic and to propagandize the public back into the fold by unleashing an “atoms for peace” campaign, including the infamous promise that nuclear energy would be “too cheap to meter”. I put that in quotes as a reminder that the pro-nuke folks, ah… LIE!. Other irresponsible policies continued, including threatening the use of nukes repeatedly, whenever it seemed there was a crisis. Adlai Stevenson called for a test ban during his run for president, unfortunately losing to Ike. But the pressure continued to build leading eventually to a test ban under Kennedy. Part of the irresponsible policies was to try to convince nations to believe that they weren’t really with it, modern, unless they built some nuclear plants – oblivious to the obvious proliferation dangers.
Rube Goldberg-esque schemes were dreamed up to reverse hurricanes by dropping a nuke in front of the on-coming storm, to dredge harbors and other “evacuation” schemes, all accompanied by assurances that the radiation would harmlessly settle. When Kennedy was elected he was shocked to hear recommendations for a surprise all-out nuclear attack on the Soviet Union put forth by his military leaders, one claiming that if there were two U.S. citizens left standing and only one Russian we would have “won”. These were our guys making these proposals. We obviously didn’t need an “enemy” abroad, we had all we needed in our own government. And we were encouraged to believe, then as now, that questioning our leaders is not patriotic.
The range of opinion among U.S. leadership is so constrained that Ike, despite his irrational policies, would be considered a moderate. He signed onto a Single Integrated Operational Plan (SIOP) that his advisors opined would cause millions of deaths if enacted. When he came into office the U.S. arsenal stood at one thousand nukes. When he left there were twenty thousand, soon to reach thirty thousand due to his initiatives. Ike’s famous farewell address warning against the Military Industrial Complex was giddily disingenuous given his role in creating it, but never-the-less worth the read. Into this context comes the great “liberal” JFK, opportunistically attacking Ike and Nixon for allowing a fictitious missile gap favoring the Soviet Union and policies that “coddled” Castro. Like the case of southern politicians, existing bigotry was just too tempting and effective not to use, whether the politician was bigoted or not.
After winning the presidency he asked his Secretary of Defense to research the actual missile gap. The report documented a huge one but all in the U.S. favor. At first Kennedy kept this secret in order to advance military spending but later, when it was politically opportune, made it public, to the consternation of the military “big spenders”. He pronounced his top foreign policy goal to be the overthrow of the Castro regime, appointing CIA veteran Edward Lansdale to lead the effort. Lansdale asked the Joint Chiefs (the guardians of democracy remember) for a list of justifications to invade Cuba. Items that made the list: shooting down a planeload of vacationing students and blaming Castro; blowing up planes and ammunition at Guantamano and claiming it was an attack by Cuba; sinking a boatload of Cuban refugees; shooting down a U.S. Plane over international waters; Another, just a teensy bit less outrageous was to blame Castro if an up-coming space mission failed. The U.S. Coerced the OAS (Organization of American States – no, not Texas, Alabama etc; American states, as in South, Central and North America) to expel Cuba, not too hard since most of those states were run by an elite that didn't like the elite-questioning ideas sailing out of that island.
Another bit of background for the Cuban Missile Crisis was Vietnam. Kennedy had said in the early 50s that it was hypocritical for the U.S. to malign Russia for invading Hungary but support the French in Indo-China. Yet he supported Diem's cancelation of elections in violation of the Geneva accords that required elections and reunification of the country, north and south being only a temporary division. When it was clear that the popular Ho Chi Mihn would easily win those elections the U.S. demonstrated, once again, its limited commitment to democracy. Kennedy objected not to Diem's oppressive rule but to his apparent failure to defeat the Viet Cong. One would be tempted to utter the phrase, “It all comes back on you.” when contemplating Kennedy's acquiescence in the assassination of Diem. Instead of using Diem's oppression as an excuse to exit Vietnam Kennedy increased aid and military advisors, his vice-president Johnson publicly calling Diem the “Winston Churchill of Asia.” To give Kennedy a break, like Kruschev he was surrounded by Hawks, even fearing a coup if he veered too far from the hysterical status quo. Resisting his advisors who wanted U.S. troops Kennedy agreed instead to what came to be called the Phoenix Program which was a forced resettlement of rural peasants into barbed wire encampments, bounties of “suspected” Viet Cong, and the agent orange defoliation project that victimized U.S. personnel as well as Vietnamese.
When it was discovered that Cuba had Russian nukes and were assembling the missiles to deliver them the Joint Chiefs, led by General Curtis LeMay, predictably wanted military attacks on the bases, claiming that Russia would not respond, just as he had assured us that radiation from nuclear projects would settle harmlessly. When Kennedy suggested that Russia may not respond in Cuba but would in Berlin LeMay said he'd welcome the opportunity to get rid of Russia once and for all. Kennedy walked out of the meeting, appalled at the cavaliar attitude his miltary advisors held toward nuclear war. Kruschev suggested a face-saving compromise, removing U.S. missiles from Turkey in exchange for removing the Cuban missiles and a U.S. promise not to invade Cuba. Kennedy insisted that the Turkey component remain secret so that he could be seen to have backed down the Communist menace. Some advisors advocated for rejecting Kruschev's proposal, apparently disagreeing with his statement that saving face is not worth millions of lives. In a letter to Kennedy that actually moved him, Kruschev described the innocents who would die if they did not reach a solution. Still, Kennedy insisted on the secret component, considering apparently his political future to be more important than the fate of the earth. Kennedy even feared a military coup, not unrealisitc considering the cavaliar attitude he witnessed. Unfortunately this fateful decision left Kruschev humiliated and within a year he was ousted, bringing the hawks to power - who promptly decided that nuclear parity with the U.S. was the only way they could achieve security. The assassination of Kennedy accomplished the same on the U.S. end with consequences for Indo-China and the arms race.
The “happy” ending to the missile crisis was not preordained. It has been called the most dangerous moment in history because it was. Egos and incidents battered fate around for weeks. Two missiles were fired toward the Marshal Islands from California in a test launch which was interpreted by Air Defense as in-coming Russian missiles and, without consulting with the president, high alert was established with SAC bombers in the air, kept there by aerial refueling. The navy discovered a Russian submarine off Cuba and began dropping depth charges, unaware that it was a nuclear armed sub. The stressed out Russian officers voted 2-1 to launch their warheads (it required 3 of 3) so one assertive officer saved the world from nuclear holocaust. Just as there were U.S. hawks, so there were Russians and had there been three we might not be here to discuss it.
Stone and Kuznik portray a schizophrenic JFK, a leader obsessed with assassinating Castro yet reaching out to discuss differences, a preacher of democracy, tolerance and coexistence yet a supporter of brutal dictators... a product of the post-Roosevelt “coup”, if not a captive of the hawks certainly subject to their intimidating presence and pressure. In his speeches can be found contradictory statements about his intensions regarding Vietnam and the cold war and the authors think they have evidence to explain his hawkish views as response to the very real and powerful presence of hawks in his military, his own advisors and the country at large... hell, his own self. Yet speeches and conversations with aids support the idea that he wished to transform relations with the Soviets, withdraw from Vietnam and promote peaceful co-existence and he recognized that nuclear weapons had changed everything, that we end war or we end our civilization. These two forces battled within his psyche and within the nation. And as with the coup-like transformation after Roosevelt, the hawks grabbed power and ran with it. Their previous behavior speaks clearly for them. This patriarchal faction was neither incapable or disinclined to rid themselves of impediments to their dominance. If they didn't organize the shooting in Dallas they certainly celebrated the changes it portended.
We are at a primitive stage in our evolution and it is not clear that we will mature fast enough to avoid extinction via nukes, pollution or the related threat of over-population. Carl Sagan's suggestion seems apt: if we encounter alien visitors they will be peaceful, for any intelligent species arising anywhere will eventually discover the dreaded atomic knowledge and either perish by that discovery or end war by the adoption of non-violent conflict resolution.