Senator Jeff Flake Condemns President Trump’s “Fake News” Tirades

On January 17, Senator Jeff Flake delivered another speech on the Senate floor that lambasted President Donald Trump, this time for his “fake news” tweets and comments.[1] This speech was a sequel to the Senator’s October 24, 2017, speech and Washington Post article rejecting the President’s character and actions.[2] Here is a photograph of the Senator giving the speech.

Senator Flake’s Speech

Near “the beginning of the document that made us free, our Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson wrote: “We hold these truths to be self-evident…” So, from our very beginnings, our freedom has been predicated on truth. The founders were visionary in this regard, understanding well that good faith and shared facts between the governed and the government would be the very basis of this ongoing idea of America.”

“As the distinguished former member of this body, Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York, famously said: ]Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.” During the past year, I am alarmed to say that Senator Moynihan’s proposition has likely been tested more severely than at any time in our history.”

“It is for that reason that I rise today, to talk about the truth, and its relationship to democracy. For without truth, and a principled fidelity to truth and to shared facts, . . . our democracy will not last.”

“2017 was a year which saw the truth – objective, empirical, evidence-based truth — more battered and abused than any other in the history of our country, at the hands of the most powerful figure in our government. It was a year which saw the White House enshrine ‘alternative facts’ into the American lexicon, as justification for what used to be known simply as good old-fashioned falsehoods. It was the year in which an unrelenting daily assault on the constitutionally-protected free press was launched by that same White House, an assault that is as unprecedented as it is unwarranted. ‘The enemy of the people,’ was what the president of the United States called the free press in 2017.”

It “is a testament to the condition of our democracy that our own president uses words infamously spoken by Josef Stalin to describe his enemies. It bears noting that so fraught with malice was the phrase ‘enemy of the people,’ that even Nikita Khrushchev forbade its use, telling the Soviet Communist Party that the phrase had been introduced by Stalin for the purpose of ‘annihilating such individuals’ who disagreed with the supreme leader.”

“This alone should be a source of great shame for us in this body, especially for those of us in the president’s party. For they are shameful, repulsive statements. And, of course, the president has it precisely backward – despotism is the enemy of the people. The free press is the despot’s enemy, which makes the free press the guardian of democracy. When a figure in power reflexively calls any press that doesn’t suit him ‘fake news,’ it is that person who should be the figure of suspicion, not the press.”

“I dare say that anyone who has the privilege and awesome responsibility to serve in this chamber knows that these reflexive slurs of ‘fake news’ are dubious, at best. Those of us who travel overseas, especially to war zones and other troubled areas around the globe, encounter members of U.S. based media who risk their lives, and sometimes lose their lives, reporting on the truth.  To dismiss their work as fake news is an affront to their commitment and their sacrifice.”

According to the International Federation of Journalists, 80 journalists were killed in 2017, and a new report from the Committee to Protect Journalists documents that the number of journalists imprisoned around the world has reached 262, which is a new record. This total includes 21 reporters who are being held on ‘false news” ‘charges.”

So “powerful is the presidency that the damage done by the sustained attack on the truth will not be confined to the president’s time in office.  Here in America, we do not pay obeisance to the powerful – in fact, we question the powerful most ardently – to do so is our birthright and a requirement of our citizenship — and so, we know well that no matter how powerful, no president will ever have dominion over objective reality.”

“No politician will ever get to tell us what the truth is and is not. And anyone who presumes to try to attack or manipulate the truth to his own purposes should be made to realize the mistake and be held to account. That is our job here. And that is just as Madison, Hamilton, and Jay would have it.”

“Of course, a major difference between politicians and the free press is that the press usually corrects itself when it gets something wrong. Politicians don’t.”

“No longer can we compound attacks on truth with our silent acquiescence. No longer can we turn a blind eye or a deaf ear to these assaults on our institutions. . . .  An “American president who cannot take criticism – who must constantly deflect and distort and distract – who must find someone else to blame — is charting a very dangerous path. And a Congress that fails to act as a check on the president adds to the danger.”

“Now, we are told via twitter that today the president intends to announce his choice for the ‘most corrupt and dishonest’ media awards. It beggars belief that an American president would engage in such a spectacle. But here we are.”

“And so, 2018 must be the year in which the truth takes a stand against power that would weaken it. In this effort, the choice is quite simple. And in this effort, the truth needs as many allies as possible. Together, my colleagues, we are powerful. Together, we have it within us to turn back these attacks, right these wrongs, repair this damage, restore reverence for our institutions, and prevent further moral vandalism.”

“Together, united in the purpose to do our jobs under the Constitution, without regard to party or party loyalty, let us resolve to be allies of the truth — and not partners in its destruction.”

“It is not my purpose here to inventory all of the official untruths of the past year. But a brief survey is in order. Some untruths are trivial – such as the bizarre contention regarding the crowd size at last year’s inaugural.”

?But many untruths are not at all trivial – such as the seminal untruth of the president’s political career – the oft-repeated conspiracy about the birthplace of President Obama. Also not trivial are the equally pernicious fantasies about rigged elections and massive voter fraud, which are as destructive as they are inaccurate – to the effort to undermine confidence in the federal courts, federal law enforcement, the intelligence community and the free press, to perhaps the most vexing untruth of all – the supposed “hoax” at the heart of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.”

“To be very clear, to call the Russia matter a ‘hoax’ – as the president has many times – is a falsehood. We know that the attacks orchestrated by the Russian government during the election were real and constitute a grave threat to both American sovereignty and to our national security.  It is in the interest of every American to get to the bottom of this matter, wherever the investigation leads.”

“Ignoring or denying the truth about hostile Russian intentions toward the United States leaves us vulnerable to further attacks. We are told by our intelligence agencies that those attacks are ongoing, yet it has recently been reported that there has not been a single cabinet-level meeting regarding Russian interference and how to defend America against these attacks. Not one. What might seem like a casual and routine untruth – so casual and routine that it has by now become the white noise of Washington – is in fact a serious lapse in the defense of our country.”

The impulses underlying the dissemination of such untruths are not benign. They have the effect of eroding trust in our vital institutions and conditioning the public to no longer trust them. The destructive effect of this kind of behavior on our democracy cannot be overstated.”

Every “word that a president utters projects American values around the world. The values of free expression and a reverence for the free press have been our global hallmark, for it is our ability to freely air the truth that keeps our government honest and keeps a people free. Between the mighty and the modest, truth is the great leveler. And so, respect for freedom of the press has always been one of our most important exports. . . . “

“This feedback loop [from foreign leaders] is disgraceful. . . . Not only has the past year seen an American president borrow despotic language to refer to the free press, but it seems he has in turn inspired dictators and authoritarians with his own language. This is reprehensible.”

“We are not in a ‘fake news’ era, , , , We are, rather, in an era in which the authoritarian impulse is reasserting itself, to challenge free people and free societies, everywhere.”

“In our own country, from the trivial to the truly dangerous, it is the range and regularity of the untruths we see that should be cause for profound alarm, and spur to action. Add to that the by-now predictable habit of calling true things false, and false things true, and we have a recipe for disaster.  As George Orwell warned, ‘The further a society drifts from the truth, the more it will hate those who speak it.’”

“Any of us who have spent time in public life have endured news coverage we felt was jaded or unfair. But in our positions, to employ even idle threats to use laws or regulations to stifle criticism is corrosive to our democratic institutions. Simply put: it is the press’s obligation to uncover the truth about power. It is the people’s right to criticize their government. And it is our job to take it.”

“What is the goal of laying siege to the truth? President John F. Kennedy, in a stirring speech on the 20th anniversary of the Voice of America, was eloquent in answer to that question:

  • ‘We are not afraid to entrust the American people with unpleasant facts, foreign ideas, alien philosophies, and competitive values. For a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.’”

The “question of why the truth is now under such assault may well be for historians to determine. But for those who cherish American constitutional democracy, what matters is the effect on America and her people and her standing in an increasingly unstable world — made all the more unstable by these very fabrications. What matters is the daily disassembling of our democratic institutions.”

“We are a mature democracy – it is well past time that we stop excusing or ignoring – or worse, endorsing — these attacks on the truth. For if we compromise the truth for the sake of our politics, we are lost.” 

“I will close by borrowing the words of an early adherent to my faith that I find has special resonance at this moment. His name was John Jacques, and as a young missionary in England he contemplated the question: “’What is truth’” His search was expressed in poetry and ultimately in a hymn that I grew up with, titled ‘Oh Say, What is Truth. It ends as follows:

  • ‘Then say, what is truth? ‘Tis the last and the first,

For the limits of time it steps o’er.

Tho the heavens depart and the earth’s fountains burst.

Truth, the sum of existence, will weather the worst,

Eternal… unchanged… evermore.’”

Conclusion

The same day as Senator Flake’s speech, Arizona’s other Republican Senator, John McCain, published an op-ed article in the Washington Post with similar criticisms of President Trump.[3] This commentary reminded us of McCain’s criticism of Congress’ ignoring regular procedures over the so-called “repeal and replace” Obama Care bill when McCain killed the bill with his negative vote.[4]

President Trump’s response to these criticisms first came from his Press Secretary, Sarah Sanders, who said, Senator Flake was “not criticizing the president because he’s against oppression. He’s criticizing the president because he has terrible poll numbers and he is, I think, looking for some attention.” Note the ad hominem response and refusal to grapple with the merits.

Later that night the President on Twitter also ignored the substance of these criticisms when he  announced his “fake news” awards to CNN (four times); The New York Times (two times); and ABC, The Washington Post, Time and Newsweek (one time each).[5]

All of these comments reminded me of the struggle between the Washington Post and the Nixon White House over the publication of the Pentagon Papers and the work that is involved in publishing real news, all of which is skillfully portrayed in the current movie, “The Post.”

I commend Senators Flake and McCain for standing up for true American values in their criticisms of the President.

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[1] Press Release, Flake: Reflexive “Fake News” Claims Not Good For Democracy (Jan. 16, 2018)

[2] Senator Jeff Flake’s Courageous Defense of American Values and Democracy, dwkcommentaries.com (Nov. 6, 2017),

[3]  McCain, Mr. President, stop attacking the press, Wash. Post (Jan. 17, 2018); Sullivan, Arizona’s GOP Senators Assail Trump for His Attacks on the Press, N.Y. Times (Jan. 17, 2018); Reuters, U.S. Senators Rip Trump Over His Attacks on the Media, N.Y. Times (Jan. 17, 2018).

[4] McCain Floor Statement on Need for Bipartisanship (July 25, 2017)

[5] Flegenheimer & Grynbaum, Trump Hands Out ‘Fake News Awards,’ Sans the Red Carpet, N.Y. Times (Jan. 17, 2018).

 

Bobby Kennedy’s Obsession with Combatting Communist Cuba  

A new biography of Bobby Kennedy documents his obsession with Communist Cuba while he served as U.S. Attorney General in the administration of his brother, President John F. Kennedy (1961-1963).[1]

Background

Bobby’s obsession was fueled by the anti-communism of his father, Joseph Patrick Kennedy, a successful Boston businessman, Ambassador to Great Britain for President Franklin D. Roosevelt and later financial contributor to the campaign war chests of U.S. Senator Joe McCarthy., the noted anti-communist. This in turn led to Bobby’s working for seven and a half months in 1953 as an aide to McCarthy and to a personal connection between the two men that lasted until McCarthy’s funeral in 1957. According to the biographer, “the early Bobby Kennedy embraced the overheated anticommunism of the 1950s and openly disdained liberals.” (Ch. 1.) [2]

The Bay of Pigs Invasion

Although Bobby “had played little part in planning or executing the [unsuccessful] Bay of Pigs raid” in April 1961, immediately thereafter he sought to do “whatever was needed to protect his brother’s [political] flank.” The President put him second-in-charge of the Cuba Study Group to determine what had gone wrong, and over six weeks Bobby and the three others on the committee focused on flawed tactics and slack bureaucracy, not the goals and ethics, of the invasion. Afterwards the President redoubled his engagement in the Cold War while not fully trusting his generals and spies. (Pp. 240-46.)

“Operation Mongoose”

As a result of that review, Bobby concluded that “that son of a bitch [Fidel] has to go” and became the de facto man in charge of the CIA’s “Operation Mongoose” to conduct a clandestine war against Fidel and Cuba. This Operation had 600 CIA agents and nearly 5,000 contract workers and a Miami station with its own polygraph teams, gas station and warehouse stocked with machine guns, caskets and other things plus a secret flotilla of yachts, fishing craft, speedboats and other vessels. It conducted paramilitary missions on the island, including the demolition of a Cuban railroad bridge. This Operation was based, says the biographer, on the flawed premises that the “Cuban problem [was] the top priority of the [U.S.] Government—all else is secondary—no time, money, effort or manpower is to be spared,” that “the Cuban population would rally to the anti-Castro cause” and that the U.S. secret army of Cuban exiles could “vanquish anybody.” (Pp. 247-52.)

The Operation planned and tried to execute plans to kill Fidel. Afterwards Richard Helms, then the CIA’s director of clandestine operations, observed that Bobby had stated, “Castro’s removal from office and a change in government in Cuba were then the primary foreign policy objectives” of the administration. (Id.)

The Cuban Missile Crisis

Fidel and the Soviet Union were aware of this supposed secret U.S. operation and convinced “Khrushchev he was doing the right thing by installing [Soviet] missiles” in Cuba in the summer of 1962. (P. 251.)

During the start of the Cuban missile crisis of October 1962, Bobby doubted whether an air strike on the missiles on the island would be enough and pondered whether it should be followed by an all-out invasion. He also suggested staging an incident at the U.S. base at Guantanamo Bay by sinking a U.S. ship akin to the sinking of the Maine that was the excuse for the U.S. entry into the Cuban war of independence in the late 19th century. (Pp. 263-66.)

After the President had decided on a blockade of the island, Bobby rallied support for that effort, but 10 days later he wondered whether it would be better to knock out the missiles with a U.S. air attack. (Pp. 264-66.)

Later the President and Bobby decided to accept Khrushchev’s demand for the U.S. to remove its missiles in Turkey in exchange for the Soviets’ removal of its missiles in Cuba while the U.S. part of this deal was kept secret. (Pp. 267-69.)

Aftermath

After the crisis was over, the U.S. eventually discovered that the threat from Cuba was greater than perceived at the time. The Soviets had more missiles with greater capability to take out short-range targets like Guantanamo Bay plus long-range ones like New York City. The Soviets also had 43,000 troops on the island, not the 10,000 the U.S. had thought. The Soviets also had on the island lightweight rocket launchers to repel any attacks with nuclear weapons. And the Soviet submarines in the region had nuclear-tipped torpedoes with authorizations to be used if war broke out. Moreover, Fidel at the time had encouraged Khrushchev to launch a preemptive nuclear strike on the U.S. in the event of an U.S. invasion of the island. (Pp. 272-73.)[3]

In any event, in April 1963 Bobby commissioned three studies: (1) possible U.S. responses to the death of Fidel or the shooting down of a U-2 spy plane; (2) a program to overthrow Fidel in 18 months; and (3) ways to “cause as much trouble as we can for Communist Cuba.” (Pp. 275-76.)[4]

Bobby subsequently wrote a memoir of the crisis that was intended for publication in 1968 as part of his campaign for the presidential nomination, but that did not happen because of his assassination that year. Instead it was posthumously published in 1969.[5] The biographer, Larry Tye, concludes that this memoir was untruthful in many details and was intended, for political purposes, as “a fundamentally self-serving account that casts him as the champion dove . . . rather than the unrelenting hawk he actually was through much of [the crisis].” The “biggest deceit’ of the book, again according to Nye, was “the failure to admit that the Soviet buildup [in Cuba] was a predictable response to [the] American aggression [of the previously mentioned Bay of Pigs invasion and Operation Mongoose].” (P. 239.)

Nevertheless, the biographer concludes that during the missile crisis Bobby “drew on his skills as an interrogator and listener to recognize the best ideas” offered by others and “ensured that the president heard the full spectrum of views” of those officials. In addition, Bobby was effective as an intermediary with the Soviet Ambassador. (P. 270.) Finally, the crisis helped to mature Bobby. He slowly saw “that a leader could be tough without being bellicose, [found] . . . his [own] voice on foreign affairs . . . and [stepped] out of his brother’s long shadow.” (P. 282.)

Conclusion

In the summer of 1960, through an internship from Grinnell College, I was an assistant to the Chair of the Democratic Party of Iowa and, therefore, was thrilled with John F. Kennedy’s election as president.[6]

Cuba, however, at that time was not high on my list of priorities and I was not knowledgeable about U.S.-Cuba issues. Thus, in April 1961 I have no memory of the Bay of Pigs debacle in the last semester of my senior year at Grinnell.

In October 1962 my ignorance of U.S.-Cuba issues continued during the start of my second year at Oxford University as the Cuban missile crisis unfolded. But I do recall listening to radio reports of these events and wondering whether they would lead to my being drafted and forced to return to the U.S. for military service. That, however, never happened.[7]

My interest in Cuba only began in 2001 when I was on the Cuba Task Force at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church to explore whether and how our church could be involved with Cuba. The result was our establishment in 2002 of partnerships with a Presbyterian-Reformed Church of Cuba in the city of Matanzas on the north coast of the island and with its national denomination. Thereafter I went on three mission trips to Cuba and started to learn about the history of U.S.-Cuba relations, to follow the current news on that subject and to become an advocate for normalization and reconciliation of our two peoples.[8]

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[1] Larry Tye, Bobby Kennedy: The Making of a Liberal Icon, Ch. 6 (Random House, New York, 2016).

[2] There are seven blog posts about Joseph Welch, the attorney for the U.S. Army in the McCarthy-Army hearings of 1954, that are listed in Posts to dwkcommentarires—Topical: UNITED STATES (HISTORY).

[3] The Cuban missile crisis has been the subject of the following posts to dwkcommetaries.com: Fidel Castro and Nikita Khrushchev’s Messages During the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 (Sept. 5, 2016); Conflicting Opinions Regarding the Relative Strength of U.S. and Soviet Missiles, 1960-1962 (Nov. 2, 2016); Fidel Castro’s Disingenuous Criticism of President Obama Over Nuclear Weapons (Aug. 15, 2016).

[4] After Bobby’s 1964 resignation as Attorney General, there apparently also was a 1966 CIA operation to assassinate Fidel. (See Covert CIA 1966 Operation To Assassinate Fidel Castro?, dwkcommentaries.com (May 30, 2016).)

[5] Robert Kennedy, Thirteen Days: A Memoir of the Cuban Missile Crisis (W.F. Norton & Co., New York, 1969).

[6] See these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: My Grinnell College Years (Aug. Aug. 27, 2011); Encounters with Candidates JFK and LBJ (Apr. 16, 2011).

[7] Another post to dwkcommentaries.com: My Oxford University Years (Aug. 30, 2011).

[8] My many posts about Cuba are collected in List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA.

 

Conflicting Opinions Regarding the Relative Strength of U.S. and Soviet Missiles, 1960-1962

A prior post reviewed the October 1962 messages between Fidel Castro and Nikita Khrushchev regarding a possible nuclear war that might have been triggered by the Cuban missile crisis of that month. Now we look at their possibly conflicting opinions on the relative strength of the Soviet and U.S. nuclear missile fleets at the time.[1}

 U.S. Opinions on Relative Missile Strength

In the 1960 campaign presidential candidate John F. Kennedy declared that there was a “missile gap” with the U.S. having significantly fewer missiles than the USSR, which often boasted about its missiles. For example, in a campaign speech on August 26, 1960, before the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Kennedy said, “the missile lag looms larger and larger ahead.” On September 12, 1960, Kennedy charged that the danger of a Soviet missile attack would grow as the Russians increased their missile lead. Two days later he asserted that “crash [U.S.] programs . . . will eventually close the missile gap.”[2]

On January 12, 1961 President Dwight D. Eisenhower in his final State of the Union Address stated, “The ‘bomber gap’ of several years ago was always a fiction, and the ‘missile gap’ shows every sign of being the same.” He backed this up with the assertion, “Tremendous advances in strategic weapons systems have been made in the past eight years. Today many types [of guided ballistic missiles] give our armed forces unprecedented effectiveness. [This includes ICBM missiles (ATLAS, POLARIS, and soon TITAN and MINUTEMAN) and IRBMs (THOR and JUPITER).] The explosive power of our weapons systems for all purposes is almost inconceivable.”[3]

Eight days later (January 20, 1961) in his Inaugural Address President John F. Kennedy did not specifically mention missiles, but did say to “those nations who would make themselves our adversary, we offer not a pledge but a request: that both sides begin anew the quest for peace, before the dark powers of destruction unleashed by science engulf all humanity in planned or accidental self-destruction. We dare not tempt them with weakness. For only when our arms are sufficient beyond doubt can we be certain beyond doubt that they will never be employed.”

Ten days later, on January 30, 1961, President Kennedy delivered his first State of the Union Address, in which he stated, “I have directed prompt action to accelerate our entire missile program. Until the Secretary of Defense’s reappraisal is completed, the emphasis here will be largely on improved organization and decision making–on cutting down the wasteful duplications and the time-lag that have handicapped our whole family of missiles. If we are to keep the peace, we need an invulnerable missile force powerful enough to deter any aggressor from even threatening an attack that he would know could not destroy enough of our force to prevent his own destruction. For as I said upon taking the oath of office: ‘Only when our arms are sufficient beyond doubt can we be certain beyond doubt that they will never be employed.’”

In the third week of the Kennedy presidency a kerfuffle on the issue of a missile gap was created. On February 6, 1961, his new Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara, told journalists in what he thought was an off-the-record session that there was a positive missile gap in favor of the U.S. This remark was widely reported in the press. [4]

Two days later (February 8), President Kennedy denied the accuracy of any such remark with this statement: “Yesterday McNamara told me that the Defense Department has not concluded any study that would lead to “any conclusion at this time as to whether there is a missile gap or not.” This had been confirmed to the President by the controller of the Department, Charles Hitch, who was conducting “a review of our tactical weapons” that had not been completed.[5]

Finally on February 16, McNamara denied that he had told newsmen the [U.S.] was either behind or ahead of the Soviet Union in the missile race in a letter to Senator Everett Dirksen, who had just called for President Kennedy’s resignation on the ground that he had won the election on false pretenses. McNamara stated, “I have not said with respect to missile power that the [U.S.] is either in a superior or inferior position vis-á-vis the Soviet Union. . . . I have emphasized that, acting on the President’s instructions, we have already begun to move so there will be no such gaps in the months and years ahead.” McNamara’s letter also included three newspaper articles that he claimed corroborated his statements. The Senator then put McNamara’s letter and the articles into the Congressional Record.[6]

 Soviet Opinions on Relative Missile Strength

According to Khrushchev’s son at the 1992 conference, the Soviets during this period threatened the U.S. with missiles the former did not have in order to prevent a U.S. attack. (Blight at 130.) In other words, Khrushchev at the time apparently knew or believed that the USSR was at a disadvantage with the U.S. on missiles and that such an opinion perhaps influenced his negative reaction to Fidel’s suggestion of a USSR missile strike on the U.S.

 Cuban Opinions on Relative Missile Strength

At the previously mentioned 1992 conference, McNamara mentioned his January 1961 [actually February 1961] statement that there was a missile gap in favor of the U.S. Castro, however, at the same conference, said that at the time of the crisis he did not know about McNamara’s statement. (Blight at 126-27, 131-32.) Moreover, Castro, at the 1992 conference, said that at the time he believed the Soviets had more missiles based upon what they said about their missile capability and upon their demonstrated technical prowess in space. (Id. at 257-58.)

Thus, perhaps Castro suggested a Soviet missile strike on the U.S. in the event of an U.S. invasion of the island because he thought the Soviets had a significant advantage over the U.S. on missiles.

Conclusion

I invite comments of agreement or disagreement by those who have done more research on this issue.

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[1] See generally Alexandr Fursenko & Timothy Naftali, “One Hell of a Gamble;” Khrushchev, Castro, and Kennedy, 1958-1964, at 257-315 (W.W. Norton & Co, New York: 1997); Desmond Ball, Politics and Force Levels: the Strategic Missile Program of the Kennedy Administration (pp. 88-94) (Univ. Cal. Press; Berkeley CA; 1980); James G. Blight, Bruce J. Allyn and David A. Welch, Cuba on the Brink: Castro, The Missile Crisis, and the Soviet Collapse (Pantheon Books; New York; 1993) [ hereafter “Blight”].

[2] Wikipedia, United States presidential election, 1960; Chronology of Two-Year Dispute on ‘Missile Gap,’ N.Y. Times (Feb. 9, 1961).

[3] A journalist at the time reported that when Eisenhower left office in January 1961 he believed that the U.S. was the strongest military in world and “the much advertised missile gap will prove to be . . . fictitious. . . . Many Democrats and a Kennedy task force violently disagree.” Yet, this journalist concluded that “statistical comparisons and available intelligence indicate that President Eisenhower’s opinion [was] based as firmly as possible on factual information.”(Baldwin, A New Military Era? N.Y. Times (Jan. 19, 1961).)

[4] Chronology of Two-Year Dispute on ‘Missile Gap,’ N.Y. Times (Feb. 9, 1961); Blight at 135-36.

[5] Transcript of the Kennedy News Conference, N.Y. Times (Feb. 9, 1961); Raymond, President Awaits ‘Missile Gap’ Data, N.Y. Times (Feb. 8, 1961).

[6] 107 Cong. Rec. 2177-79 (Feb. 16, 1961); Missile Gap Report Denied by M’Namara, N.Y. Times (Feb. 17, 1961).

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fidel Castro—Nikita Khrushchev Messages During the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962

A prior post criticized Fidel Castro for an October 26, 1962, letter to Nikita Khrushchev suggesting that the Soviet Union should launch a preemptive nuclear strike against the United States.

Additional insight into that and other communications between the two men during that crisis is provided in a lengthy book about a 1992 conference in Havana regarding that crisis.[1] The participants in the conference included Fidel himself; Robert S. McNamara, who was the U.S. Secretary of Defense at the time; Aleksandr Alekseev, the Soviet ambassador to Cuba at the time; Oleg Troyanovsky, special assistant to Nikita Khrushchev at the time; 12 other participants in the crisis; 14 scholars of the crisis; and 14 other attendees.

For the purpose of this blog post, Fidel provided commentary on nine key events in addition to the previously cited letter (in bold below): (1) the Soviet offer of missiles to Cuba, May 1962; (2) Soviet deployment of the missiles, August 1962; (3) Khrushchev’s letter to Castro, October 23, 1962; (4) Castro’s letter to Khrushchev, October 26, 1962; (5) Khrushchev’s letter to Castro, October 28, 1962; (6) Castro’s letter to Khrushchev, October 28, 1962; (7) Khrushchev’s letter to Castro, October 30, 1962; (8) Castro’s letter to Khrushchev, October 31, 1962; (9) Time Magazine’s publication of extracts from Khrushchev’s Memoirs, October 1, 1990; and (10) Cuba’s publication of five of the October 1962 Khrushchev-Castro letters, November 1990.

Discussion of the Key Events

  1. Soviet Offer of Missiles to Cuba, May 1962

In May 1962 Soviet General Marshall Biryuzov visited Cuba and asked Fidel what would be necessary to prevent U.S. invasion of Cuba. Fidel said there would be no invasion if the U.S. knew “that any aggression against Cuba would entail a war not just with Cuba.” Biryuzov then proposed that the Soviet Union provide missiles to Cuba. Fidel did not like the idea for Cuba’s own defense because the missiles would turn Cuba into a Soviet military base and thereby damage the image of the Cuban Revolution in Latin America. But Fidel accepted the proposal because he thought the missiles would strengthen the entire socialist camp. (Pp. 197-99, 242)

Fidel said that he “never regarded the missiles as something that one day would be used against the U.S. . . . in an unjustified first strike. [Khrushchev] insisted that they would never launch a nuclear first strike. The idea was an obsession with him.” However, at the 1992 conference Fidel said Cuba’s “decision to deploy nuclear weapons . . . entailed the risk of our involvement in a nuclear war. . . . [W]e always thought that in the event of a nuclear war . . . we would have been involved. . . . We’ve always thought that in a nuclear war, the whole world would be included in it, and it would affect everyone. . . . [W]e started from the assumption that if there was an invasion of Cuba, nuclear war would erupt. We were certain of that. If the invasion took place in the situation that had been created, nuclear war would have been the result. Everybody here was resigned to the fate that . . . we would disappear.” (Pp. 200, 251-52)

  1. Soviet Deployment of Missiles, August 1962

In August 1962 after the deployment of the missiles in Cuba, Fidel said he urged Khrushchev to make a public announcement of the deployment so that the U.S. could not argue that there was Soviet and Cuban deception over the missiles. This suggestion was not accepted by the Soviets. (P. 205)

  1. Khrushchev’s Letter to Castro, October 23, 1962

In reaction to President’s October 22nd public announcement of the presence of missiles in Cuba, Khrushchev sent a letter the next day (October 23) to Fidel stating that the U.S. announcement was “an exceptional interference in the affairs of the Republic of Cuba, a violation of the norms of international law and of the fundamental rules that govern relations among States, and as a blatant act of provocation against the Soviet Union.” The Soviet Union has sent a “protest against the piratical actions of the U.S. Government, denouncing them as perfidious and aggressive . . . and [declaring] its determination to fight actively against such nations.” As a result, “we have issued instructions to our military personnel in Cuba on the need to adopt the necessary measures to be completely ready for combat.” (Pp. 211-13)

Fidel, at the 1992 conference, said he saw this Khrushchev letter as “a clear and firm determination to fight.” Fidel thought that this Khrushchev letter clearly meant war as Fidel “could not conceive of any retreat.”   (P. 213)

  1. Castro’s Letter to Khrushchev, October 26, 1962

With this in mind, Fidel wrote an October 26th letter to Khrushchev saying he thought U.S. “aggression” against Cuba is “almost imminent within the next 24 or 72 hours” as either an air attack to destroy certain targets or a large-scale invasion of the island. If the latter, “the Soviet Union must never allow the circumstances in which the imperialists could launch the first nuclear strike against it . . . . that would be the moment to eliminate such danger forever through an act of clear legitimate defense, however harsh and terrible the solution would be, for there is no other.” (Pp. 213, 481-82) (Emphasis added.)

In his October 31, 1962, letter to Khrushchev (discussed below), Fidel said he realized the words of his 10/26/62 letter “could be misinterpreted by you and that is what happened, perhaps because you did not read them carefully, perhaps because of the translation, perhaps because I meant to say so much in too few lines.” Fidel also said in this later letter that at the time of the 10/26/62 letter, “We knew, and do not presume that we ignored it, that we would have been annihilated, as you insinuate in your letter, in the event of a nuclear war. However, that didn’t prompt us to ask you to withdraw the missiles, that didn’t prompt us to ask you to yield.” Fidel added, “I understand that once aggression is unleashed, one shouldn’t concede to the aggressor the privilege of deciding . . . when to use nuclear weapons. The destructive power of this weaponry is so great and the speed of its delivery so great that that the aggressor would have a considerable initial advantage.” In this later letter, Fidel said he did not suggest in the 10/26/62 letter that the Soviets should be the aggressor, but if “the imperialists attack Cuba [and Soviet forces here, the imperialists], . . . would become the aggressors, “and we would respond with a strike that would annihilate them.”

At the 1992 conference, Fidel said the 10/26/62 letter was a “very sensitive message, and I reviewed it very carefully.” He did not want his letter to hurt Khrushchev, nor did he want to indicate that the Cubans “were worried or afraid.” Therefore, the letter commended him for being a “tireless defender of peace” and expressed “hope that peace will be safeguarded.” Fidel also wanted to encourage Khrushchev and to avoid mistakes. Fidel, therefore, “proposed some ideas as to what should be done in the event of, not an air strike, but of an invasion of Cuba in an attempt to occupy it.” (Pp. 251, 361) (Emphasis added.)

As mentioned in the prior post, Fidel’s October 26 letter was written in the late evening/early morning in the underground bunker of the Soviet embassy in Havana with the Soviet ambassador, Aleksandr Alekseev. At the 1992 conference Fidel asserted that on this date in 1962, he expected an imminent U.S. air strike or invasion and, therefore, needed to write to Khrushchev to explain the situation. (Pp. 116-18)

As Fidel was writing this letter in Spanish, Alekseev at the 1992 conference said he and another Soviet official were translating the letter into Russian. But the Soviet officials “did not have a perfect mastery of the [Spanish] language, and if we had, I think Khrushchev would not have been so concerned about the possibility that the letter containing a request for a preemptive strike.” In any event, Alekseev did not understand why Khrushchev “understood that Fidel was calling for a [Soviet] preemptive strike.”(Pp. 117-18)

While the writing and translating the letter was going on in 1962, Alekseev sent a brief telegram to the Kremlin stating that Fidel was meeting with us and drafting a letter and that there was the danger of an imminent U.S. air strike or invasion. (P. 118)

In the 1990 publication in the West of suppressed sections of his memoirs, Khrushchev claimed that this Fidel letter “suggested that in order to prevent our nuclear missiles from being destroyed, we should launch a preemptive strike against the [U.S.]. [Fidel] concluded that an attack was unavoidable, and that this [U.S.] attack had to be preempted. . . . [We] needed to immediately deliver a nuclear missile strike against the [U.S.]. When I read this I, and all the others . . .[concluded] that Fidel totally failed to understand our purpose.” In short, according to Khrushchev, Fidel had asked for an order that would have blown up the world. (P. 29)

Immediately after the 1990 publication of this portion of the Khrushchev memoirs, Fidel in a public speech in Cuba said, “Perhaps Khrushchev even interpreted it this way, but in reality it did not happen like that.” (P. 29)

The authors of the book about the 1992 conference opined that Castro crafted the 10/26/62 letter to address what he feared most at that moment: Khrushchev’s weakness and irresolution. Khrushchev saw in Castro’s letter what he feared most: warning of an imminent American attack, and confirmation of Castro’s recklessness. The letter intended to buttress Khrushchev’s resolve helped to push [him] . . . in the other direction.” (P. 362)

  1. Khrushchev’s Letter to Castro, October 28, 1962

On October 28 there was international news that the U.S. and the Soviet Union had agreed to resolve the crisis with Soviet withdrawal of the missiles and the U.S. agreeing not to invade Cuba.

The same day Khrushchev sent a letter to Castro announcing the resolution and urging Fidel “not to be carried away by sentiment and to show firmness. . . . I understand your feelings of indignation toward the aggressive actions and violations of elementary norms of international law . . . of the [U.S.].” Please “show patience, firmness, and even more firmness. . . . [W]e will do everything possible to stabilize the situation in Cuba, defend Cuba against invasion and assure you the possibilities for peacefully building a socialist society.” (Pp. 482-83)

For Fidel, other Cuban leaders and the Cuban people, this resolution was a “great indignation” and “humiliation . . . . because we felt we had become some kind of bargaining chip. Not only was this a decision taken without consulting us, several steps were taken without informing us.” (Emphasis in original.) At the time Khrushchev was “arguably the most hated man in Cuba.” (Pp. 190, 214)

Even at the time of this conference in 1992, Fidel could not forgive Khrushchev for refusing to listen to Cuban requests in August to go public with the missile deployment, for backing down in the face of U.S. demands, for terminating the crisis without any concern for Cuban fears over their security and for betraying and insulting Cuba by treating the missiles in Cuba as a bargaining chip. In short, for Cuba the crisis was a profoundly bitter experience: U.S. aggression and Soviet abandonment. (Pp. 28-29, 189-90)

  1. Castro’s Letter to Khrushchev, October 28, 1962

The same day (October 28), Fidel responded to Khrushchev with a defense of Cuba’s shooting down a U.S. airplane over Cuban airspace. “There was danger of a [U.S.] surprise attack on certain military installations. We decided not to sit back and wait for a surprise attack. . . . We cannot accept [further U.S.] violating our airspace. . . . However, we agree we must avoid an incident at this precise moment that could seriously harm the negotiations, so we will instruct the Cuban batteries not to open fire, but only so far as long as the negotiations last . . . . (Pp. 483-84)

Fidel’s letter also stated, “we are in principle opposed to an inspection of our territory.” (Ibid.)

Finally Fidel “appreciate[s] extraordinarily the efforts you have made to keep the peace and we are absolutely in agreement with the need for struggling for that goal.” (Ibid.)

  1. Khrushchev’s Letter to Castro, October 30, 1962

 On October 30, 1962, Khrushchev sent a lengthy letter to Fidel. “We understand your situation and take into account the difficulties you now have . . . after the liquidation of maximum tension that arose due to the threat of attack . . . [by the U.S.], which you expected would occur at any moment.” (Pp. 485-88)

“We understand that certain difficulties have been created for you as a result of our [promised withdrawal of missiles from Cuba] in exchange for the U.S. commitment to abandon plans for an invasion of Cuba . . . [and ending] the blockade of Cuba. . . . This lead to the liquidation of the conflict . . . which, as you realize, was characterized by the clash of two superpowers and the possibility of it being transformed into a thermonuclear world war using missiles.” (Ibid.)

We also understand that some Cubans are upset with this resolution of the conflict. “But we, political and government figures, are leaders of a people who doesn’t know everything and can’t readily comprehend all that we leaders must deal with. Therefore, we should march at the head of the people and then the people will follow us and respect us.” (Ibid.)

The letter also rejected charges that the Soviets had not consulted with Cuba in this crisis. Fidel’s October 27th letter “proposed that we be the first to launch a nuclear strike against the territory of the enemy. You, of course, realize where that would have led. Rather than a simple strike, it would have been the start of a thermonuclear world war.” Your proposal was “incorrect.” (Ibid.)

This letter really angered Fidel. It pushed all the wrong buttons. He thought he was one with the Cuban people. He fumed that the Soviets had not informed or consulted with him. He denied he had suggested a preemptive strike. He believed the Soviets had abandoned Cuba. He did not trust U.S. promises. (Pp. 362-64)

  1. Castro’s Letter to Khrushchev, October 31, 1962

Fidel was furious over the last Khrushchev letter and exploded in his response. (Pp. 364-65, 489-91)

Khrushchev erroneously said Cuba was consulted about the promised withdrawal of missiles. Fidel’s October 26th letter advised and alerted the Soviets about “the possibility of an attack which we could not prevent but could resist” and would do so “heroically” and “calmly.” Fidel realized the words of his letter “could be misinterpreted by you and that is what happened, perhaps because you did not read them carefully, perhaps because of the translation, perhaps because I meant to say so much in too few lines.” (Ibid.)

“We knew, and do not presume that we ignored it, that we would have been annihilated, as you insinuate in your letter, in the event of a nuclear war. However, that didn’t prompt us to ask you to withdraw the missiles, that didn’t prompt us to ask you to yield.” (Ibid.)

“I understand that once aggression is unleashed, one shouldn’t concede to the aggressor the privilege of deciding . . . when to use nuclear weapons. The destructive power of this weaponry is so great and the speed of its delivery so great that that the aggressor would have a considerable initial advantage.” I did not suggest that the Soviets should be the aggressor, but if “the imperialists attack Cuba [and Soviet forces here], they would become the aggressors, “and we would respond with a strike that would annihilate them.” (Ibid.)

There are “many Cubans who are experiencing at this moment unspeakable bitterness and sadness.” (Ibid.)

  1. Time Magazine’s Publication of Extracts from Khrushchev’s Memoirs, October 1, 1990

 On October 1, 1990, Time Magazine published excerpts from Nikita Khrushchev’s secret tapes that he had made while under virtual arrest near Moscow between 1964 and 1971.[2] The tapes had the following three key passages regarding Soviet missiles in Cuba:

  • Khrushchev said before 1962 he had been troubled by the question: “How were we supposed to strengthen and reinforce Cuba? . . . We concluded that we could send 42 missiles, each with a warhead of one megaton. We picked targets in the U.S. to inflict the maximum damage. We saw that our weapons could inspire terror. The two nuclear weapons the U.S. used against Japan at the end of the war were toys by comparison. . . . Castro gave his approval. . . . It was our intention after installing the missiles to announce their presence in a loud voice. They were not meant for attack but as a means of deterring those who would attack Cuba.”
  • [In the October 26th letter] “Castro suggested that to prevent our nuclear missiles from being destroyed, we should launch a preemptive strike against the U.S. My comrades in the leadership and I realized that our friend Fidel totally failed to understand our purpose. We had installed the missiles not for the purpose of attacking the U.S. but to keep the U.S. from attacking Cuba.”
  • After the U.S. and the Soviet Union had reached an agreement for the removal of the missiles in Cuba, “Castro was hotheaded. He thought we were retreating—worse, capitulating. He did not understand that our action was necessary to prevent a military confrontation. He also thought that America would not keep its word and that once we removed the missiles, the U.S. would invade Cuba. He was very angry with us. . . . We believed this came from his being young and inexperienced as a statesman.”

In the entire book published later that month, Khrushchev claimed that this Fidel letter “suggested that in order to prevent our nuclear missiles from being destroyed, we should launch a preemptive strike against the [U.S.]. [Fidel] concluded that an attack was unavoidable, and that this [U.S.] attack had to be preempted. . . . [We] needed to immediately deliver a nuclear missile strike against the [U.S.]. When we read this, . . . it became clear to us that Fidel totally failed to understand our purpose.” (P. 29) The book (p. 173) also contains a full-page map of the western hemisphere showing the ranges of the medium-range and intermediate-range Soviet missiles based in Cuba to include virtually all of the continental U.S.

  1. Cuba’s publication of Certain Khrushchev-Castro letters, November 23, 1990.

On November 23, 1990, Granma, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of Cuba, published five of the above Khrushchev-Castro letters from October 1962 (in Spanish) [Numbers 4 through 8 above] along with a lengthy introduction obviously written by Fidel. (English translations also were published by Granma in early December 1990.) (Pp. 474-81)

The introduction justified the publication of these letters as a response to the Time Magazine article just mentioned and asserted an “objective and calm reading of” Fidel’s letters of October 26, 28 and 31 “shows precisely the real context in which a possible nuclear strike against the [U.S.] was discussed.” (P. 476)

At the time “Cuba and the USSR were both convinced . . . that the [U.S.] was preparing to attack Cuba directly. Under these circumstances, [the USSR and Cuba] . . . signed a military agreement which strengthened the defenses of both [parties].” This included the “deployment in Cuba of medium- and intermediate-range missiles equipped with nuclear warheads and the presence of more than 40,000 Soviet soldiers.” (P. 477)

“Fidel and the Cuban leadership realized . . . that the presence of Soviet missiles [in Cuba could] . . . increase the dangers of confrontation of another sort with the [U.S.].” Moreover, “at the time we expected the USSR to struggle to defend Cuba in case of an attack by the [U.S.].” At the time Cuba proposed that [the Cuba-USSR] military agreement, including the deployment of the missiles, be made public, but Khrushchev refused while stressing “that the USSR was willing to go as far as necessary, even if the agreement and missiles were discovered before they were made public.” (Pp. 477-78)

This introduction wondered if there had been an erroneous translation of his October 26 letter from Spanish into Russian. (P. 479)

Fidel believed that a U.S. invasion of Cuba at the time would have constituted an act of aggression against both Cuba and the USSR due to the latter’s missiles and 43,000 soldiers on the island and thus a war against the two countries plus a simultaneous or subsequent U.S. nuclear strike on Soviet territory. Therefore, in his October 26 letter Fidel warned Khrushchev that the USSR should never allow “’circumstances in which the imperialists [the U.S.] could strike the first nuclear blow against it,’ eliminating such a danger then and forever in an act of rightful defense.” (P. 478)

In addition, Fidel says his October 31 letter provided an “impeccable” explanation of the earlier letter as not calling for a preemptive nuclear strike by the Soviet Union. (P. 480)

Conclusion

 It seems clear to this blogger that Fidel in his October 26th letter was urging Khrushchev to launch a nuclear strike against the U.S. if the U.S. invaded Cuba. Fidel, however, did not suggest a preemptive nuclear strike by the Soviet Union if there were no U.S. invasion of the island. Nevertheless, Fidel was proposing what could have been a thermonuclear world war with millions of deaths.

This sequence of messages, now translated into English in this book, were in the first instance written in Spanish by Castro and in Russian by Khrushchev. To what extent were there miscommunications in 1962 because of errors in translation as former ambassador Alekseev suggested at the 1992 conference and as the November 1990 Granma article wondered? The cited book does not seek to answer that question.

It also is easy to forget that in 1962 there were no instantaneous electronic communications between Havana and Moscow via fax machines and email. To what extent were there miscommunications between these two leaders because of the lack of instantaneous communications? This is another unresolved question.

Another issue posed by these events and communications is whether the different countries at the time had different opinions on the relative nuclear and missile strengths of the U.S. and the USSR and whether such differing opinions affected the actions of the three countries. This issue will be explored in a future post.

Finally this blogger has not attempted to find and examine what must be an extensive body of original and secondary sources on the Cuban missile crisis to see what light they may shed on the issue of possible nuclear war in 1962. Comments by others who have greater knowledge on these issues would be greatly appreciated.

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[1] James G. Blight, Bruce J. Allyn and David A. Welch, Cuba on the Brink: Castro, The Missile Crisis, and the Soviet Collapse (Pantheon Books; New York; 1993). A second edition of the book was published in 2002.

[2] Khrushchev’s Secret Tapes, Time (Oct. 1, 1990); Khrushchev (Schecter & Luchkov, editors & translators), Khrushchev Remembers: the Glasnost Tapes, pp. 170-83 (Boston; Little Brown & Co., 1990); Ulam, Castro Was a Hothead, N.Y. Times (Oct. 24, 1990)  Pear, Khrushchev Memoir Tells of Castro Plea For Attack on U.S., N.Y. Times (Sept. 24, 1990).

Fidel Castro’s Disingenuous Criticism of President Obama Over Nuclear Weapons

As reported in a prior post, Fidel Castro on August 12, 2016, criticized President Obama over his not apologizing to Japan over the 1945 U.S. dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This criticism on its face was unfair. Although Obama in his recent speech at Hiroshima did not apologize, he recounted the horror of the bombing and stressed the need for the U.S. and other countries to eliminate nuclear weapons.

Fidel’s criticism of Obama also was disingenuous because near the end of what we call the Cuban Missile Crisis Fidel was urging the Soviet Union to conduct a nuclear attack on the U.S. and to keep its nuclear missiles in Cuba. Here are the details according to historians with access to original records.[1]

Background: The Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis

Let us first, however, set the stage for these remarks by Fidel from what is now known.

In April 1961 at the start of the third year of the Cuban Revolution’s operation of the Cuban government, a CIA-sponsored paramilitary group conducted an unsuccessful invasion of Cuba’s de Playa Girón (the Bay of Pigs).[2]

Soon thereafter, Fidel Castro told the Cuban people, “The result of aggression against Cuba will be the start of a conflagration of incalculable consequences, and they will be affected too. It will no longer be a matter of them feasting on us. They will get as good as they give.”

In July 1961, at a secret meeting of Fidel Castro and Nikita Khrushchev, the Premier of the Soviet Union agreed to Castro’s request to station nuclear missiles on the island to deter U.S. harassment of Cuba. Later that summer construction commenced on the sites for such missiles.

On October 14, 1962, an American U-2 spy plane making a high-altitude pass over Cuba photographed a Soviet medium-range ballistic missile being assembled for installation.[3]

On October 16, 1962, President Kennedy was briefed about the situation, and he immediately called together a group of advisors and officials. For nearly the next two weeks, the president and his team wrestled with this weighty crisis as did their counterparts in the Soviet Union.

On October 22, 1962, in a national television broadcast President Kennedy notified the American people about the presence of the missiles, explained his decision to enact a naval blockade of shipping to and from Cuba and made it clear that the U.S. was prepared to use military force if necessary to neutralize this perceived threat to U.S. national security.

On October 24, Soviet ships bound for Cuba neared the line of U.S. vessels enforcing the blockade, but stopped short of the blockade.

On October 26, Khrushchev sent a message to Kennedy offering to remove the Cuban missiles in exchange for a promise by U.S. leaders not to invade Cuba. The letter stated, “Let us then display statesmenlike wisdom. I propose: we, for our part, will declare that our ships bound for Cuba are not carrying any armaments. You will declare that the United States will not invade Cuba with its troops and will not support any other forces which might intend to invade Cuba. Then the necessity for the presence of our military specialists in Cuba will be obviated.”

The following day, the Soviet leader sent a second letter proposing that the Soviets would dismantle its missiles in Cuba if the Americans removed their missile installations in Turkey.

The Kennedy administration decided to accept the terms of the first letter, and on October 28, Robert F. Kennedy, the Attorney General, hand delivered to the Soviet Ambassador in Washington the administration’s letter accepting the terms of the first message. (The administration officially ignored the second letter, but privately agreed to withdraw U.S. missiles from Turkey.)

On October 28, the immediate crisis drew to a close with a joint U.S. and Soviet announcement of the agreement.

On November 20, 1962, after all Soviet offensive missiles and light bombers had been withdrawn from Cuba, the blockade was formally ended.

Fidel’s Urging Nuclear Armageddon and Nuclear Missiles in Cuba

In the midst of this crisis Fidel strenuously objected to the Soviets removing nuclear missiles from Cuba and pleaded for those missiles to remain on the island. “Castro fumed. He had been bypassed in negotiations between the two superpowers. Set on keeping the nuclear warheads [on the island], he began to chafe at his handlers in Moscow.”

On October 26, Castro summoned the Soviet Ambassador, Aleksandr Alekseev, to the Cuban command post. Fidel could not understand why Soviet troops in Cuba were sitting on their hands while American planes were flying over the island with impunity. He urged them to start shooting at U-2 spy planes with surface-to-air missiles and suggested that Cuban troops should begin firing on low-flying planes with antiaircraft guns, contrary to Soviet wishes. Alekseev promised to relay Castro’s complaints to the Kremlin.

Very early the next day, October 27, Castro, unaware of Kennedy and Khrushchev’s progress toward a deal, decided to send a cable to Khrushchev, encouraging him to use his nuclear weapons to destroy the United States in the event of an invasion of Cuba. At 3:00 a.m., he arrived at the Soviet Embassy in Havana and told Ambassador Alekseev that they should go into the bunker beneath the embassy because a U.S. attack was imminent. According to declassified Soviet cables, a groggy but sympathetic Alekseev agreed, and soon they were set up underground with Castro dictating and aides transcribing and translating a letter.

Castro became frustrated, uncertain about what to say. After nine drafts, with the sun rising, Alekseev finally confronted Castro: are you asking Comrade Khrushchev to deliver a nuclear strike on the U.S.? Castro responded, “If they attack Cuba, we should wipe them off the face of the earth!” Alekseev was shocked, but he dutifully assisted Castro in fine-tuning the 10th and final draft of the cable and then cabled it to Moscow.

That cable stated that in the event of an American invasion, “the danger that that aggressive policy poses for humanity is so great that following that event the Soviet Union must never allow the circumstances in which the imperialists could launch the first nuclear strike against it.” A U.S. invasion of Cuba “would be the moment to eliminate such danger forever through an act of clear, legitimate defense however harsh and terrible the solution would be, for there is no other.”

Premier Khrushchev, according to his son and biographer, received the Castro cable in the midst of a tense leadership meeting and shouted, “This is insane; Fidel wants to drag us into the grave with him!” Khrushchev had not understood that Castro believed that Cuba was doomed, that war was inevitable, and that the Soviets should transform Cuba from a mere victim into a world martyr.

To calm Castro down, Khrushchev in early November sent Soviet Deputy Prime Minister Anastas Mikoyan to Havana. Mikoyan initially told Castro he could keep the tactical nukes that had escaped U.S. notice. On November 20, Castro instructed Cuba’s U.N. ambassador to tell the world that Cuba possessed tactical nuclear warheads, but that announcement was never made because Mikoyan said all Soviet missiles had to be removed from the island.

This rescission happened on November 22 after Mikoyan on his own had concluded that Castro could not be trusted and that the USSR could not control Cuba. Mikoyan told Castro that a Soviet law — which did not exist — banned a permanent transfer to the Cubans. Fidel responded, “So you have a law that prohibits transfer of tactical nuclear weapons to other countries? It’s a pity. And when are you going to repeal that law?” Mikoyan merely said, “We will see.”

Conclusion

When, Fidel, did you offer an apology for your 1962 efforts to threaten the United States and the world with nuclear Armageddon? You are not a wizened guru of world peace.

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[1] Bright & Lang, How Castro Held the World Hostage, N.Y. Times (Oct. 25, 2012); Bright & Lang, The Armageddon Letters: Kennedy/Khrushchev/Castro in the Cuban MIssile Crisis (2012); Mikoyan & Savranskaya (ed.), The Soviet Cuban Missile Crisis: Castro, Mikoyan, Kennedy, Khrushchev, and the Missiles (2012); Cuban Missile Crisis’ Untold Story: Casto Almost Kept Nuclear Warheads on the Island, Huff. Post (Oct. 15, 2012). James G. Blight and Janet M. Lang are professors at the Balsillie School of International Affairs (Waterloo, Ontario, Canada) and the authors of “The Armageddon Letters: Kennedy/Khrushchev/Castro in the Cuban Missile Crisis.” Many of the documents mentioned above have been donated to George Washington University’s National Security Archive by the son of Anastas Mikoyan, Sergo Mikoyan, who with the Archive’s researcher, Svetlana Savranskaya, co-authored the previously mentioned “The Soviet Cuba Missile Crisis.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[2] Invasion of Bar of Pigs, Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bay_of_Pigs_Invasion

 

[3] Cuban Missile Crisis, History, http://www.history.com/topics/cold-war/cuban-missile-crisis

Nikita– https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nikita_Khrushchev