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.

 

Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church Celebrates U.S.-Cuba Reconciliation

Westminster Presbyterian Church
Westminster Presbyterian Church

cuba_havana_matanzas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As mentioned in a prior post, Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church for the last 12 years has had a partnership with a Presbyterian-Reformed Church in Matanzas Cuba and with the overall synod of that church for the whole island. As a result, many members of our church have visited our brothers and sisters in Cuba and some of them have visited us. We also have installed four clean water systems in Cuban churches and the ecumenical seminary in that city. In the process many of us at our church have become close to our brothers and sisters and advocates for a closer relationship between our two countries. We, therefore, are celebrating this great gift of reconciliation between the U.S. and Cuba.

December 21, 2014 Sermon

The first such celebration was the sermon, “Is the Church Born at Christmas?”, just before Christmas Day and just after the December 17th announcement of U.S.-Cuba reconciliation. [1]  Rev. Dr. Timothy Hart-Andersen, our Senior Pastor, said “Christmas is not merely about the birth of Jesus; it’s about the birth in our hearts of a new willingness to be God’s people who seek to restore creation, to work for justice, to strive for peace among the nations of the earth.” He then illustrated this point with the following words about this gift of reconciliation between the two countries:

  • “President Obama’s announcement this week that he’s ending the half-century quarantine of Cuba came as good news and prompted great joy. It’s the culmination of decades of patience and prayer, not to mention politics.”
  • “We should not underestimate the impact of the change; it’s akin to the fall of the Berlin Wall. The entire Western Hemisphere will see us differently. It will take time for Congress to end the embargo, but now it will happen. The Cubans will want to protect and preserve their way of life as much as possible, but now change is underway.”
  • “My phone rang within minutes of the announcement with people rejoicing at the news. The jazz pianist Nachito Herrera called to say he wants to play a gig here to celebrate and thank Westminster for its steadfast support of the Cuban people for so many years. We’re planning an event early in the New Year.”
  • “Presbyterians in Cuba – those who have access to email – began sending messages to us almost immediately, as well. For them it’s the coming dawn after a long night of isolation and hardship. They chose to be the Church when being the Church subjected them to suspicion or worse. They chose to be the body of Christ, the one born outside the circle of acceptability, and it was not without cost.”
  • “They’ve been a gentle, generous witness in the face of decades of hostility and exclusion. They built bridges while others constructed walls. They stayed the course for the sake of the gospel. They’ve been in a fifty-year season of Advent; Bethlehem has finally come into view.”
  • “Christmas came a little early for little town of Guanabacoa, just outside Havana, Cuba. Last month Westminster’s Clean Water team, working with local Presbyterians, installed a purification system there. That small congregation is now the sole source of clean water for the neighborhood. Emmanuel: God in our midst.”
  • Our team “brought back a letter from another church where they had installed a system last year. The was from a neighbor who is not part of the church. ‘Permit me to say,’ he writes, ‘That the water the church is offering the community is life and health for all of us…In this humanitarian act for our people it is clear the church wants to save lives, alleviate pain, and promote health.'”
  • “That’s what true Christmas looks like: good news of great joy to all the people. Sometimes it’s hard to find, but we know it when we see it.”

Concert Celebrating Renewed Friendship with Cuba 

Our other celebration of this great gift of reconciliation is a concert with Cuban-American jazz pianist and Westminster amigo, Nachito Herrera, at Westminster Presbyterian Church, 1200 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis on Sunday, January 11th at 4:00 p.m.

ALL ARE WELCOME! COME AND ENJOY THE MUSIC AND CELEBRATION!

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[1] An audio recording of the sermon and the bulletin for the service are available online.

“The Challenges of The Lord’s Prayer”

Westminster Sanctury
Westminster Presbyterian Church
Rev. Dr. Reinerio Arce
Rev. Dr. Reinerio Arce

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“The Challenges of the Lord’s Prayer” (Matthew 6: 9-13) was the inspiring June 22nd sermon at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church. It was delivered by Rev. Dr. Reinerio Arce, an ordained pastor in the Presbyterian-Reformed Church of Cuba (Iglesia Presbiteriana-Reformada de Cuba) and the Rector of Seminario de Evangelico de Teologia (Evangelical Theological Seminary) in Matanzas, Cuba.

 The Sermon*

“The Lord’s Prayer is something we repeat in all our worship, but when we pray, we repeat the words, but we don’t think about them. It is one of the most challenging things Jesus taught us. It is not a simple prayer. It is a commitment. It is a confession. It is a challenge for all of us and for His disciples at that moment.”

“’Our Father in heaven.’ We use a plural. It is not ‘my’ Father; it is ‘our Father.’ That means we have brothers and sisters. We are acknowledging that the people beside us here in the church are our brothers and sisters. Not only that, all persons in the world are our brothers and sisters. We all are His children. We have to think about and care about all of our brothers and sisters, like the big family of God. It is a commitment to think about, to care for, to be worried about all of our brothers and sisters. This is the first big challenge of this prayer.”

“’Hallowed be your name’ means God is holy for us, is very special for us and has a very important place in our life. We are confessing to God that He is very special for us and has a very important place in our life all the time. Too often we treat God as special only on Christmas and Easter. Do we really practice that? Do we just remember Him only when we have problems? This is very challenging.”

“’Your Kingdom come.’ The prayer goes deeper.We don’t go to the Kingdom. The Kingdom comes to us. It is also a commitment. As Paul says, we have to be collaborators or co-workers with God to make this world what He wants for us. We are committing to help Him, to be His hands and voice to help build this world. We are willing to take all the challenges in life to help Him, to sacrifice for Him.”

“’Your will be done.’ That is difficult. We often ask for what we want, not what God wants. When God does not do what we want, we often say God does not answer our prayer. Maybe His silence is His response to our prayer. We have to be open to the will of God. When you are planning your life for your future, God is laughing at you. He is the one who has the plans for our lives. We have to be willing to accept His plans for us.”

“’Give us this day, our daily bread.’ Again, the plural: ‘our’ daily bread. It does not say give me my daily bread. This means we have to be concerned about bread for all of our brothers and sisters here in Minneapolis and in my country and all over the world. Too many people die of hunger. Many people are needed to work for His kingdom. We need to be concerned about bread for all. We are committing ourselves to work not only for our personal bread, but for bread for all our brothers and sisters.”

“’Forgive us as we forgive others.’ This is also a very difficult challenge. We like to be forgiven, but we do not like to forgive. We thank God for his grace. But Jesus is teaching us to forgive, to understand why our brothers and sisters hurt us. We have to be willing to learn, to be open in love.”

“’Do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil.’ Or ‘Do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one.’ What are the temptations? What are the times of trial? They are in this prayer. We are asking God to liberate us from the temptation of not recognizing our brothers and sisters, of not recognizing that we are all members of the family of God. We are asking God to liberate us from the temptation of forgetting God, of not having God in the first place in our lives. We are asking God to help us from wanting to have our will be first, to help us forgive others. We are praying to God to liberate us from the temptation of indulging our own accumulation and not helping our brothers and sisters.”

“For all of us, when we pray the Lord’s Prayer, let us remember we are committing ourselves in a very strong way to be His disciples.”

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*Transcript of audio recording of sermon.