Reactions to Louise Erdrich’s Novel, “The Night Watchman”

After a rave review of Louise Erdrich’s new novel “The Night Watchman,” from Luis Alberto Urrea,[1] I was interested in learning more about federal efforts in the 1950s to terminate the legal status of Indians and, therefore, bought and started reading the book.[2]

Immediately, however, I had difficulty. The Table of Contents has a list of  over 100 unnumbered separate sections or scenes, not called chapters, with cursory titles whose significance or meaning becomes clear only after you had read the “chapters.” Moreover, these sections or “chapters” were not  placed into separate titled groups to help the reader. Over the entire list is a heading “September 1953” although it becomes apparent that not everything in all of those sections happens that month. In addition, the Reading Guide by the publisher was not very helpful, in my opinion.

Another difficulty was the large number of characters, many of whom are referred to by their Indian names sometimes and by other names on other occasions. And there is no separate listing of the characters with their different names and relationships with one another that would have helped the reader.

Reading some of the first “chapters” revealed that they are mostly about different facets of life on the reservation of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa in North Dakota. This prompted the thought that Erdrich should have broken this book into two books; the first containing these stories and the second the battle over the legislation in Congress in 1953-54. As these reflections suggest, I was interested in the latter, not the former although the previously mentioned Urrea review emphasized the former.

Rather than giving up on the book, however, I re-read Erdrich’s explanations of the book in the “Author’s Note” at the beginning and the “Afterword and Acknowledgements” at the end. I then did some basic research about the federal efforts in 1953-54 to change the legal status of Indian tribes. Next I returned  to the chapter about the congressional hearing about the Concurrent Resolution (# 83 “Termination of Federal Contracts & Promises with Indian Tribes”) and working backwards scanned the previous “chapters” to see whether and how, if at all, this congressional effort had been discussed. I was amazed to discover that there were many such references, often cryptic, usually involving the Night Watchman (Thomas), all the way back to the fourth “chapter”  (“The Watcher”).

This analysis made me remember that in 1953-54 there were no internet and 24-7 television news programs and think that one of the stories the novel apparently was telling was that even though Congress adopted the Resolution on August 1, 1953, it was not until  the next month (September 1953) that limited information about the Resolution was only gradually discovered by the Night Watchman and eventually prompting him and a committee of the Turtle Mountain Band to organize and mount a (successful) campaign against the applicability of the Resolution to their Band. In the meantime, other members of that Band were engaging in normal events in their lives and implicitly demonstrating the Band was not ready for such termination. However, I confess that I was not interested in these tales.

Here then is my examination of Erdrich’s explanations of the novel, my basic research about the termination issue and the references to that issue in the earlier “chapters” of the book, all causing my re-evaluation of the book.

Erdrich’s Explanation of the Novel

Erdrich’s beginning “Author’s Note” tells us that on August 1,1953, the U.S. Congress “announced ” [adopted] House Concurrent Resolution 108, which would “abrogate nation-to-nation treaties, which had been made with American Indian Nations for ‘as long as the grass grows and the rivers flow,’” for “the eventual termination of all tribes, and the immediate termination of five tribes, including the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa.” That Band  then was chaired by Erdrich’s grandfather Patrick Gourneau (the night watchman, Thomas Wazhashk, in the novel), who led the Band’s opposition to such termination. The only other parts of the novel that are factual, Erdrich says, are the Turtle Mountain Jewel Bearing Plant and U.S. Senator Arthur V. Watkins, who was a “relentless pursuer of Native dispossession and the man who interrogated my grandfather.”

Erdrich’s “Afterword and Acknowledgments” says that the mid-1950s were “a time when Jim Crow reigned and American Indians were at the nadir of power—our traditional religions outlawed, our land base continually and illegally seized (even as now) by resource extraction companies, our languages weakened by government boarding schools.[3] Our officials were also answerable to assimilationist government officials: as an example, just look at the ‘advisory committee ‘ in my grandfather’s designation. He and his fellow tribal members had almost no authority. Their purpose was to advise the BIA [Bureau of Indian Affairs], but they seized any opportunity to represent their people. The 1950s were a time when the scraps of land and the rights guaranteed by treaty were easy pickings. With the postwar housing boom, the fabulous Klamath and Menominee forests were especially coveted. It is no coincidence that those tribes were among the first five slated for termination.”

Erdrich also informs the reader that she now possesses her grandfather’s letters from 1953-54 that are “packed with remarkable, funny, stereotype-breaking episodes of reservation life” and reveal a man “of deeply humane intelligence as well as a profoundly religious patriot and family man.” The letters also reveal his “anxieties” as chairman of the advisory committee and his understanding that the Concurrent Resolution was “a new front in the Indian Wars” and “about the worst thing for Indians to come down the pike.” Yet the Turtle Mountain Band “was the first to mount a fierce defense and prevail. They altered the trajectory of termination and challenged the juggernaut of the federal push to sever legal, sacred, and immutable promises made in nation-to-nation treaties.” (Emphasis added.)

“In all, 113 tribal nations suffered the disaster of termination; 1.4 million areas of tribal land was lost. Wealth flowed to private corporations, while many people in terminated tribes died early, in poverty. Not one tribe profited. By the end, 78 tribal nations, including the Menominee. . . regained federal recognition; 10 gained state but not federal recognition; 31 tribes are landless; 24 are considered extinct.” Senator Arthur V. Watkins was indeed a pompous racist.” Erdrich also refers to Ada Deer’s Making a Difference: My Fight for Native Rights and Social Justice (Univocal. Press 2019) as “great reading on this subject.”[4]

Although the Afterword says “the Turtle Mountain Band was the first to mount a fierce defense and prevail,” neither that Afterword nor the novel  itself says when and how the Band prevailed. After the last words of the novel’s last chapter, separated only by three dots, however, Erdrich as the author states, “The Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa was not terminated.” But there were no specifics as to how or when it happened or the title or text of the bill or other measure that made it happen. This important fact, in my opinion, should have been included in the Afterword with more details. Even better, in my opinion, would have been a concluding chapter of the novel that discussed the victory and some kind of celebration by the Band.

“In 1970, Richard Nixon addressed Congress and called for an end to this policy. Five years later, a new era of self-determination for Native people began.”

Research About the Federal Effort To End Status of Indian Tribes[5]

I had not previously known about this congressional action and wanted to know more. Therefore, before reading the novel, I did some basic Internet research and came up with the following.

According to Wikipedia, “On 1 August 1953, the US Congress passed House Concurrent Resolution 108 which called for the immediate termination of the FlatheadKlamathMenomineePotawatomi, and Turtle Mountain Chippewa, as well as all tribes in the states of CaliforniaNew YorkFlorida, and Texas. Termination of a tribe meant the immediate withdrawal of all federal aid, services, and protection, as well as the end of reservations. Though termination legislation was introduced (Legislation 4. S. 2748, H.R. 7316. 83rd Congress), termination of Federal Supervision over Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians), was not implemented. In 1954, at the Congressional hearings for the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, tribal Chairman Patrick Gourneau and a delegation testified at a hearing that the tribe was not financially prepared, had high unemployment and poverty, suffered from low education levels, and termination would be devastating to the tribe. Based on their testimony, the Chippewa were dropped from the tribes to be terminated.” (Emphasis added.)

Wikipedia further states, This Resolution “declared it to be the sense of Congress that it should be policy of the United States to abolish federal supervision over American Indian tribes as soon as possible and to subject the Indians to the same laws, privileges, and responsibilities as other U.S. citizens. This includes an end to reservations and tribal sovereignty, integrating Native Americans into mainstream American society.”

Wikipedia also says, “The consequence of HCR-108 was the beginning of an era of termination policy, in which the federally recognized status of many Native American tribes was revoked, ending the government responsibility to tribe members and withdrawing legal protection to territory, culture, and religion.”

Finally, Wikipedia states, “HCR-108 was passed concurrently with Public Law 280, which granted state jurisdiction over civil and criminal offenses committed by or upon Native Americans in Indian Territory in the states of CaliforniaMinnesotaWisconsinOregon, and Nebraska, all of which have large Indigenous populations.” [6]

The New York Times, which is online searchable for 1953-54 (and earlier), revealed the following additional tidbits of information relevant to the novel: [7]

  • The “Bulova Watch Company and the Simpson Electric Company had jointly established a modern industrial plant at Rolla, N.D,.near the Turtle Mountain Reservation that successfully used the Indians’ “manual dexterity and adaptability” developed through beadwork to produce jewels for watches. However, Peru Farver, Superintendent of the Reservation, believes “every effort [should be] made to move as many Indians as possible toward the industrial centers, rather than attempt to bring industry to them.” Farver also “thinks too much money has been channeled into guardianship of these Indians who have a high percentage of white blood and . . . are well able to look out for themselves.” More help, he thought, should be provided to the estimated 250 older “full-blooded” Indians of the 4,500 members of the Turtle Mountain tribe. (Emphasis added.) (These statements by Farver, perhaps in a written report to the Congress, is not mentioned in the novel, but the reference to Indians with white blood suggests the basis for the questioning at the March 1, 1954 congressional hearing of the Turtle Mountain people about how much white blood they had, which is mentioned in the novel.)
  • In September 1953, at the direction of President Eisenhower, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, Glenn L. Emmons, spent the following two months visiting 10 Indian tribes to obtain their views on the proposed termination and discovered that some bitterly opposed the proposal, some favored it and yet others were divided. (Presumably this included a visit to the Turtle Mountain Band, but there was no mention of this in the novel.)
  • On January 30, 1954, it was announced that joint sessions of the Senate and House Indian Affairs Subcommittees would  hold joint sessions during the last of February and the first half of March to consider 10 Administration bills to end federal administration  of roughly 66,000 Indians. The hearing about the bill concerning the Turtle Mountain Chippewas of North Dakota would be held on March 1. According to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, Glenn L. Emmons, these bills “resulted from ‘a rising tide of sentiment that the Indians of the United States are entitled to exactly the same rights and privileges as the rest of us’ in general public opinion as well as in Congress.” Yet the Commissioner also said that it was “impossible to apply the same yardstick “ to all the tribes.
  • On March 25, 1954, the Association of American Indian Affairs warned that “ homeless poverty” was in store for thousands of American Indians if these bills were enacted. The bills “would destroy tribal governments and nullify rights assured by treaties” and are “ill-advised, untimely and off-target.” They are “no answer . . . to the poverty of the Turtle Mountain Chippewas of North Dakota.” (No mention of this was made in the novel.)
  • These charges were repeated at the Association’s annual meeting on May 5, 1954. Its president, Oliver LaFarge, said the tribes picked for “termination” included some of the most advanced and some of the most backward. “Even if the tribes concerned were ready for such deprivations, as most of them are not, the bills as drawn up are ill-conceived and objectionable. Commissioner Emmons, who was present, said that education, health and economic opportunity were his primary goals and was trying to persuade legislators “to set termination daters far enough in advance so the tribes would be ready to go on their own.” (No mention of this was made in the novel.)

Another source, “The History and Culture of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa,” says the 1953 congressional decision to terminate the Turtle Mountain Band was based upon reports by  the BIA Superintendent [Peru Farver] that the Tribe members “have always been resourceful.” In 1954, however, “the Turtle Mountain Band raised funds locally to send a delegation to Washington. Tribal Chairperson Patrick Gourneau testified that the Turtle Mountain people were unprepared economically, still living in poverty, and that such a move [termination] would be devastating. Following the testimony of the Turtle Mountain group, the subcommittee decided that the Turtle Mountain Band was not economically self-sufficient, and was dropped from the list.” This decision recognized “that the Chippewa were still poverty-stricken, occupied an extremely limited land base, suffered from low education levels and high unemployment.”[8] (No mention of these reports by the Superintendent was made in the novel.)

The major congressional proponent of the termination of special status for the Indians was U.S. Senator (Rep., UT) Arthur Vivian Watkins (1888-1973). “He equated such action with the Emancipation Proclamation that freed slaves during the Civil War and asserted that it was backed by the following tenets: (1)To eliminate laws that treated Native Americans as different from other Americans; (2) To dismantle the BIA giving responsibility for their affairs to the tribes themselves, or if necessary transferring some of its duties to other federal and state agencies; (3) To end federal supervision of individual Indians; and (4) To cease federal guardianship responsibilities for Indian tribes and their resources.”

By the time Watkins lost his bid for re-election in 1958, these Indian policies he had pursued “ were proving to have disastrous effects on Native peoples. Tribes were cut off from services for education, health care, housing, sanitation and utility sources, and related resources. Termination directly caused decay within the tribe including poverty, alcoholism, high suicide rates, low educational achievement, disintegration of the family, poor housing, high dropout rates from school, disproportionate numbers in penal institutions, increased infant mortality, decreased life expectancy, and loss of identity. In addition, the era of conformity was moving into the Sixties and its calls for social change and a growing sensitivity to minority rights.”[9]

In 1960 President Dwight D. Eisenhower appointed Watkins to the Indians Claims Commission, becoming its chairman and subsequently its chief commissioner.

All of this research made me want to search for, and examine, the actual congressional materials from 1953-54 about the “termination” campaign, but such an effort is impossible now due to the “shelter in place” pandemic policies in the U.S.

The Novel’s Early References to the Termination Issue

My previously mentioned analysis of the novel started with the “chapter” that clearly focuses on the Concurrent Resolution (# 83 “Termination of Federal Contracts and Promises Made with Certain Tribes of Indians”) and then skimming prior chapters to see if they mentioned the Resolution in any way. I was surprised to discover that there were many such references, often cryptic, usually involving the Night Watchman (Thomas) all the way back to the fourth “chapter”   (“The Watcher”). Here are those references:

“Chapter”

Number

“Chapter”

Title

Reference
      4 The Watcher !. Thomas wrote to North Dakota Republican Senator Milton R. Young and to newspaper columnist Bob Cory requesting meetings. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milton_Young

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milton_Young

2. At the Jewel Bearing Plant, Thomas read newsletters and other tribes’ newsletters about the passage of “a bill that indicated Congress was fed up with Indians. Again. No hint of strategy. Or panic, but that would come.”

     5 Three Men Moses Montrose (tribal judge) gives Thomas a copy of the bill “that was supposed to emancipate Indians,” but Moses said, “I read it all. They mean to drop us.” (Thomas had not yet seen the bill.).Eddy Mink asked Thomas if he knew about the emancipation. Thomas said yes, but it wasn’t emancipation. Eddy thought it was good idea because then he could sell his 20 acres. He did not care that he would not have a school, clinic, farm agent or government commodities. Thomas:, what about old people who want to keep their land?
     9 Juggie’s Boy Thomas told a Tribesman, “I’m fighting something out of Washington. I don’t know what. But it’s bad.”
    11    Pukkons Thomas tells Biboon (Thomas’ father) government has new plan to take away treaties for all Indians. Dad: Get together with other tribes to oppose.
    13    The Iron Thomas had been trying to understand the papers Moses gave him, to define the unbelievable intent couched in innocuous dry language. The intent was to unmake, unrecognize, erase Indians –all of us invisible and as if we never were here. When the government remembered the Indians, they always tried to solve Indians by getting rid of us. He had no word from the government. He read about it in Minot Daily News. He finally had confirmation that the Turtle Mountain Band was targeted by the U.S. Congress for emancipation. Freed from being Indians, from their land, the treaties that were promised to last forever. The tribal chairman job had turned into a struggle to remain a problem.
    16        A  Bill The Bill: “To provide for the termination of Federal supervision over the property of the Turtle Mountain Band . . in the states of North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana, and the individual members thereof; for assistance in the orderly relocation of such Indians in areas of greater economic opportunity.” Its author said it was about emancipation, freedom, equality, success. Real purpose was extermination. Another tribal chairman said the author of bill was Arthur V. Watkins, “the most powerful man in Congress” and a Mormon, who wants to change Indians to white.
     17    Who? Thomas thought Indians will be destroyed by “a collection of tedious words.”
     19   2d Who? Thomas: The termination bill. Watkins believed it was for the best. Open the gates of heaven. How could Indians hold themselves apart?
    23 The Old                    Muskrat Biboon (father) tells Thomas: Band got land by forming a delegation and submitting petition. Thomas to take idea to council. Others need to understand contributions of Indians. We are just getting started on our own feet. Have no money for hospitals. Advisory committee met. Thomas suggested petition with signatures and call it The Termination bill.
    26 Louis Pipestone Louis getting signatures on petition.
    30 The Average Woman & Empty Tank Louis getting signatures on petition. Thomas has Juggie preparing tribal newsletter.
    31 The Missionaries Two young Mormons ask Thomas & Noko if they wonder why Indians as ancient people are on this land. Do you want to read Book of Mormon? Thomas asks about Watkins and is told he wrote book about shepherd who learns he is part of secret society. “It was revealed to Joseph Smith that Indians are people of the house of Jacob & children of Lehi.” They gave him a book.
     32 The Beginning Thomas says we need Biboon for Washington fight.
     34 Wild Rooster Driving to Fargo for meeting with BIA to register opposition to Termination Bill.
     35 Arthur V. Watkins Born in 1886 when UT was still territory. Baptized by father (same name), who wrote to Joseph Smith, “We have filed on land on the reservation for us a home” when Ute people & reservation were relieved of 13.8 million acres of land guaranteed by executive orders of Presidents Lincoln & Arthur. Smith & early Mormons tried to murder all Indians in the way. The son was elected to state office & later U.S. Senate. In termination hearing,  he was said to “convey an air of rectitude that was almost terrifying” and “howled in his reedy voice.” He “decided to use the power of his office to finish what the prophet started. He didn’t have to get his hands bloody.”
      38 Metal Blinds 10/19/53 Fargo meeting with BIA officials . Thomas, 45 tribe members & their attorney, John Hail. Thomas: “We are here to discuss the purpose of Concurrent Resolution, which will terminate all federal recognition and support of the [BIA] Turtle Mountain Agency.” The BIA attorney John Cooper read each section of the law. “Disposition of federally owned property to such Indians may be discontinued as no longer necessary—cause such lands to be sold and deposit the proceeds of sale—trust relationship to the affairs of the Band and its members has terminated.” Indians attempting to understand white man reading from sheaf of papers. Thomas asked for comments from other Indians. BIA: it means no “more Indian service for the Turtle Mountains. You will now be equal with whites as far as the government is concerned.” Joyce: This is not equal. Our rights go down. Government is backing out of its agreement. You left us on land too small in size and most cannot be farmed. Government should give more land back, not kick us off the leftovers.” BIA: “you will be relocated to areas of equal opportunity.” Juggie Blue: “We don’t want to leave our homes. We are poor, but even poor people can love their land.. You do not need money to love your home.” Cooper re-read the bill. All 47 Indians voted against the bill. Thomas is told that Millie did research about the Band, maybe that would be useful.
      39    X =? Barnes, the white math teacher & boxing coach talks to Thomas about the Fargo meeting. Barnes thought the bill was good idea; to be regular Americans. Thomas: we cannot be regular Americans. Got right to vote in 1924. We pay taxes, but not on our land.
     41 The Star Powwow Thomas writes to Senator Milton Young & 2 congressmen. Setting up meeting with American Legion to be against bill.
     45 Hay Stack Thomas asks Barnes to set up boxing card to raise money for delegation to go to Washington. We will have a tribal scholar.
     48 Letter to U MN Thomas writes to Millie Cloud at UM for assistance against bill.
     49 The Chippewa Scholar Millie Cloud (the tribal scholar) reads Thomas’ letter at UM.
     53 Battler Royale Thomas worries about testifying in Congress. Reads Mormon books.
     56 The Promotion Thomas explains Bill to Patrice’s Mother.
     59 Good News, Bad News Good news: poor enough to keep & improve status quo; county & state do not want us; sheltered by roofs; we have schools, cure found for TB; we have this report.

Bad news: we are poor; they don’t like us; 97% of roofs by tar paper; many illiterate; many parents died & kids grew up in boarding schools; we have this report.

     64 Two Months Hearing in 2 months (March). Advisory Comm. had to prepare to save tribe. Thomas is scared.
     70 Runner Thomas about to get a county commissioner to write letter of objection. Not sufficient tax base on reservation to care for roads and schools.
    72 The Spirit Duplicator Millie’s report about conditions of tribe printed. To be sent to local & state officials, newspapers, radio announcers. Juggie says erroneous past count of Indians caused reduction of townships form 20 to 2. Mistaken census survey had convinced Congress that Turtle Mountain was prosperous.
     73 Prayer for 1954 Thomas writes to ND’s US Senators Milton R. Young and William “Wild Bill” Langer, the latter favoring termination.
     77 The Lamanites Thomas reads Book of Mormon. Studies text of bill. Writes to Joe Garry, president of National Congress of American Indians for more info on Watkins, who had refused to appropriate funds to relieve Navajo. Book of Mormon explained why he wanted Indians to disappear. Mormons believed they had been divinely gifted of all the land they wanted; Indians were not white and thus had no right to live on the land. Treaties meant nothing.
     79 The Committee Committee was Thomas, Juggie & Millie. Millie worried she could not testify. Moses and Louis don’t want to go. Louis got county & State officials to sign letter of support.
    81 The Journey Train to Mpls/Washington. Thomas read his testimony.
    83 Termination of Federal Contracts & Promises with Indian Tribes March 2-3, 1954 Joint Hearing, Subcommittees of US Congress. Senator Young: ND could not take over; government should fund job-training program on reservation. Thomas: Reservation could not sustain itself without support. Watkins: Indians did not want to farm & leased land to whites. Thomas, I farm. Relocation is ill timed with many difficulties. Watkins: You have to solve most of your problems. Government can’t legislate morality, character or fine virtues. Thomas: I farm & is guard at Plant. Thomas: women at Plant are paid 75 to 90 cents/hr; I take home $38.25/week.  Millie describes her report. Thomas went to Watkins office and thanked him.
     84 The Way Home Thomas recalls every Indian who testified was asked about their degree of Indian blood, and no one knew.[10] (For this reader, these questions were prompted by the previously mentioned prior year’s reports by the Reservation Superintendent that mentioned many of the Turtle Mountain Band had white blood and thus were ready for independence, but this was not mentioned by the novel.) Patrice: Watkins was supercilious with coin-purse mouth, full of sanctimony.
Untitled P.S. by Erdrich Turtle Mountain Band was not terminated.  (However, there was no citation to the name of the bill or other measure that did this or the date on which it happened or the debate (if any) and vote on the measure.)

Conclusion

I am glad that my initial frustrations with this novel did not cause me to abandon the book. The additional efforts at understanding the book and more importantly the congressional efforts to breach U.S. treaties with tribes were rewarded. I also must confess that the stories about the lives of the Indians should make the reader appreciate the courage and imitative of Thomas and the others who went to Washington, D.C. to testify before a congressional committee. I hope this post will encourage others to read the novel and learn about this lamentable facet of U.S. history.[11]

This post has focused on my learning about important aspects of U.S. Native American history after I had retired from practicing law in 2001. I also had learned about another aspect of Native American culture in 1978-79 when as the attorney for the Minneapolis School Board, I sought (unsuccessfully) to persuade the U.S. District Court in Minneapolis to modify its school desegregation order to allow the School Board to continue to allow Native American children to attend a new school close to their homes in the Southeast part of the city. That effort also involved the only appeal (also unsuccessful) by the School Board in the many years of that desegregation case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit and then to the U.S. Supreme Court.[12]

====================================

[1] Urrea, a Mexican-American, is a distinguished Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Illinois-Chicago and a writer of fiction and nonfiction. I have enjoyed his novels, Into the Beautiful North and The House of Broken Angels. He also is an entertaining speaker as evidenced by his lecture—”Universal Border: From Tijuana to the World”—at the 2013 San Miguel Writers’ Conference, which I attended. Another positive review of “The Night Watchman” appeared in the Wall Street Journal: Winkler, Louise Erdrich Retells the Story of Her Grandfather and the Chippewa, W.S.J. (Feb. 28, 2020).

[2] The Night Watchman, HarperCollins Publishers (2020); Reading Guide, The Night Watchman; Urrea, Fighting to Save Their Tribe From Termination, N.Y. Times Book Review (Mar. 29, 2020).

[3] Another Erdrich novel, LaRose, involves adults who were “traumatized from their compulsory time spent as students at Indian boarding schools, where students were stripped of their cultural history and forced to assimilate into Western traditions.”   (HaperColllins Publishers, La Rose (2016); LaRose (novel), Wikipedia;.Broida, ‘LaRose’ by Louise Erdrich: brilliant, subtle exploration of tragic histories, Philadelphia Inquirer (May 20, 2016). It also should be mentioned that there is a moving permanent exhibit, “Away from Home: American Indian Boarding School Stories” at Phoenix’s Heard Museum, which I have visited and highly recommend.

[4] Because of Erdrich’s reference to this book, I bought it and discovered that it said nothing about the Turtle Mountain Band’s struggle in 1953-54 against termination. Ada Deer, who was a member of the Menominee Tribe in Wisconsin, instead has a long discussion of that tribe’s struggle over termination. Subsequently in 1993-97 she was head of the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs.

[5] Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, Wikipedia; Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa IndiansTurtle Mountain Chippewa Heritage CenterHouse concurrent resolutions 108, Wikipedia; Arthur Vivian Watkins, Wikipedia. In order to flesh out this research would require at least examining the Congressional Record for the 83rd Congress ((1/3/53—1/3/55), which is impossible during the COVID-19 pandemic. I would appreciate suggestions on other potential sources on this specific topic.

[6] The resulting complex legal problem of determining jurisdiction (federal or Native American courts) was the subject of another Erdrich novel, The Round House, which was awarded the 2012 National Book Prize for fiction. It concerns the violent rape of a Native woman by a white man on the border of an Indian reservation in North Dakota in 1988. (See The Round House (novel), Wikipedia; ; Personal reflections on the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862, dwkcommentariese.com Dec. 10, 2012);  Jurisdictional Black Hole for Certain Violent Crimes by Non-Indian Men Against Indian Women on Indian Reservations, dwkcommentaries.com (Feb. 13, 2013).

[7] Forest to Factory Easy for Indians, N.Y. Times (Aug. 5, 1953); Congress To Get Ten Indian Bills, N.Y. Times (Jan. 31, 1954); Indian Bills Opposed, N.Y. Times (Mar. 26, 1954); Indian Trust Bill Put Under Attack, N.Y. Times (May 6, 1954).

[8] N.D. Dep’t Public Instruction, The History and Culture of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa at 20-21 (1997).

[9] On August 5, 1954, Vice President Ricard Nixon appointed Senator Watkins to chair a bi-partisan committee to review and determine whether censure of Senator Joseph McCarthy was warranted. Its work led to the Senate’s voting, 67 to 22, to condemn McCarthy for (a) his refusal to appear before a Senate subcommittee to answer questions about his personal character and obstruction of its work and (b) his charging three members of a committee of “deliberate deception” and “fraud” and stating to the press that a Senate special session was a “lynch-party.” This blog has published many posts about the preceding Army-McCarty Hearings of 1954 and the role played by Joseph Welch, the attorney for the Army in those hearings. (See posts listed in the “U.S. History, 1918-2017” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: United States( HISTORY).

[10] These questions about each Indian’s white-blood were undoubtedly prompted by the previously mentioned comments by Peru Farver, Superintendent of the Turtle Mountain Reservation, about “too much money having been channeled into guardianship of these Indians who have a high percentage of white blood and . . . are well able to look out for themselves.”

[11] Yet another horrible part of the history of U.S. treatment of Native Americans was the 1862 U.S.-Dakota War, Minnesota Governor Alexander Ramsey’s contemporaneous public demand that “The Sioux Indians of Minnesota must be exterminated or driven forever beyond the borders of the State;“ and the December 26, 1862, execution by hanging of 38 Dakota men in the town square of Mankato, Minnesota, which is still the largest mass execution on U.S. soil in U.S. history. (Emphasis added.)  (See posts listed in the “U.S. History, 1776-1917” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: United States (HISTORY).

[12] See these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: Minneapolis Public School Desegregation/Integration Litigation, 1978-1983 (Sept. 9, 2012); The Impact of the Minneapolis Public Schools Desegregation/Integration Litigation on Native American Children (Sept. 11. 2012); Comment, Larry Leventhal’s Participation in Minneapolis Public Schools’ Desegregation Case (Jan. 19, 2017).

 

 

President Eisenhower and U.S. Covert Plan Against Cuba

The U.S. State Department’s Office of the Historian has published two important and largely declassified documents relating to the initial U.S. (Eisenhower Administration) response in 1959-60  to the Cuban Revolution. Here are summaries of those documents.

“A Program of Covert Action Against the Castro Regime”[1]      .

The author of this document, dated March 16, 1960, was the 5412 Committee, which was “the name given to the group assigned responsibility for the planning and conduct of covert operations” and whose “working methods and the people who compose it should be protected.” After its name apparently was published in a 1964 book, The Invisible Government by David Wise and Thomas B. Ross, the name was changed to an “utterly drab and innocuous” name, the 303 Committee, without altering its “composition, function or responsibility.”[2]

The “Objective” of this proposed covert program was “to bring about the replacement of the Castro regime with one more devoted to the true interests of the Cuban people and more acceptable to the U.S. in such a manner as to avoid any appearance of U.S. intervention. Essentially the method of accomplishing this end will be to induce, support, and so far as possible direct action, both inside and outside of Cuba, by selected groups of Cubans of a sort that they might be expected to and could undertake on their own initiative.”

This proposed program to be undertaken by the CIA had the following four “major courses of action:”

  • The “creation of a responsible, appealing and unified Cuban opposition to the Castroregime, publicly declared as such and therefore necessarily located outside of Cuba.”
  • “So that the opposition may be heard and Castro’s basis of popular support undermined, it is necessary to develop the means for mass communication to the Cuban people so that a powerful propaganda offensive can be initiated in the name of the declared opposition. The major [proposed] tool . . . is a long and short wave gray broadcasting facility. . . “ [3]
  • “Work is already in progress in the creation of a covert intelligence and action organization within Cuba which will be responsive to the orders and directions of the ‘exile’ opposition.”
  • ”Preparations have already been made for the development of an adequate paramilitary force outside of Cuba, together with mechanisms for the necessary logistic support of covert military operations on the Island. . . . [This force will] be available for immediate deployment into Cuba to organize, train and lead resistance forces recruited there both before and after the establishment of one or more active centers of resistance. . . . [A] limited air capability for resupply and for infiltration and exfiltration already exists under CIA”[4]

President Eisenhower’s Approval of the Program of Covert Action[5]

CIA Director Allen Dulles presented a summary of the above Plan for Covert Action at a White House meeting on March 17, 1960.

In response, President Eisenhower said, “he knows of no better plan for dealing with this situation. The great problem is leakage and breach of security. Everyone must be prepared to swear that he has not heard of it. He said we should limit American contacts with the groups involved to two or three people, getting Cubans to do most of what must be done.  . . . [The President] understood that the effort will be to undermine Castro’s position and prestige.”

The President  “told Mr. Dulles . . . [to] go ahead with the plan and the operations.” The President, however, added, “that, as he saw it, Castro the Revolutionary had gained great prestige in Latin America. Castro the Politician running the government is now losing it rapidly. However, governments elsewhere cannot oppose him too strongly since they are shaky with respect to the potentials of action by the mobs within their own countries to whom Castro’s brand of demagoguery appeals. Essentially the job is to get the OAS to support us.”

Secretary of the Treasury, Robert Anderson,  said “Castro is trying to inflame Cuban opinion and create an incident against the Americans which would touch off attacks on Americans in Cuba which might result in the death of thousands. The President stated that once . . . [the paramilitary invasion] gets started, there will be great danger to the Americans in Cuba.” Anderson added, “that if Cuba is to seize the Nicaro plant [6]  or other U.S. Government property, we could not stand on the sidelines. In response to a question by the President, it was brought out that there is no treaty on this, and that Cuba of course has the right to confiscate the plant so long as compensation is given.” (Emphasis added.)[7]

In addition to those already mentioned,  this meeting was attended by the following officials: Vice President Richard Nixon; Secretary of State Christian Herter; John N. Irwin, II, Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs; Admiral Arleigh Burke, Chief of Naval Operations; General Goodpastor, White House Staff Secretary;  Major John Eisenhower, Assistant Staff Secretary to the President (and the President’s son); Colonel J.C. King, Chief of CIA’s Western Hemisphere Division; Livingston T. Merchant, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs; Mr. Roy R. Rubottom, Jr., Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs; Richard Bissel, CIA Deputy Director for Plans; and Gordon Gray, U.S. National Security Advisor.

Other Eisenhower Administration Documents About Cuba[8]

The above documents are contained in a collection of 629 documents published in 1991 by the State Department’s Office of the Historian. It is available online and contains the following parts:

  1. U.S. interest in the Cuban revolution, the overthrow of the Batista government, and the consolidation of power by Fidel Castro, reevaluation by the U.S. Government of the policy of shipping arms to the Batista government, January-June 1958 (Documents 1-68).
  2. Kidnapping of U.S. citizens by Cuban rebels, June-July 1958 (Documents 69-106).
  3. Continuing violence during the Cuban electoral campaign and reappraisal by the U.S. Government of its support of the Batista government (Documents 107-151).
  4. Fall of the Batista government, November-December 1958 (Documents 152-206).
  5. Fidel Castro’s assumption of power, January-April 1959 (Documents 207-272).
  6. Visit to the United States by Prime Minister Castro, April 1959 (Documents 273-305).
  7. The Cuban Government’s promulgation of an agrarian reform law, and the question of asylum for Batista, May-October 1959 (Documents 306-369).
  8. Adoption by the Department of State and the Eisenhower administration of a revised policy toward Cuba, October 1959-January 1960 (Documents 370-423).
  9. Recall of Ambassador Bonsal and formulation within the U.S. Government of a program of covert action against the Castro government, January -April 1960 (Documents 424-498).
  10. Inauguration by the U.S. Government of a policy to weaken the Cuban economy, April-July 1960 (Documents 499-548).
  11. Response by the United States and the Organization of American States to signs of increased Soviet support for the Cuban government, July-September 1960 (Documents 549-580).
  12. Consideration by the U.S. Government of possible severance of diplomatic relations with Cuba, September-December 1960 (Documents 581-629).

Conclusion

A reasonably informed student of U.S. history already would know that in the early months of the Kennedy Presidency in 1961 the U.S. supported an unsuccessful paramilitary invasion of Cuba’s Bay of Pigs (Playa Girón) and that this operation had been planned in the later days of the Eisenhower Administration. Thus, the above documents from the earlier administration merely provide details on its planning for this invasion.  In addition, these two documents indicate that the earlier administration  was actively engaged in trying to create, on the island and elsewhere, a Cuban opposition to Castro and a covert intelligence and action organization on the island; as well as a radio propaganda program whose signals would be sent to the island. These facets also are not surprising given what we already knew about this period.

This understanding of the historical context also may partially explain the cursory treatment of these two documents in an excellent and well documented book about the U.S. and Cuba by U.S. experts on Cuba, William M. Leo Grande and Peter Kornbluh: Back Channel to Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations Between Washington and Havana (University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 2014). However, as the book’s title suggests, its focus is on negotiations between the two countries, not on what was happening that led to negotiations. In any event, here is what is what this book said about these two documents:

  • “On March 17,. . . Eisenhower signed a top secret authorization for ‘A Program of Covert Action Against the Castro Regime,’ giving the CIA the green light to begin covert paramilitary operations to roll back the Cuban revolution.” This was the same day that Cuban President Osvaldo Dorticós, rejected “ a feeler” put forward by a legal advisor to the U.S. Embassy in Havana, Mario Lazo, to Cuban Treasury Minister López-Fresque that the U.S. “was prepared to work aggressively to halt that exile flights from Florida that were burning Cuban sugar cane fields . . . if the Cubans , in return, would be prepared to engage in serious talks on a broad range of issues.” (Pp. 33-34)
  • The Covert Plan of March 1960, as quoted above, called for the development of a TOP SECRET paramilitary force to invade Cuba which in fact happened in April 1961 in the early days of the John F. Kennedy Administration. The LeoGrande and Kornbluh book merely states the following: “as president-elect, [Kennedy] . . . was briefed by the CIA on Eisenhower’s covert paramilitary project to invade Cuba with an exile brigade. As president, [Kennedy] . . . ignored the entreaties of several Latin American governments that, at Cuba’s behest, tried to intercede at the last minute to broker a U.S.-Cuba dialogue before the Bay of Pigs invasion. Instead, Kennedy gave the green light, sending a CIA-led paramilitary exile force at Playa Girón [Bay of Pigs] on April 17, 1961, in the hope that the invaders would somehow spark a popular uprising. They didn’t, and within seventy-two hours, the brigade’s beachhead had collapsed; more than twelve hundred of them were taken prisoner.” (Pp. 42-43.)[9]

These two documents also recently were referred or alluded to by a Cuban source.[10]  However, these references were merely jumping-off places for a diatribe against the U.S. Some of these other points may be justified, but they would need to be analyzed, carefully and dispassionately. Moreover, this Cuban source ignores the progress that was made in addressing these and other issues in the two countries’ bilateral meetings in 2015-16.[11]

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[1]  Paper Prepared by the 5412 Committee (Mar. 16, 1960) (# 481).

[2] National Security Action Memorandum No. 303 (June 2, 1964).

[3] In 1983 President Ronald Reagan established Radio Marti, whose mission was to hasten the fall of Cuban President Fidel Castro and communism on the island. (Radio Marti, Wikipedia.)

[4] This is an obvious reference to the paramilitary force that invaded Cuba’s Bay of Pigs in April 1961 during the Kennedy Administration.

[5] Memorandum of a Conference With the President, White House, Washington, March 17, 1960, 2:30 p.m.

[6]  During WWII, the U.S. government built a nickel processing plant near Nicaro, Cuba under a U.S.-Cuba treaty that exempted the plant from Cuban taxes. The plant was closed after the war in 1947, but reopened with improvements in 1952. After the Cuban Revolution took control of the country’s government in January 1959, Cuba that same year adopted a new mining law imposing sharply increased taxes on mining and export of minerals. In protest the U.S. stopped shipments from the plant in December 1959. Thereafter Fidel and Che made frequent verbal attacks on the U.S. over the plant; and in October 1960 Cuba nationalized the plant. (Bart, Flow of Nickel from Cuba Halts, N.Y. Times (Dec. 18, 1959); U.S. Nickel Plant Hindered in Cuba, N.Y. Times (Mar. 25, 1960); NICARO Talks to Reopen, N.Y. Times (Aug. 2, 1960); Soviet Mission in Cuba: Group Plans Help to Reopen U.S. Nicaro Nickel Plant, N.Y.Times (Nov. 30, 1960); Veloz Placencia, Che’s passion for the nickel industry, Granma (Aug. 23, 2017).

[7] This admission by a top U.S. government official in 1960 that “Cuba of course has the right to confiscate the plant so long as compensation is given” should not be forgotten in the ongoing dispute over Cuban compensation for its expropriation of U.S.-owned property in Cuba and the U.S. recent steps to allow enforcement of Title III of the Helms-Burton Act. It also must be remembered that Cuba over the years repeatedly has admitted  that it has such an obligation under international law, that Cuba has resolved similar claims by other countries and that in various U.S.-Cuba discussions in 2015-16 the two parties exchanged information about compensation for such properties. Finally it cannot be forgotten that Cuba does not have the financial resources to make such compensation in full.

[8] In more than 450 individual volumes the U.S. State Department’s Office of the Historian has published Foreign Relations of the United States series to offer the official documentary historical record of major U.S. foreign policy decisions and significant diplomatic activity.”

[9] In a footnote LeoGrande and Kornbluh say the best account of the Bay of Pigs disaster is Peter Wyden, Bay of Pigs: The Untold Story (New York, Simon & Schuster, 1979). See also Kornbluh, Bay of Pigs Declassified: The Secret CIA Report on the Invasion of Cuba (National Security Archive Documents)(New York, The New Press, 1998)

[10] Escuela, Cuba denounces war on our people, Granma (May 22, 2019).

[11] See posts listed in the “U.S. (Obama) & Cuba (Normalization), 2015” and “U.S. (Obama) & Cuba (Normalization), 2016” sections of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries–Topical: CUBA.

 

 

Beschloss Discusses “Presidents of War” at Westminster Town Hall Forum

On November 13, only one week after the U.S. mid-term election, Michael Beschloss appeared before an overflow crowd at Minneapolis’ Westminster Town Hall Forum to discuss his  recent book, Presidents of War: 1807 to Modern Times.[1] Below are photographs of Beschloss and the Westminster Sanctuary before the arrival of the crowd.

 

 

 

 

The Presidents of War

He made the following brief comments about the eight presidents of war who are covered in his book.

President James Madison and the War of 1812. This was the first and the most unpopular war in U.S. history, climaxed by the British burning of the White House and Madison’s  escaping to Virginia in August 1814. (The book covers this in the Prologue and Chapters Two and Three.)

President James Polk and the Mexican-American War (1846 1848). This war was started by the U.S. on the U.S.false assertion that Mexico had ambushed and killed an American soldier in the new state of Texas. The U.S. won the war and acquired more than 500,000 square miles of Mexican territory extending  west of the Rio Grande River to the Pacific Ocean.(This is covered in Chapters Four and Five.)

President Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War (1860-1865). Lincoln was the best president of war. Initially he was not a crusader and instead an enforcer of the  constitutional ban on secession, which was not a popular message. Later with the Gettysburg Address and the Second Inaugural Address he made it a moral crusade against slavery and the people began to follow Lincoln. (This is covered in Chapters Six and Seven.)

President William McKinley and the Spanish-American War, 1898.  This was another war started on a false assertion: Spain had blown up the USS Maine in the Havana Harbor, when in fact it was caused by an exploding boiler in the ship. This war resulted in the U.S.’ acquiring the Philippines, Puerto Rico and Guam from Spain and de facto control of Cuba. (This is covered in Chapters Eight and Nine of the book.)[2]

President Woodrow Wilson and World War I, 1917-1918. In his re-election campaign of 1916, Wilson’s slogan was “He kept us out of war,” but in April 2017 he had Congress declare war after German attacks on U.S. ships. In his well-meaning campaign for the League of Nations, Wilson made a lot of mistakes. (This is covered in Chapters Ten and Eleven.)

President Franklin D. Roosevelt and World War II, 1941-1945. Before the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, FDR gave very few speeches about the war in Europe, and there was strong U.S. public opinion against entering the war on the belief that World War I had been a mistake. Immediately after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, however, the Congress declared war against Japan, the last time the U.S. declared war under the Constitution. FDR learned from the war with the exception of treatment of Japanese-Americans.  (this is covered in Chapters Twelve and Thirteen.)

President Truman and  the Korean War (Conflict), 1950-1953.  According to Beschloss, Truman had read and written some history and had said one “could not be president without knowing history” and “every leader must be a reader.”(This is covered in Chapters Fourteen and Fifteen.)

President Lyndon Johnson and the Vietnam War, 1963-1969. This is another war started on a false U.S. assertion: the Vietnamese had attacked a U.S. ship in the Gulf of Tonkin, which lead to a congressional resolution supporting military action. The White House audio tapes of LBJ’s conversations revealed important information: (a) Senator Richard Russell urged LBJ to get out of the war; (b) Secretary of Defense McNamara urged LBJ to get involved, thereby disproving McNamara’s later denials of same; (c) LBJ came to believe that this was a war the U.S. could not win and could not lose; and (d) LBJ rejected the advice of General Westmoreland to use nuclear weapons in the war.  (This was discussed in Chapters Sixteen and Seventeen of the book.)

Commonalities of the Presidents of War

Beschloss identified two common characterizes of these presidents.

First, they all became more religious during their wars. Lincoln before the Civil War was a sceptic or agnostic, but during the war regularly read the Bible and talked about wars being “oceans of blood” that prompted his  seeking biblical guidance for sending young men to their death. Lyndon Johnson before the war was not a regular church-goer, but during the war, his daughter Lucy Baines Johnson Turpin, who had become a Roman Catholic, regularly and confidentially took LBJ to mass , and Lady Bird Johnson was heard to say he might convert to Catholicism.

Second, they all were married to strong women who gave good advice. In 1942 FDR  was considering internment of Japanese-Americans, and Eleanor warned him strongly not to do so. The subsequent internment caused a major rupture in their marriage.

In response to a question about whether any of the war presidents had military experience, he did not state the obvious: they had not except for Truman in World War I. Instead, he said that President Eisenhower, who is not covered in the book even though he presided over the end of the Korean War, had the “perfect” military experience resulting from his military education and training and command responsibility during World War Ii that provided him with the knowledge of the ends and means, the costs and the unpredictability of war.[3]

 The President of Peace

In response to a question, Beschloss identified only one president of peace:. President Thomas Jefferson in 1807 resisted public pressure to go to war with Great Britain over an attack by its ship (The Leopard) against a U.S. frigate (The Chesapeake) in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Virginia that killed three U.S. sailors and wounded eight others. (This is discussed in Chapter One of the book.)

 Advice to U.S. Citizens

All presidents need wisdom, courage and judgment. They need to be moral leaders.

Citizens, Senators and representatives need to evaluate and criticize presidents on important issues, especially those of war and peace.

In his book’s Epilogue, Beschloss says “the framers of the Constitution had dreamt that war would be a last resort under the political system they had invented. Unlike in Great Britain and other monarchies and dictatorships of old, it would be declared by Congress, not the chief of State.” Yet “the notion of presidential war took hold step by step.” We as citizens need to insist on obeying the Constitution and requiring congressional declarations of war.

Beschloss Biography

Beschloss is an award-winning author of nine books on presidential history. He is the presidential historian for NBC News and a contributor to PBS NewsHour. A graduate of Williams College and Harvard Business School, he has served as a historian for the Smithsonian Institution, as a Senior Associate Member at St. Antony’s College, Oxford, and as a Senior Fellow of the Annenberg Foundation. His books on the presidency include, among others, The Crisis Years: Kennedy and Khrushchev, 1960-1963; The Conquerors: Roosevelt, Truman and the Destruction of Hitler’s Germany; and Presidential Courage: Brave Leaders and How They Changed America, 1789-1989. His latest book, Presidents of War, was published in October. He is the recipient of the Harry S. Truman Public Service Award, the New York State Archives Award, and the Rutgers University Living History Award. He is a trustee of the White House Historical Association and the National Archives Foundation and a former trustee of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation.

==============================

[1] Westminster Town Hall Forum, Michael Beschloss, Presidents of War: 1807 to Modern Times (Nov. 13, 2018) (the website also includes a livestream of the lecture and Q & A); Black, ‘Presidents of War’: Historian Michael Beschloss on leaders who’ve taken U.S. into battle, MinnPost (Nov. 14, 2018); Barnes & Noble, Presidents of War (2018).

[2] Before 1898, the U.S. had a desire to own or control Cuba that was promoted by by U.S. slaveholders desiring support of Cuban slaveholders, and after U.S. entry in 1898 into the Second Cuban War of Independence (what we call the Spanish-American War) and the U.S. defeat of the Spanish, the U.S. made Cuba a de facto protectorate that lasted until 1934. Since the 1959 overthrow of Batista by the Cuban Revolution, of course, the two countries have had a contentious relationship, including the U.S. Bay of Pigs invasion of  1961 and the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 that nearly erupted into war. (See posts listed in the “ U.S.-Cuba History, 1989-2010” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA.

[3] Another U.S. president with wartime experience, including injuries, was John F. Kennedy, who during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 helped to steer the U.S. out of a possible nuclear war with the USSR over its missiles in Cuba. (See posts listed in the “ U.S.-Cuba History, 1989-2010” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA.

President Eisenhower’s Secret Campaign Against Senator Joe McCarthy

During the first two years of President Eisenhower’s first term (1953-1954), U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy (Rep., WI), was garnering national attention with his reckless charges of communist infiltration of the U.S. government, including the President’s beloved U.S. Army, which he had brilliantly served during World War II. Yet Ike, as the President was known, did not publicly confront McCarthy.

Now David A. Nichols, a retired history professor at Kansas’ Southwestern College and an authority on the Eisenhower presidency, has provided great details on Ike’s behind-the-scenes campaign against McCarthy in Ike and McCarthy: Dwight Eisenhower’s Secret Campaign Against Joseph McCarthy (Simon & Schuster, New York, 2017).

According to Nichols, Ike drew upon his experience in strategic deception as Supreme Allied Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force in Europe in World War II to orchestrate the campaign against McCarthy. Keys to this strategy were the President’s avoiding public criticism of McCarthy and deflecting journalists’ questions about the Senator at presidential press conferences and instead having presidential subordinates issue statements and take actions against McCarthy. Those “subordinates” included Sherman Adams, White House Chief of Staff; James Hagerty, White House Press Secretary; Fred Seaton, Assistant Secretary of Defense; Herbert Brownell, Jr., Attorney General; William Rogers, Deputy Attorney General; John Foster Dulles, Secretary of State; and Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., Ambassador to the United Nations.

An important part of this history was the relationship between Roy Cohn, who was McCarthy’s chief counsel, and a handsome young staffer on McCarthy’s committee, G. David Schine, who after being drafted as a private into the U.S. Army obtained preferential treatment by the Army as a result of pressure from Cohn and McCarthy. Below are photographs of the two men.

Roy Cohn
G. David Schine

When President Eisenhower learned of the special treatment and the reasons therefor, he instigated a secret Army investigation of these matters. The subsequent report of that investigation was publicly released and prompted fiery denunciations of the Army by McCarthy and Cohn, resulting in the now infamous Army-McCarthy hearings of 1954.

The implicit message of this report was Cohn and Schine’s having a homosexual relationship, which at the time was widely condemned. At the subsequent Army-McCarthy hearing, Army counsel, Joseph Welch, alluded to this relationship when he questioned another McCarthy aide, James Juliana, about the origins of a photograph that had been altered. The question: “Did you think it came from a pixie?,” which Nichols says was a sly allusion to the alteration’s having been made at the direction of Cohn, who was believed to be gay. McCarthy interrupted: “Will the counsel for my benefit define—I think he may be an expert on that—what is a pixie?” Welch’s response: “Yes, I should say, Mr. Senator, that a pixie is a close relative of a fairy [a widely used term for a homosexual at the time]. Shall I proceed, sir? Have I enlightened you?” The room erupted in laughter. (Nichols at 239.)[1]

The hearing’s climax occurred on June 9, 1954, when Welch sarcastically asked Cohn about the important committee work that he and Schine purportedly had done on their weekends together and taunted him to “hurry” to “act before sundown” to discover communists anywhere. McCarthy sought to counter this attack on Cohn and McCarthy by interrupting to say that Welch’s law firm had “a young man named Fisher . . . who has been for a number of years a member of an organization which was named, oh years and years ago, as the legal bulwark of the Communist party.” (Nichols at 280.)

Welch, after finally getting McCarthy’s attention, said, “Senator, I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness. Fred Fisher is a young man who went to the Harvard Law School and came into my firm and is starting what looks to be a brilliant career with us. Little did I dream that you would be so reckless and cruel as to do an injury to that lad. . . . If it were in my power to forgive you for your reckless cruelty I would do so. I like to think I am a gentle man, but your forgiveness will have to come from someone other than me.” (Nichols at 280-81.)

McCarthy, ignoring this plea, resumed his attack on Fisher. Welch responded, “Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator. You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you no sense of decency?” (Id.)

At the time, many thought that Welch was surprised by this attack on Fisher, but there was no such surprise. Indeed, some thought that Welch’s cross examination of Cohn was taunting McCarthy so that he would attack Fisher and that Welch’s “no sense of decency” speech was rehearsed. (Nichols at 280-82.)[2]

Six months later, on December 2, 1954, the U.S. Senate by a vote of 67 to 22 passed a resolution condemning McCarthy for certain of his actions as a U.S. Senator. Thereafter he had virtually no influence in the Senate or the country at large. He died on May 2, 1957. (Nichols at 292-97.)

Postscript

In 2012, I met author Nichols when he gave a lecture at the Minnesota Historical Society on President Abraham Lincoln’s involvement in issues related to the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862,[3] a subject in which I had an interest and about which have written blog posts.[4] Later when I had written blog posts about Joseph Welch and his representing the Army in the McCarthy hearings,[5] Nichols told me he was writing a book about Eisenhower and McCarthy, and I provided him with materials I had collected. I was surprised and pleased when Nichols included this kind acknowledgement at the end of his just published book:

  • Nichols was “particularly indebted to Duane Krohnke, a retired Minneapolis attorney and authority on Joseph Welch, his fellow alumnus at Grinnell College in Iowa. Duane provided me with documents unavailable elsewhere, especially Fred Fisher’s account of the hiring of Welch as counsel for the Army-McCarthy hearings. Duane also connected me with Ann M. Lousin [Grinnell, 1964] and Nancy Welch [not Grinnell’s 1961 Nancy Welch], Welch’s granddaughter, both of whom provided important information about Welch and McCarthy.” (Nichols at 300.)

===============================================

[1] After Cohn died of AIDS in 1986, public speculation about his sexual orientation intensified. Some say that his relationship with Schine was platonic while others assert it was homosexual. In the HBO film of Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes,” Al Pacino plays Cohn as a closeted, power-hungry hypocrite who is haunted by the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg as he lies dying of AIDS. It should also be noted that in 1973 Cohn was hired by Donald Trump to defend the Trump Management Corporation against charges of racial discrimination and Cohn thereby became a close friend and mentor to Mr.Trump.

[2]  See also U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy’s Nemesis: Attorney Joseph Welch (June 4, 2012);  of “Good Night, and Good Luck: The Movie’s Offstage Hero, Joseph Welch,” Grinnell Magazine (Summer 2006).

[3] Nichols has written a fascinating book on this subject: Lincoln and the Indians: Civil War Policy and Politics (Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1978, 2000, 2012).

[4] Here are blog posts on this subject to dwkcommentaries.com: The U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 (Nov. 3, 2012); White Settler’s Contemporaneous Reaction to the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 (Nov. 6, 2012); Abraham Lincoln’s Involvement in the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 (May 21, 2013); U.S. Military Commission Trials of Dakota Indians After the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 (June 11, 2013); President Abraham Lincoln’s Involvement in the Military Commission’s Convictions and Sentences of the Dakota Indians (June 24, 2013); The Sesquicentennial Commemoration of the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 (Nov. 9, 2012); Commemoration of the 150th Anniversary of the Hanging of the “Dakota 38” (Dec. 26, 2012); Minneapolis and St. Paul Declare U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 “Genocide” (Jan. 12, 2013); Remembering the U.S.-Dakota War at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church (Part I) (Nov. 18, 2012); Remembering the U.S.-Dakota War at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church (Part II) (Nov. 25, 2012); Remembering the U.S.-Dakota War at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church (Part III) (Nov. 29, 2012); Personal Reflections on the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 (Dec. 10, 2012).

[5] I am the author of “Good Night, and Good Luck: The Movie’s Offstage Hero, Joseph Welch,” Grinnell Magazine (Summer 2006); the biography of Welch in Newman (ed.), The Yale Biographical Dictionary of American Law (Yale Univ. Press, 2009); and the following posts on my blog (https://dwkcommentaries.com): Joseph Welch Before the Army-McCarthy Hearings (06/14/12); The U.S. Army’s Hiring of Joseph Welch for the Army-McCarthy Hearings (06/08/12); U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy’s Nemesis: Attorney Joseph Welch (06/04/12); Attorney Joseph Welch’s Performance at the Army-McCarthy Hearings (06/06/12); President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Involvement in the Army-McCarthy Hearings (06/10/12); Joseph Welch After the Army-McCarthy Hearings (06/12/12); and Legal Ethics Issues in the “Anatomy of a Murder Movie [in which Welch played the judge]” (06/27/12).  The joys of researching about Welch and other subjects are celebrated in Adventures of a History Detective, dwkcommentaries.com (April 5, 2011).

 

 

 

 

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).

 

 

 

 

 

 

U.S. Announces Agreement To Restore Diplomatic Relations with Cuba

On July 1, 2015, the U.S. and Cuba announced an agreement to restore diplomatic relations. This post will discuss the U.S. announcement and reactions.[1] A subsequent post will do the same for the Cuban announcement and reactions.

U.S. Announcement

President Obama & Vice President Biden
President Obama & Vice President Biden

In the White House’s Rose Garden, President Obama announced the plans to reopen the embassies. Here is what he said:

  • “More than 54 years ago, at the height of the Cold War, the United States closed its embassy in Havana.  Today, I can announce that the United States has agreed to formally re-establish diplomatic relations with the Republic of Cuba, and re-open embassies in our respective countries.  This is a historic step forward in our efforts to normalize relations with the Cuban government and people, and begin a new chapter with our neighbors in the Americas.”
  • “When the United States shuttered our embassy in 1961, I don’t think anyone expected that it would be more than half a century before it re-opened.  After all, our nations are separated by only 90 miles, and there are deep bonds of family and friendship between our people.  But there have been very real, profound differences between our governments, and sometimes we allow ourselves to be trapped by a certain way of doing things.”
  • “For the United States, that meant clinging to a policy that was not working.  Instead of supporting democracy and opportunity for the Cuban people, our efforts to isolate Cuba despite good intentions increasingly had the opposite effect -– cementing the status quo and isolating the United States from our neighbors in this hemisphere.  The progress that we mark today is yet another demonstration that we don’t have to be imprisoned by the past. When something isn’t working, we can -– and will –- change.”
  • “Last December, I announced that the United States and Cuba had decided to take steps to normalize our relationship.  As part of that effort, President Raul Castro and I directed our teams to negotiate the re-establishment of embassies.  Since then, our State Department has worked hard with their Cuban counterparts to achieve that goal.  And later this summer, Secretary Kerry will travel to Havana formally to proudly raise the American flag over our embassy once more.”
  • “This is not merely symbolic.  With this change, we will be able to substantially increase our contacts with the Cuban people.  We’ll have more personnel at our embassy.  And our diplomats will have the ability to engage more broadly across the island.  That will include the Cuban government, civil society, and ordinary Cubans who are reaching for a better life.”
  • “On issues of common interest –- like counterterrorism, disaster response, and development -– we will find new ways to cooperate with Cuba.  And I’ve been clear that we will also continue to have some very serious differences.  That will include America’s enduring support for universal values, like freedom of speech and assembly, and the ability to access information.  And we will not hesitate to speak out when we see actions that contradict those values.”
  • “However, I strongly believe that the best way for America to support our values is through engagement.  That’s why we’ve already taken steps to allow for greater travel, people-to-people and commercial ties between the United States and Cuba.  And we will continue to do so going forward.”
  • “Since December, we’ve already seen enormous enthusiasm for this new approach. Leaders across the Americas have expressed support for our change in policy; you heard that expressed by President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil yesterday.  Public opinion surveys in both our countries show broad support for this engagement. . . .
  • “Here in the United States, we’ve seen that same enthusiasm.  There are Americans who want to travel to Cuba and American businesses [that] want to invest in Cuba.  American colleges and universities . . . want to partner with Cuba.  Above all, Americans who want to get to know their neighbors to the south. And through that engagement, we can also help the Cuban people improve their own lives.”
  • “Americans and Cubans alike are ready to move forward.  I believe it’s time for Congress to do the same.  I’ve called on Congress to take steps to lift the embargo that prevents Americans from travelling or doing business in Cuba.  We’ve already seen members from both parties begin that work.  After all, why should Washington stand in the way of our own people?”
  • “Yes, there are those who want to turn back the clock and double down on a policy of isolation.  But it’s long past time for us to realize that this approach doesn’t work.  It hasn’t worked for 50 years.  It shuts America out of Cuba’s future, and it only makes life worse for the Cuban people.”
  • So I’d ask Congress to listen to the Cuban people.  Listen to the American people.  Listen to the words of a proud Cuban-American, Carlos Gutierrez, who recently came out against the policy of the past, saying, ‘I wonder if the Cubans who have to stand in line for the most basic necessities for hours in the hot Havana sun feel that this approach is helpful to them.’”
  • “Of course, nobody expects Cuba to be transformed overnight. But I believe that American engagement — through our embassy, our businesses, and most of all, through our people — is the best way to advance our interests and support for democracy and human rights.  Time and again, America has demonstrated that part of our leadership in the world is our capacity to change.  It’s what inspires the world to reach for something better.”
  • “A year ago, it might have seemed impossible that the United States would once again be raising our flag, the stars and stripes, over an embassy in Havana.  This is what change looks like.”
  • “In January of 1961, the year I was born, when President Eisenhower announced the termination of our relations with Cuba, he said:  It is my hope and my conviction that it is ‘in the not-too-distant future it will be possible for the historic friendship between us once again to find its reflection in normal relations of every sort.’  Well, it took a while, but I believe that time has come.  And a better future lies ahead.”
Secretary John Kerry
Secretary John Kerry

The same day Secretary of State John Kerry from Vienna, Austria also discussed the plans, including his intent to travel to Havana for the opening of the embassy later this month. His statement included the following:

  • “Later this summer, as the President announced, I will travel to Cuba to personally take part in the formal reopening of our United States Embassy in Havana. This will mark the resumption of embassy operations after a period of 54 years. It will also be the first visit by a Secretary of State to Cuba since 1945. The reopening of our embassy . . . is an important step on the road to restoring fully normal relations between the United States and Cuba. Coming a quarter of a century after the end of the Cold War, it recognizes the reality of the changed circumstances, and it will serve to meet a number of practical needs.”
  • “The United States and Cuba continue to have sharp differences over democracy, human rights, and related issues, but we also have identified areas for cooperation that include law enforcement, safe transportation, emergency response, environmental protection, telecommunications, and migration. The resumption of full embassy activities will help us engage the Cuban Government more often and at a higher level, and it will also allow our diplomats to interact more frequently, and frankly more broadly and effectively, with the Cuban people. In addition, we will better be able to assist Americans who travel to the island nation in order to visit family members or for other purposes.”

In addition, the State Department conducted a special briefing by a senior official on this historic development. This individual said, “We’re confident that our embassy in Havana will be able to operate similar to other embassies operating in restrictive environments. We will be able to meet and exchange opinions with a variety of voices and views both within the government and outside. We’ll be able to engage a broad range of Cuban civil society and citizens.” The conditions for “access to diplomatic facilities, travel of diplomats, and the level of staffing . . . are acceptable for carrying out the core diplomatic functions necessary for implementing the President’s new policy direction on Cuba.” There were not any agreed “constrains or restrictions” on the exact types of programs or facilities that each of our embassies conducts.

According to the State Department spokesperson, there will be future discussions or negotiations with Cuba over human rights, telecommunications, health issues, fugitives, law enforcement, U.S. claims for property expropriation, Cuban claims for damages under the embargo and U.S. broadcasts to the island. Until there is a nomination and confirmation of an ambassador, Jeffrey DeLaurentis will be the charge d’affaires and will lead the embassy.

Jeffrey DeLaurentis & Marcelinio Medina
Jeffrey DeLaurentis & Marcelinio Medina

Also earlier the same day Cuba’s Foreign Ministry confirmed that the head of the US Interests Section in Cuba, Jeffrey DeLaurentis, had delivered to the Acting Foreign Minister, Marcelino Medina, a letter from President Obama to Army General Raul Castro confirming “the restoration of diplomatic relations and the opening of embassies in the respective countries” on or after July 20. Here is the text of that letter:

  • “I am pleased to confirm, after high-level talks between our two governments, and in accordance with international law and practice, that the United States of America and the Republic of Cuba decided to restore diplomatic relations and permanent diplomatic missions in our respective countries 20 July 2015. This is an important step forward in the normalization process, which started last December, with regard to relations between our two countries and peoples.”
  • “In making this decision, the United States are encouraged by the mutual intention to enter into friendly and cooperative relations between our two peoples and governments, consistent with the purposes and principles enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations, in particular those relating to equality sovereign states, the settlement of international disputes by peaceful means, respect for the territorial integrity and political independence of States, respect for the equal rights and self-determination of peoples, non-interference in internal affairs States as well as promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms for all.”
  • “The United States and Cuba are parties to the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, signed in Vienna on April 18, 1961, and the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, signed in Vienna on April 24, 1963. I am pleased to confirm the understanding the United States that the above conventions apply to diplomatic and consular relations between our two countries.”

Although the U.S. can easily change the plaque on its building in Havana to one proclaiming that it is the Embassy of the United States of America, the State Department has said it needs $6.6 million to retrofit the building to make it suitable as an embassy. This may require a supplemental appropriation by Congress.

The U.S. will need an Ambassador to Cuba, and such an appointment needs to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate. In the meantime, as just noted, the U.S. has a capable career diplomat running the interests section, Jeffrey DeLaurentis, who will be in charge.

Reactions to the Announcement

The announcement of re-establishment of diplomatic relations drew widespread praise. Senator Jeff Flake (Rep., AZ) stated, “It’s long past time for U.S. policy toward Cuba to be associated with something other than five decades of failure. It is difficult to overstate the importance of resuming diplomatic relations ‎with Cuba, in furthering our own national interests, benefiting our relations in the region, and encouraging a positive future for the Cuban people. I am confident that this move will lead to increased travel and contact between U.S. citizens and everyday Cubans, to the benefit of both.” Senator Amy Klobuchar (Dem., MN), a co-sponsor of a bill to expand U.S. travel to Cuba and the author of a bill to lift the trade embargo, said, “This is the first step that must happen in order to lift the embargo.” Democratic Senators Patrick Leahy (VT) and Benjamin Cardin (MD) issued similar positive statements.

Engage Cuba, a bipartisan public policy organization dedicated to coalescing and mobilizing American businesses, non-profit groups and concerned citizens for the purpose of supporting the ongoing U.S.‐Cuba normalization process and enacting legislation to reform U.S. travel and trade restrictions with Cuba, issued a statement of support. It said, “We applaud this important step in bringing the U.S. and Cuba closer together, and urge Congress to hasten the day when American travelers and companies have the freedom to engage with one of our nearest neighbors. Opening embassies in Washington and Havana is an important step toward the day when Americans can make their own decisions on where they travel, and our businesses can compete with the rest of the world. We are making history by making it clear that America’s engagement isn’t a concession, it is a show of strength and the best way to promote our values and create opportunities for both Americans and the Cuban people.”

Moreover, said Engage Cuba, “A vast majority of the American people – and 97% of the Cuban people – support re-establishing diplomatic relations. Today is a great day for the American and Cuban people who seek a brighter future for their two countries. After 54 years of a failed Cold war policy, better days finally lie ahead.”

A similar supportive statement came from the Center for Democracy in the Americas (CDA), which is “devoted to changing U.S. policy toward the countries of the Americas by basing our relations on mutual respect, fostering dialogue with those governments and movements with which U.S. policy is at odds, and recognizing positive trends in democracy and governance” and which is a member of Engage Cuba. CDA stated, “”This is a moment we have been working toward for many years. The restoration of diplomatic relations between our countries is a major achievement that will help to heal decades of mistrust and will open opportunities for the U.S. and Cuba to collaborate on issues of mutual interest like immigration, environmental conservation, and regional trade. We applaud the tireless work of Cuban and U.S. diplomats, policymakers, academics, and activists who have helped make this possible. We are ready to work with all our allies to defend these positive steps initiated by President Obama and to move forward with removing the embargo once and for all.”

The day before this announcement, President Obama held a joint press conference at the White House with the visiting President of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff.[2] In his opening remarks, Obama said, “As President, I’ve pursued a new era of engagement with Latin America where our countries work together as equal partners, based on mutual interest and mutual respect.  As we saw at the recent Summit of the Americas, the United States is more deeply engaged in the region than we’ve been in decades, and I believe the relationship between the United States and Latin America is as good as it’s ever been.  We’re focused on the future — what we can accomplish together.”

After he had reviewed the many ways that Brazil and the U.S. cooperate, Obama commented, “And finally, we’re working together to uphold democracy and human rights across Latin America.  I very much appreciate President Rousseff and Brazil’s strong support for our new opening toward Cuba.  I updated Dilma on our progress, including our work to open embassies in Havana and Washington.  And I believe that Brazil’s leadership in the region, as well as its own journey to democracy and a market economy can make it an important partner as we work to create more opportunities and prosperity for the Cuban people.”

In her response President Rousseff remarked about “the importance for Latin America of the recent decision made by President Obama and by President Raul Castro, even with the partnership with Pope Francis to the effect of opening up relations with — or resuming relations with Cuba, a very decisive milestone and point in time in U.S. relations with Latin America.  It is really about putting an end to the lingering vestiges of the Cold War.  And it ultimately elevates the level of the relations between the U.S. and the entire region. May I acknowledge the importance of that gesture to all of Latin America and also to world peace at large.  It is an important example of relations to be followed.”

These thoughts were echoed in the subsequent Joint Communique by the two presidents: “President Rousseff praised President Obama’s policy changes towards Cuba, and the Leaders agreed that the latest Summit of the Americas (held in Panama, on April 10 and 11, 2015) demonstrated the region’s capacity to overcome the differences of the past through dialogue, thereby paving the way for the region as a whole to find solutions to the common challenges facing the countries of the Americas.”

As anticipated, however, Senator Marco Rubio (Rep., FL), a Cuban-American, immediately issued a press release condemning the agreement.[3] It said:

  • “Throughout this entire negotiation, as the Castro regime has stepped up its repression of the Cuban people, the Obama Administration has continued to look the other way and offer concession after concession. The administration’s reported plan to restore diplomatic relations is one such prized concession to the Castro regime. It remains unclear what, if anything, has been achieved since the President’s December 17th announcement in terms of securing the return of U.S. fugitives being harbored in Cuba, settling outstanding legal claims to U.S. citizens for properties confiscated by the regime, and in obtaining the unequivocal right of our diplomats to travel freely throughout Cuba and meet with any dissidents, and most importantly, securing greater political freedoms for the Cuban people. I intend to oppose the confirmation of an Ambassador to Cuba until these issues are addressed. It is time for our unilateral concessions to this odious regime to end.”

Conclusion

I am glad that my recent concern about the delay in announcing resumption of diplomatic relations has been alleviated. This is an important development in the            reconciliation of our country with Cuba. Now all advocates for reconciliation need to notify their senators and representatives to oppose any of the measures put forward by Senator Rubio and others to try to block this important move.

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[1] This portion of the post is based upon the following: White House, Statement by the President on the Re-Establishment of Diplomatic Relations with Cuba (July 1, 2015); Letter from Barack Obama [to] Raúl Castro, Granma (July 1, 2015); Letters between Obama and Castro to restore diplomatic relations, el Pais (July 1, 2015); Kerry, Statement on Cuba (July 1, 2015); State Dep’t, Special Briefing on Re-Establishment of Diplomatic Relations with Cuba (July 1, 2015); Baker & Davis, U.S. and Cuba Reach an Agreement to Reopen Embassies, Officials Say, N.Y. Times (June 30, 2015); Schwartz, Córdoba & Lee, U.S., Cuba Reach Agreement to Establish Full Diplomatic Relations, W.S.J. (June 30, 2015); Center for Democracy in Americas, Press Release: CDA Applauds Announcement That U.S. And Cuba Will Reopen Embassies (June 30, 2015); Minister for Foreign Affairs will receive †he Head of †he Section of Interests of the United States, Granma (July 1, 2015); Ayuso, Cuba and the United States announced the reopening of embassies on Wednesday, El Pais (July 1, 2015); Flake, Re-Establishment of Diplomatic Relations with Cuba (June 30, 2015); Engage Cuba, Press Release: Statement from Engage Cuba on Announcement that U.S., and Cuban Embassies Will Re-open (July 1, 2015); Rubio, Rubio Comments On Obama Re-Establishing Diplomatic Relations With Cuba (July 1, 2015)

[2] This portion of the post is based upon the following: White House, Remarks by President Obama and President Rousseff of Brazil in Joint Press Conference (June 30, 2015); White House, Joint Communique by President Barack Obama and President Dilma Rousseff (June 30, 2015); Harris, Leader of Brazil Visits Amid Home Turbulence, N.Y. Times (June 30, 2015).

[3] Senator Rubio in a letter to Secretary Kerry in June “vowed to oppose the confirmation of any ambassador until issues like human rights, fugitive terrorists and billions of dollars of outstanding claims were resolved.” The Senator said it is “important that pro-democracy activities not be sacrificed in the name of ‘diplomacy’ just so that we can change the name of a building from ‘Interest Section’ to ‘Embassy,’ ” Similar negative press releases came from other Cuban-Americas in the Congress: Senator Robert Menendez (Dem., NJ) and Republican Representatives from Florida, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart.