Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Missiles In Cuba - 1962

Most historians agree that the Cuban Missile Crisis, which pitted the Soviet Union against the United States during the coldest days of the Cold War, began on October 16th, and lasted 12 days, until the cessation of the American Quarantine of Cuba on October 28th, 1962. While this is true of the time of actual confrontation, Soviet ships had been photographed with missile parts, headed for Cuba, as early as September 25th of that same year. I was just 8 years old, but the events of that period will live with me forever.

The Cuban Missile Crisis was really a test by the Soviets, to ascertain our resolve in keeping West Berlin from falling into their hands, which would have happened had we invaded Cuba; not just for the missiles; even to oust Fidel Castro, as in the failed Bay of Pigs affair in 1961. The Soviet point of view was that if we had our Monroe Doctrine as authority to invade; or even blockade; Cuba, then they had the same authority to act in their own self-interest in their hemisphere. In effect, we were being baited.
The Generals, and the Chiefs of Staff, were all eager to invade. What they didn’t know then, but has been divulged since, is that the Soviets already had tactical nuclear weapons in Cuba. These weapons, which were portable, would have enabled the Cubans to wipe out any full scale invasion by the United States at the time. It was only the resolve of President Kennedy which kept us from providing the air cover that had been promised by his predecessor, and of which the new President had not been informed. Had he given the go-ahead on the Bay of Pigs, the Soviets would have used that as a pretext to invade West Berlin.  The same held true for the Cuban Missile Crisis. Once again, the Joint Chiefs wanted to go in. They either did not understand, or seemingly care about, the results which would have been precipitated by such action.

From the 15th of October until the 28th, the world seemingly stood still, as we all awaited the outcome of the unfolding events. There was no “hot line” or “red phone” between Moscow and Washington yet. That would only come about after the crisis was over, in an attempt to keep this type of thing from ever going so far again.

President Kennedy, along with his brother Robert, took a full week to assess the situation as if it were a chess game. They analyzed each and every move possible, along with the outcomes these moves would provoke. In the end they settled on the Quarantine, announcing it on the evening of October 22nd. From then on the whole world waited; and watched. The photo above is of one of our Neptune aircraft buzzing a Soviet cargo ship en route to Cuba during the Missile Crisis.
In school we had daily “fallout” drills, sitting in the hallways, covering our heads with books. The expected attack never came, and some say that the events of both the Bay of Pigs, and the Cuban Missile Crisis were factors in the assassination of the president the following year. We will probably never know of there is any truth in that.

Although the compromise reached between the two super powers did end the immediate crisis, it later seemed a bit funny to me that we had accepted a deal in which about 8 non-operational missiles in Cuba were swapped for the withdrawal of the 600 operational Jupiter missiles which we had in Turkey, along the Soviet border. While it is true that those missiles were being replaced with longer range ones based in Western Europe, the swap was so lop-sided that the full details of the deal were withheld from the American people for some time. We were told merely that we had “won”, and that a new phone line was being installed between Moscow and Washington which would allow the leaders of the two countries to have quicker, and more direct, contact with one another.
Next Monday will mark 50 years since the events of the Cuban Missile Crisis. I was going to use a portion of President Kennedy’s speech here today, but I have decided instead to post the entire 18 minute speech on the anniversary of the date on which the President delivered it. I still remember watching it with my parents at home in Brooklyn. It is one of the most vivid memories of my childhood, which is saying a lot, considering that my childhood encompassed several assassinations; including that of President Kennedy himself; and massive civil disobedience over both the War in Vietnam, as well as Civil Rights here at home. It was quite a time.

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