President Kennedy

President Kennedy

Note: Just how close did the world come to nuclear destruction during those 13 taut October days of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962? The truth is that not even those in JFK’s administration at the time, who were engaged in and handling the various aspects of the crisis, understood the magnitude of the danger they faced and to which they and the Russians were potentially subjecting the world. It wouldn’t be until 3 decades later that, due to the assistance of an inquisitive Brown University history professor, the full story would be made known. Here it is…MA

In the early 1990s, nearly 30 years after the Cuban Missile Crisis had taken place, a fascinating series of conferences was held dealing with the crisis. The conferences were the brainchild of a professor at Brown University named James G. Blight. Blight’s idea was to hold a series of forums at which professors and historians would have a chance to question surviving Kennedy administration officials and military people on various aspects of the Cuban Missile Crisis so as to shed more light on what actually occurred during the crisis. With the Cold War being over, former Russian officials and military officers involved in the crisis were invited to attend to communicate their perspectives on things. Ultimately this led to the Cubans becoming involved as well and the fifth conference in the series was held in Havana, Cuba in January, 1992. Americans attending the Havana conference included Pulitzer Prize winning author, historian and former JFK aide Arthur Schlesinger. Also attending was former Secretary of Defense under Kennedy and later Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara.

Arthur Schlesinger

Arthur Schlesinger

In the Foreword to Robert Kennedy’s memoir of the Missile Crisis, “Thirteen Days”, which was written by Schlesinger, he tells of   shocking information revealed to himself and McNamara while at the Havana conference. Receiving this information as they did, thirty years after the fact, made them realize that as close as they thought they had come to nuclear war back in October of ’62, in reality the situation had been far more precarious. Schlesinger states in the Foreword that he had always thought that the danger of nuclear war during the crisis had been overstated. That “complacent view”, he goes on to state, “did not survive the conference.” Just what was the information that so changed Schlesinger’s view?

Anatoly Gribkov at the Havana Conference, 1992

Anatoly Gribkov at the Havana Conference, 1992

Attending the Havana conference was a former Soviet General named Anatoly Gribkov, who had been in Cuba during the Missile Crisis in 1962. Schlesinger states that according to Gribkov there were 43,000 Soviet troops on the island of Cuba during the crisis. According to Schlesinger the CIA had estimated there were 10,000. Gribkov also stated that the Soviet forces were equipped with nuclear warheads, something the CIA had never been able to verify during the crisis. The warheads were for tactical short range use as well as long range. According to Gribkov, in the event of an invasion, should the communications link to Moscow be severed, the Soviet field commanders were authorized to use the tactical nukes against the invaders.

Schlesinger states that on hearing this former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara practically fell out of his chair. Even the Secretary of Defense of the United States during the Missile Crisis had no idea there were that many Soviet troops in Cuba at the time or that they were equipped with and had been given the freedom to use tactical nukes on American troops should they invade Cuba, as the Joint Chiefs of Staff and many in Ex Comm and the CIA had been demanding. Had the Joint Chief’s advice been heeded, Schlesinger states, nuclear war would have begun on the beaches of Cuba in October of 1962.

Robert McNamara

Robert McNamara

In light of this information it becomes clear that, but for JFK’s distrust of the advice of his military and intelligence people, his reluctance to commit his nation to war, and his courage in standing by his decisions, it is likely I would not be sitting here now writing this and you would not be sitting wherever you are as you read it.

During those 13 dangerous days in October, 1962, that is how close we came. With the lessons of the crisis seared into his consciousness, as he entered into what would be the last year of his life, John Kennedy would soon take the steps that would seal his fate.

 

Copyright © 2013

By Mark Arnold

All Rights Reserved

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5 Responses to JFK and the Road to Dallas: The Missiles of Cuba–Epilog to a Crisis—by Mark Arnold

  1. Jane says:

    Fascinating story and very well written. I look forward to future articles. Please write and post more. Thank you.

    • Mark Arnold says:

      Thanks Jane! On the “From A Native Son” blog there is a whole series preceeding this …if you have interest in this subject and you haven’t already read them then you should. L Mark

  2. Thanks Mark – fascinating – well written – love the history lesson

  3. robert midiri says:

    Awesome info Mark. So it appears that the Bay of Pigs fiasco could be taken in two differing lights. First If JFK allowed air strikes and invasion then, maybe the missile crises wouldn’t have occurred because the Soviets wouldn’t have thought he was a push over…But secondly and maybe more importantly, his resolve of standing by his convictions and not getting the USA involved, plus the fact he learned such a HARD lesson of distrust of military chiefs of staff and CIA, made him a much stronger President at our time of most need. I for one feel that JFK’s goals for world peace, and his distrust of the CIA and military chiefs of staff, prevented the unthinkable.

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