A recent article by Benjamin Schwartz buried in the back of the Jan-Feb 2013 Atlantic Magazine provided an eye-opening look at what really happened during those tense October days in 1962, dates frozen in permanence in American culture as when the nation came closest to a nuclear apocalypse with the Soviet Union. JFK is fairly well enshrined in American pantheon as a courageous president, and his handling of the Cuban Missile crisis has been, until now, widely praised as level-headed, strong leadership averting certain nuclear disaster. With the release of classified tapes 50 years after the event, we find that the American response to this crisis was muddled, provocative and that America may have indeed brought the crisis on itself. I encourage you to read the article in full, but here are some striking quotes:
“A missile is a missile,” Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara asserted. “It makes no great difference whether you are killed by a missile from the Soviet Union or Cuba.”… “How gravely does this change the strategic balance? Not at all”…The following day, Special Counsel Theodore Sorensen summarized the views…to Kennedy. “It is generally agreed,” he noted, “that these missiles, …do not significantly alter the balance of power”
As the article goes on to show, despite the consensus that the Soviets were placing missiles on Cuba directly in response to American missiles being placed in Turkey, Kennedy’s ultimatum to the Soviets was based solely on purely political concerns. Having been spent his presidency dealing with Bay of Pigs fiasco, and married to bellicose anti-Cuban and anti-Soviet language during the presidential campaign where he was to the right of even Richard Nixon – Kennedy’s political team saw no other path than to ramp up aggressive brinkmanship with the Soviets, regardless of the real and imminent danger of all out nuclear war.
“You have to remember that, right from the beginning, it was President Kennedy who said that it was politically unacceptable for us to leave those missile sites alone. He didn’t say militarily, he said politically.” – Robert Macnamara
Despite the alarm of allies, military strategists, and even the Soviets, the Kennedy administration chose a deliberately aggressive and dangerous path in its approach to the crisis – knowing full well the consequences of its actions. This was a self-inflicted crisis, and exacerbated further because domestic politics inserted itself into the delicate matter of statecraft and geopolitics.
Again, go read the whole piece over at TheAtlantic.com: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2013/01/the-real-cuban-missile-crisis/309190/?single_page=true