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Chapter 3

 

President John Fitzgerald Kennedy

 

Part of his Inaugural Speech, January 20, 1961

 

“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 destruction.”  During Eisenhower’s last term a covert military operation was planned called the Bay of Pigs Invasion (manned by Cuban exiles), which was due to start just after Kennedy took office, so he had to go along with it, like it or not.  Its intent was the overthrow of the Castro government in Cuba.  It was poorly planned, and when the invasion started to go south Kennedy refused to send in the U.S. Air Force or re-enforcements.  In public he took full responsibility for the failed operation, but in private he burned with anger toward his Joint Chiefs “sons of bitches” and “those C.I.A. bastards” and he threatened to “shatter the C.I.A. into a thousand pieces and scatter [them] to the winds.”  He went on to fire the head of the C.I.A. Allen Dulles and two other top Intel officials, Richard Bissel and Charles Cabell.  He also placed all C.I.A. overseas personnel under State Department control.  Almost in the shadow of Roosevelt, a real leader appeared to be at the Helm of the Ship of State. 

 

June 1961

 

Kennedy Meets Khrushchev

 

President Kennedy traveled to Vienna for his first summit conference with Nikita Khrushchev.  Khrushchev immediately went at Kennedy for the belligerent and imperialistic manner the United States had been treating the Soviet Union (which was true, as we’ve seen, old Nikita had a bone to pick with our new President).  The Soviet Union had been struggling to climb out of the shattered and devastated state World War II had left them in, and Khrushchev was struggling to jump-start their collective farming system (which he was heavily involved in, in a hands-on way, as well as de-Stalinizing the Soviet Union, which included shutting down all the Gulags, freeing 13 million innocent Soviet citizens from them).  The extra financial burden of sinking millions of rubles into a U.S.-initiated nuclear arms race must have really galled Nikita Khrushchev, who had already once tried to get Eisenhower to end the Cold War, and cooperate on space exploration (in 1957).  He said to the young American President “We in the U.S.S.R. feel the revolutionary process should have a right to exist.”  This is something Roosevelt and Henry Wallace had been saying all along.  Khrushchev tried to explain that it was the prospect of West Germany getting control of U.S. nukes deployed so close to the Soviet Union that was their major concern.  Khrushchev, sort of talking to Kennedy through the back door, told an American journalist, “We have much longer history with Germany.  We have seen how quickly governments in Germany can change, and how easy it is for Germany to become an instrument of [destruction]…you like to think in the United States we have no public opinion.  But don’t be so sure about this.  We have a saying here, ‘Give a German a gun, sooner or later he will point it at Russians.’  We could crush Germany in a few minutes.  But we fear the ability of Germany to commit the United States to start the atomic war.  How many times do you have to be burnt before you respect fire?”  Just before leaving Khrushchev’s presence, Jack Kennedy said with that marvelous sense of humor he had, “I ah see it’s going to be a very cold winter.”  Nikita Khrushchev perfectly explained the age-old fear the Russians have for Germany, not quite properly understood by Americans. 

 

June 1961

 

Khrushchev obviously sensing John Kennedy was not holding out any olive branches to him or the Soviets, and as McNamara and Kennedy learned, there was a HUGE missile gap in favor of the U.S.  The U.S. at this time had 25,000 nuclear weapons to the Soviets 2,500, and the U.S. had 1,500 heavy bombers (B-47 Hustlers and B-52 Stratofortresses) to the Soviet’s paltry 192.  The U.S. had 45 ICBMs to the Soviets 4 serviceable ICBMs (as of 1961 shortly after Kennedy took office.  That went up a little bit later to 15 Soviet ICBMs and 400 for the U.S.).  So in June of 1961 Khrushchev resumed nuclear testing by setting off a 30 megaton bomb, followed soon afterwards by a 57 megaton monster that was deliverable by their Tu-95 Bear long-range bomber.  Kennedy’s remark when he heard was “F@#&ed again!”  But Kennedy had missed Khrushchev’s true intentions all along and had nudged Khrushchev and the Soviets back toward pursuing the arms race by the chilly Vienna summit and our clandestine black ops by the C.I.A. against Castro and the Cubans.  This, coupled to some very real military exercises the U.S. carried out in the Caribbean involving almost 100 ships, hundreds of aircraft and 40,000 troops, and another exercise code named “Ortsac” which is “Castro” spelled backwards.  Cuba was one of the Soviet Union’s model Communist client states, and Castro felt another invasion was immanent, a big one.  So Khrushchev, apparently acting on all this activity, coupled to the fact that the U.S. had a number of Jupiter Continental Ballistic Missiles based right near the Soviet border in Turkey, decided to secretly set up about 100 Medium Range Ballistic Missiles (MRBMs) in Cuba, with the ability to deliver nuclear warheads on all U.S. major cities from Chicago to the East Coast.

 

October 14, 1962, The Cuban Missile Crisis

 

First, let us understand why Nikita Khrushchev (in his own words) and the Soviet Politburo (this decision was reached by consensus) put Continental Ballistic Missiles (MRBMs) in Cuba. Khrushchev said in his memoirs “Everyone [in the Politburo] agreed that America would not leave Cuba alone unless we did something.  We had an obligation to do everything in our power to protect Cuba’s existence as a Socialist country and as a working example to the other countries of Latin America.  It was clear to me that we might very well lose Cuba if we didn’t take some decisive steps in her defense [based on the Bay of Pigs attempted Invasion of Cuba]…We had to think up some way of confronting America with more than words.  We had to establish a tangible and effective deterrent to American interference in the Caribbean.  But what exactly?  The logical answer was missiles.  The United States had already surrounded the Soviet Union with its own bomber bases and missiles.  We knew American missiles were aimed against us in Turkey and Italy, to say nothing of West Germany.  Our vital industrial centers were directly threatened by planes armed with atomic bombs and guided missiles tipped with nuclear warheads.  As Chairman of the Council of Ministers, I found myself in the difficult position of having to decide on a course of action which would answer the American threat but which would also avoid war.  Any fool can start a war, and once he’s done so, even the wisest of men are helpless to stop it---especially if it’s a nuclear war.”  [“KHRUSCHCHEV REMEMBERS” p. 493, par. 1-2, selected parts]  “In addition to protecting Cuba, our missiles would have equalized what the West likes to call “the balance of power.”  The Americans had surrounded our country with military bases and threatened us with nuclear weapons [we’ve seen the historic evidence of this from Presidents Truman through Eisenhower, this is no idle statement by Nikita Khrushchev], and now they would learn just what it feels like to have enemy missiles pointed at you:  we’d be doing nothing more than giving them a little of their own medicine.  And it was high time America learned what it feels like to have her own land and her own people threatened.  We Russians have suffered three wars over the last half century:  World War I, the Civil War, and World War II.  America has never had to fight a war on her own soil, at least not in the past fifty years.  She’s sent troops abroad to fight in the two World Wars---and made a fortune as a result.  America has shed a few drops of her own blood while making billions by bleeding the rest of the world dry.”  [ibid. p. 494, par 1, sel. parts]  “I want to make one thing absolutely clear:  when we put our ballistic missiles [MRBMs] in Cuba, we had no desire to start a war.  On the contrary, our principal aim was only to deter America from starting a war.  We were well aware that a war which started over Cuba would quickly expand into a world war.  Any idiot could have started a war between America and Cuba.  Cuba was eleven thousand kilometers away from us.  Only a fool would think that we wanted to invade the American continent from Cuba.  Our goal was precisely the opposite:  we wanted to keep the Americans from invading Cuba, and to that end, we wanted to make them think twice by confronting them with our missiles.  This goal we achieved---but not without undergoing a period of perilous tension.” [ibid. pp. 495-496, emphasis mine throughout quotes] 

 

On October 14, 1962 a U2 spy plane photographed those MRBMs on the Island of Cuba.  It wasn’t the intention of the Soviets or Khrushchev to create a military confrontation, but merely to protect Cuba from invasion, lessen the huge gap in U.S. superiority in nuclear strike capability, and as Nikita said, “Giving the Americans a bit of their own medicine.”  It was Khrushchev’s full intention to reveal the presence of the missiles less than three weeks later, on November 7th, 1962, as a surprise announcement at the 45th Anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution Party Conference in Moscow.  But by keeping the presence of the missiles a secret so we could discover them by accident  backfired and created a deadly situation, a nuclear Mexican-Standoff.  The movie Dr. Strangelove worked what Khrushchev had done into their movie script quite accurately:  “The whole point of the Doomsday Machine is lost, IF YOU KEEP IT A SECRET!!!  Why didn’t you tell die Verld, Hey!?!”  (Dr. Strangelove asked the ambassador of Russia.  The ambassador answers back) “It was to be announced at the Party Congress on Monday, as you know, the Premier loves surprises.”  I love that movie, based literally on so much of what was going on between the U.S. and Soviet Union.  On October 22nd Kennedy decided on a naval blockade and inspection of all Soviet ships traveling to Cuba.  He called it a “Quarantine” in an attempt to lessen the incendiary rhetoric flying around.

 

October 26, 1962

 

On October 26, 1962 250,000 American troops were assembling, 2,000 bombing sorties were being mapped out (probably with General Curtis “Demon” LeMay chafing at the bit, cigar clenched in his teeth), and U.S. fighter planes were buzzing the Cuban mainland at treetop level.  The world was holding its collective breath.  Both Kennedy and Khrushchev feared they were losing control of their respective military machines.  Then, amazingly (it stunned Robert McNamara when he read it), Nikita Khrushchev sent President Kennedy an urgent letter which simply asked for a promise to not invade Cuba.  He said, “It would not be in our power to stop it.  War ends when it has rolled through cities and villages, everywhere sowing death and destruction.”  Khrushchev, who by the way, had witnessed what he had just said along the whole ‘Eastern Front’ between the German army and Soviet Red Army, as well as in the Battle of Stalingrad, which he was a part of, spoke those words understanding their full meaning.  Khrushchev said to his generals, “Now what good would it have done me in the end, last hour of my life, to know the whole of our great nation and the United States were in complete ruin and the national honor of the Soviet Union was intact?”

 

October 27, 1962

The Most Dangerous Moment In History

 

As a group of Soviet ships were getting close to the Quarantine line, about a hundred miles back from there the U.S.S. Randolph Carrier Group had isolated one of four Soviet submarines that had been assigned to guard the Soviet surface ships.  The Randolph Carrier Group started dropping ‘practice’ depth-charges on this cornered submarine.  Then they dropped a larger one, probably a real one on this hapless boat.  Power went out on the sub, lights went out, emergency lighting came on, ventilation ceased, carbon dioxide levels rose (I was on a similar submarine, a WWII Fleet sub in 1968-69, so I know what these guys were going through).  Unknown to the Randolph Carrier Group, these four submarines had been armed with nuclear tipped torpedoes, probably quite similar to our Mark 45 Astor 11-kiloton babies.  Commander Valantin Sivitsky, in a panic, ordered the nuclear torpedo readied for firing.  In a last-minute consultation with the other two officers on the boat, the political officer, [Zampolitei] Vasili Arkhipov calmed down the nervous captain and convinced him not to fire the nuke fish, thus more than likely preventing a nuclear World War III.  Also, in a letter to the editor section of the American Legion, where they were asking veterans of the Cuban Missile Crisis to comment on any of their experiences, a submarine sailor who had been onboard the U.S.S. George Washington said that for two hours (maybe the same time we had this sub cornered?  scary thought), the George Washington had all 16 of her Polaris missiles “spun up,” ready for instant launch.  As if this was not enough, a U2 spy plane was shot down over Cuba, killing its pilot.  Khrushchev had not authorized this.  The Joint Chiefs, with more than likely Curtis LeMay in the lead, wanted to take out all the Cuban anti-aircraft firing sites and missiles.  Kennedy say “No.”  [I highly recommend the movie about this, titled “Thirteen Days” staring Kevin Costner.  It gives you the entire historic scenario.] 

 

October 28, 1962

 

On October 28th, 1962 the Soviets announced they would withdraw the missiles.  Interestingly, during the whole crisis Soviet missiles (unlike ours) were never fueled, and the Red Army reserves were never called up. Nikita Khrushchev was a cool customer. Again, I close this episode with Khrushchev’s words, “The two most powerful nations of the world had been squared off against one another, each with its finger on the button.  You’d have thought that war was inevitable.  But both sides showed that if the desire to avoid war is strong enough, even the most pressing dispute can be solved by compromise.  And a compromise over Cuba was indeed found.  The episode ended in a triumph of common sense.  I’ll always remember the late President with deep respect because, in the final analysis, he showed himself to be sober-minded and determined to avoid war.  He didn’t let himself become frightened, nor did he become reckless.  He didn’t overestimate America’s might, and he left himself a way out of the crisis.  He showed real wisdom and statesmanship when he turned his back on right-wing forces in the United States who were trying to goad him into taking military action against Cuba.”  [“KHRUSHCHEV REMEMBERS” p. 500, par. 4, sel. parts]

 

Khrushchev’s Letter

 

Sadly, Khrushchev would be legally forced out of power by the combined Politburo in 1964, due to major mistakes he was making with his personal governing of the collective farms, which threatened to bring a famine to the Soviet Union if they didn’t act.  His removal had absolutely nothing to do with the Cuban Missile Crisis, as many in the West have wrongly believed [read Roy and Zhores A. Medvedev’s book KHRUSCHEV: THE YEARS IN POWER”].  But before this occurred, probably right after the crisis, Khrushchev sent President Kennedy a long letter.  He started out by saying “Evil have brought on good…”  He then went on to make a number of bold and stunning proposals for eliminating “everything in our relations capable of generating a new crisis.”  He suggested a non-aggression treaty between N.A.T.O. and the Warsaw Pact nations.  “Why not” he said, disband all military blocs, cease testing all nuclear weapons, in the atmosphere, in outerspace, underwater, and also underground.”  Also included were proposed solutions to the conflicts over Germany and China.  Initially Jack Kennedy’s response was cool, but both men had, underneath it all, been traveling in the same direction.  Khrushchev had been in the most destructive ravages of war on the Russian Eastern Front and in Stalingrad.  He was in the grips of trying to modernize the collective farm system and bring some degree of democratic freedoms into them as well.  Although, how to accomplish this, sadly, was beyond him, he wasn’t a trained agronomist.  He really didn’t want the Soviet Union to be in a Cold War with the United States, and neither was that the desire of Jack Kennedy, underneath it all.  They had inherited the Cold War, but neither leader wanted it, and they were trying their hardest to figure out how to get rid of it.  Kennedy started moving in the direction Khrushchev’s letter pointed.  Kennedy in his National Security Action Memorandum 263 started to take action to pull the U.S. out of Vietnam.  He said to his close aid Kenny O’Donnell “In 1965 I’ll become one of the most unpopular Presidents in history.  I’ll be damned everywhere as a Communist appeaser, but I don’t care.  If I try to pull out completely now [October 1963] from Vietnam, we’d have another Joe McCarthy Red Scare on our hands.  But ah I can do it after I’m re-elected.  So, ah, we’d better make damn sure I am re-elected.”

June 1963

Kennedy’s Commencement Address At The American University

 

In June 1963 at the Commencement Address at the American University, John F. Kennedy encouraged his listeners to think of the Soviet people in human terms, and called for an end to the Cold War.  (He was finally singing Khrushchev’s tune, which Eisenhower was never willing to do.)  John Kennedy said this at the Commencement Address, “What kind of a peace do I mean, and what kind of a peace do we seek?  Not a Pax-Americana, enforced on the world by American weapons of war.  Let us re-examine our attitude towards the Soviet Union.  It is sad to realize the extent of the gulf between us.  And if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity.  For in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet.  We are all mortal.”

September 1963:  The U.S. Senate passes 80 to 19 Kennedy’s Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.  Kennedy said of the treaty, “For this treaty is for all of us.  It is particularly for our children and our grandchildren, and they have no lobby here in Washington.  According to the ancient Chinese proverb, a journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.  My fellow Americans, let us take that first step.”  Now, as Khrushchev had called for before with Eisenhower, Kennedy called for replacing the Space Race with joint U.S.-Soviet exploration of space and the moon.  Khrushchev had been calling for this and an end to the Cold War since 1957.  Finally with Jack Kennedy he had a willing participant.  But it wasn’t to be. 

 

Quote From The Sad Movie “JFK”

 

“In September 1963 Kennedy planned for getting all U.S. personnel out of Vietnam by the end of 1965.  This plan was one of the strongest, most important papers issued from the Kennedy White House, his National Security Action Memo number 263 ordered home the first 1,000 troops for Christmas…But why?  Why was JFK killed?  In 1961, right after the Bay of Pigs [fiasco] National Security Action Memos 55, 56, 57…basically in them Kennedy instructed General Lemnitzer, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, that from here on forward the Joint Chiefs of Staff would be wholly responsible for all covert paramilitary action in peace-time.  This basically ended the reign of the C.I.A., splintered it, as JFK promised he would, into a thousand pieces.  And now he was ordering the military to help him do it.  This was unprecedented…the shockwaves this sent along the corridors in Washington, this of course with the firing of Allen Dulles, Richard Bissel and General Charles Cabell, all the sacred cows in Intel since World War II.  They got some very upset people here.  Kennedy’s directives were never really implemented because of bureaucratic resistance…Remember the budget cuts that Kennedy called for in March of 1963, nearly 52 military installations in 25 States, 21 overseas bases…The organizing principle of any society is for war.  The authority of the State over its people resides in its war-powers.  And Kennedy wanted to end the Cold War in his second term.  He wanted to call off the Moon Race in cooperation with the Soviets.  He signed a treaty with the Soviets to ban nuclear testing.  He refused to invade Cuba in 1962 [during and after the Cuban Missile Crisis], and he set out to withdraw from Vietnam.  All of that ended on the 22nd of November 1963.  [On the] 26th November [one] day after they buried Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson signs National Security Action Memo 273, which essentially reverses Kennedy’s new withdrawal [from Vietnam] policy and gives a green light to covert action against North Vietnam, which provoked the Tonkin Gulf incident.  In that document lay the Vietnam War.”  [quote from the Oliver Stone movie “JFK”]  “Kennedy seemed to be a man who was too far ahead of his time, and was killed for it” said Oliver Stone.  And let’s not forget that Henry A. Wallace was also a man ahead of his time, and he got politically killed for it.  Kennedy, Khrushchev and Henry Wallace, three great leaders, oh, and let’s not forget Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the fourth great leader here. 

 

One movie comedy I love which exemplifies the stupidity of our actions over the years toward the Soviet Union is the old 1965 movie “THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING, THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING” starring Alan Arkin, Carl Reiner, Eva Marie Saint, Brian Keith and Jonathan Winters. The movie is about a sightseeing Soviet submarine commander who accidentally runs his submarine aground on the coast of a small island in New England.  The local townsfolk think the Russians are invading, while the poor Russians are just trying to find a powerboat that could help them dislodge their submarine off the sandbar.  It is a hilarious movie about misjudged intentions, and in the end shows the attitudes we should have had all along toward the Russians. 

 

Be sure to purchase and read L. Fletcher Prouty's "JFK, The CIA, Vietnam, and the Plot to Assassinate John F. Kennedy"

 

 

 

 

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