[private] Forty eight years ago this month, during the week of October 16, 1962 a U.S. spy plane took photographs revealing that the Soviet Union was building launch pads in Cuba for intermediate-range SS-4 and SS-5 nuclear missiles. If launched from Cuba only 90 miles from Florida, they could easily reach the U.S. mainland. I was only 13 years old at the time, but I remember clearly how the entire planet held its breath as the scenario unfolded in what became known as the Cuban Missile Crisis. We would all gather around the radio here in the Bay Islands and listen to the Voice of America and Radio Belize as the details became known. In response to the spy plane photos, U.S. President John F. Kennedy established a special executive committee (ExComm) to help him consider his options, which included an invasion of Cuba, an air attack on the launch sites, a U.S. nuclear strike and a blockade of the island. Blockade was the option President Kennedy chose.
On October 22, 1962 President Kennedy went on television to tell the American people and the world that he was ordering a naval blockade and quarantine on all Soviet ships destined for Cuban ports. The purpose of this was to prevent additional military supplies from reaching Cuba while he and ExComm considered possible courses of action. For about two weeks the whole world was in suspense as the Kennedy administration negotiated with Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev and the Politburo in a desperate attempt to avoid a nuclear war. The crisis reached a crescendo when an American U-2 spy plane was shot down over Cuba. We all felt certain at that point that nuclear war was inevitable. As a result of the downing of the spy plane, all American forces were put on DefCon (Defense Condition) two, the alert level just short of wartime footing.
During the negotiations two points of agreement surfaced. Number one: Soviet Secretary General Nikita Khrushchev wrote President Kennedy that he would remove the missiles from Cuba (after first denying their existence) in return for President Kennedy’s pledge that the U.S. would not invade Cuba. President Kennedy agreed. I recall the famous statement by U.S. Secretary of State Dean Rusk once the Soviet Union agreed to stand down in the missile crisis: “We’re eyeball to eyeball and I think the other fellow just blinked.”
Number two: In secret meetings the president’s brother, Attorney General Robert Kennedy informed the Soviet ambassador to the United States Anatoly Dobrynin, that in return for removing the missiles from Cuba the U.S. would remove their intermediate-range Jupiter missiles targeted at the Soviets in Turkey, provided their removal remained secret. On October 28, 1962 the Soviet Union accepted the deal and the Cuban missile crisis was officially over.
Through the years the Cuban missile crisis has been considered a victory for the U.S. because the soviets “blinked” by removing their missiles from Cuba. In retrospect, I see it as a clear victory for the Soviets. What did the U.S. achieve? Basically a return to the status quo, nothing more. The Soviets on the other hand got a bonus, the removal of the missiles aimed at them from Turkey.
To quote author Emily Dickinson “Opinion is a fleeting thing, but truth outlasts the sun, if then we cannot own them both – possess the oldest one.” Truth is not always popular, but it is always right. And finally this from American author and critic Susan Sontag (1933-2004): “The truth is always something that is told, not something that is known. If there were no speaking or writing, there would be no truth about anything.”