It is not even October yet. It is not even fifity (fifity? fifty) years yet. The 50th anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis is still way off in 2012. But I like to try and stay ahead of the pack.
For a certain person of a certain age, the Cuban Missile Crisis is firmly implanted in their memories. It is a What If scenario that haunts them. A distant nightmare that has, like so much of life during the Cold War, warped and twisted their growth and development. Oh, not in any visible way, not in any traumatic emotional or experiential way, but in a cold, dry, academic way.
Had matters gone slightly askew, many of us would not be alive. Many of us would have had a vastly different life than the life of comparative ease and plenty we have enjoyed. Many of us would have grown up stunted, brutish, and feral, in a post-nuclear landscape. Those of us who had survived. Those of us who had not been incinerated, buried, suffocated, irradiated, or mangled in the exchange of nuclear fire. Those of us who made it through the years of starvation, famine, plague, and predation by our fellow citizens. Those of us who, due to the circumstances and necessities of mere survival, were not quite entirely human anymore. It is a world that can be discussed, possibly even envisioned, but in no real way imagined. It is a mythology we can all do without.
And speaking of mythology, quite a few myths sprouted from that crisis. Perhaps the biggest myth of all is the classic line from then Secretary of State Dean Rusk "We were eyeball to eyeball and the other guy just blinked". Well, movies have been made, books have been written, information declassified, and the tapes of the cabinet meetings released, and we now know that statement, like so much of American Cold War history, is pure and utter horseshit.
To cite just one example, and there are many, the crisis was resolved by a secret agreement between Kennedy and Krushchev to remove recently installed American missiles from Turkey in exchange for the removal of Cuban missiles. No macho posturing. No staring eyeball to eyeball. It was, in the final days of the crisis, Kennedy, against the wishes of his trigger happy cabinet, doing some horse trading with Krushchev.
Not all that surprising. Kennedy, after being bullied and lied to by the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Bay of Pigs fiasco, was understandably distrustful of them. Militarily, as Commander-in-Chief, he did exactly the minimum necessary amount, but no more. In the final analysis, the men in Kennedy's Cabinet, the "best and the brightest", were not so bright after all. And just as well!
But here's the thing. All attention is paid to Kennedy, but hardly any to the guy who precipitated the crisis, Nikita Krushchev. Most people think of him from his visit to America. The blustering, bad-tempered, Russian circus bear of a buffoon. I mean, who else but a buffoon would listen to Castro, manufacture a crisis by foolishly deploying Russian nukes right in America's backyard?
What kind of a buffoon? Why the kind of buffoon that managed to survive Stalin. That not only survived Stalin's inner circle, but managed to rise of power after his death. Someone that can do that is not a buffoon.
Which makes me wonder. All the evidence was from aerial photographs. All of the Russian nuke missiles are there, but there is no evidence that they are armed with nukes. Is it possible that a smart old chess player in Russia decided that he might just be able to get something for nothing out of a young and inexperienced President?
How do we know there were any nukes at all there? Did Krushchev snooker Kennedy?
Well, the evidence now is that a handful of tactical nukes were in Cuba, and that's it. Those tactical nukes had a battlefield range, and yield (a few kilotons). But there is no indication that there were any strategic nukes in Cuba. I think the wily old Russians pulled one over on us. You know, sometimes you get the Bear. Sometimes the Bear gets you.
And thinking about it, would Krushchev want to grant Fidel Castro access to strategic nuclear weapons?
Not even a circus bear would do that.