It is terrible even to imagine what would have happened if the ambitions of Khrushchev and Kennedy prevailed!
Sometimes we are ashamed of high-flying words; this is probably because we are afraid of looking insincere. But it is a different case today. Forty years ago, the Caribbean crisis put the world on the brink of catastrophe. However, not a single nerve moved in both the USA and USSR. And now, after forty years, analysts say that the Cuban crisis is an exemple for George W. Bush: if it finally comes to war against Iraq, it is advisable to give the war idea up at the very last moment, the way that President Kennedy had done. The majority of analysts think that Bush’s idea of war against Iraq is just a political action aimed at raising his personal rating. The same way the Caribbean crisis helped President Kennedy.
Lessons taught during the Caribbean crisis forty years ago seem universal. This is the case, because none of the conflicting parties knew what it wanted to achieve as a result of the unbelievable conflict. In the whole history of the USA, the Cuban missile crisis is a convincing, and probably the only triumph of the 35th American President John Kennedy on the foreign political scene. John Kennedy summarized his dealings with Khrushchev with five words: “I cut his balls.” However, it is still a question who actually did it and what was really cut.
In April 1962, the head of the US Atlantic Command, Admiral Robert Dennison showed President Kennedy how Polaris ballistic missile-firing submarines operated. After the military exercises, the admiral asked Kennedy if he wanted to ask any questions. “Kennedy said nothing, then a rather long pause followed,” Dennison recollected later. “Then the president asked if the missiles could be stopped; I said no.” And approximately at the same time Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev decided to secretly deploy medium range ballistic missiles in Cuba. He realized perfectly well the strength of the US missiles in Turkey.
The New York Times reported on September 7, 1962 that 4,000 Soviet soldiers were present in Cuba. Republican senator from the state of New York Kenneth Keating made a sensational statement during a debate in the upper chamber: he blamed President Kennedy of inertness and said that construction of Soviet missile launching plants was underway in Cuba. Fidel Castro said on September 11 that the US Congress debates meant that they were playing with fire. The Soviet cargo ship Poltava, which brought the first batch of eight medium range ballistic missiles, was ready for unloading in the Cuban port of Mariel. The US president met with Soviet Foreign Minister Andrey Gromyko on October 18, when the latter came to the USA for a regular session of the UN General Assembly. Gromyko said: “All Cuba wants is just peaceful coexistence; it is not going to supply its defense systems to Latin America.”
Later, John Kennedy told one of his advisers that it had been awful to sit and hear Gromyko tell lies. Gromyko sent a cable from Washington to Moscow on October 19, which evidenced that he was appeased by the meeting with the US president. One-hundred-sixty-four Soviet nuclear war-heads were deployed on the island by October 22; the strength of the Soviet contingent in Cuba made up 43,000 soldiers and officers under command of General Issa Pliyev. By the way, one more event occurred on that very day, October 22: in Moscow, a colonel from the Soviet Central Intelligence Department, Oleg Penkovsky, was arrested for spying for the USA. This man was known in the West as “the spy who prevented the third world war.” And there are rather strong reasons for the spy to be described this way.
John Kennedy’s presidential campaign was mostly based on the promise to eliminate the gap between the USA and the USSR concerning the amount of missiles owned by both countries. When he became the US president, he learnt that the gap actually existed, but it was in the US’s favor! There is an opinion that Oleg Penkovsky was a spy sent by some people in the Kremlin who wanted to bring relations with the West back to a normal course again. Those people were opponents to Nikita Khrushchev, who later did everything to overthrow him. The Caribbean crisis initiated the decline of Khrushchev’s career.
The Pentagon issued an order to deploy US troops, including nuclear, marines, land, and air forces, which was to be the largest deployment since WWII. For the first time in the history the US, the air force followed the DEFCON 1 (Defense Condition) quarter-bill, which meant alertness close to the condition of a complete war alertness. 1436 B-52 and B-47 bombers B-52 and 172 intercontinental ballistic missiles were placed on state of a complete war alert. One-eighth of the bombers were constantly in the air with nuclear weapons on board for 30 days. According to the plan of the operation, 579 battle planes were to make two sorties each during the first 24 hours of the war. The Pentagon estimated that US Army losses would be 18,500 soldiers killed and wounded over the first ten days of the operation. On October 23, President Kennedy signed a battle order to quarantine Cuba.
The Soviet ships with missiles on board either muffled the engines and drifted, or immediately veered round and left the place. The CIA analysts studied the pictures shot by a U-2 spy plane on October 25 and understood that construction works at all of the 24 medium range missile launchers were completed and missiles could be launched within 6-8 hours. In the second part of the day on October 25, a Soviet missile brought a U-2 down when the plane was making a reconnaissance flight over Cuba. A White House messenger delivered another letter from the US president to the Soviet Embassy in Washington during the night of October 25. Kennedy blamed Khrushchev for deliberate deceit and insisted that status quo be restored: “I hope the Soviet government will take all necessary measures to restore the previously existing situation.”
On October 27, Robert Kennedy met with Soviet Ambassador Dobrynin, and the meeting proved crucial. Dobrynin dared to ask Robert Kennedy what would be done with the Turkish bases: indeed, the US missiles could as easily reach the Soviet Union from Turkey as the Soviet missiles from Cuba. The Americans agreed to remove the missiles from Turkey in exchange for the removal of the Soviet missiles from Cuba. It is terrible even to imagine what would happened if the ambitions of Khrushchev and Kennedy prevailed in the situation! This would have meant death to the whole of the planet.