Tuesday, November 20, 2012

'Thirteen Days' Reconsidered

‘Thirteen Days: A Memoir of the Cuban Missile Crisis’ is an intimate look into the decision making process that President Kennedy was faced with during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The book is written by Robert Kennedy, President John F. Kennedy’s brother and U.S. Attorney General from 1961-1964, so it offers an in depth look into private conversations and thoughts JFK shared as well as information he obtained as U.S. Attorney General during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Overall, the book shines a positive light on JFK’s administration and handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis, although it does offer the sentiment that peace during the crisis was not easily attained. It is commonly understood that during the ‘Thirteen Days’ dubbed as the Cuban Missile Crisis the U.S. came to the brink of war with the Soviets. This October, 2012, was the 50 year anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Many journalists used this as a time to reflect on the decisions made during the crisis. One article I came across on the Arms Control Association website raises the question of whether the Cuban Missile “Crisis” was in fact even a legitimate crisis to begin with, and in further consideration, was any action even necessary?

First, Bernstein, the author of the article “Reconsidering the Perilous Cuban Missile Crisis 50 Years Later”, makes the point that McNamara, President Kennedy, and National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy all acknowledged the missiles as a political threat, not a military one. Next, he points out that had it been a military threat, the U.S. outnumbered the Soviet Union with nuclear missiles 4-to-1. With the immense amount of nuclear capability of the U.S. over the Soviets, they weren’t even to be considered a military threat. Especially since Krushchev made that emotional plea to JFK about the danger of a nuclear arms race—right? “The United States should not be concerned about missiles in Cuba; they would never be used to attack the United States and were there for defensive purposes only. We want…not to destroy your country…but, to compete peacefully, not by military means” (Kennedy, 67).

This brings me to the next criticism that Bernstein presents in his article, the criticism of the Kennedy administration for neglecting to attempt a secret diplomacy with the Soviets. This criticism bothers me the most of all because it seems to me that neutral communication was attempted throughout the entire crisis and it most always resulted in lies from the Soviets until they were to the point of being threatened into telling the truth. Ultimately, the Soviets, through display of their own behavior, were not to be trusted. The Soviet Union tried to deny that any missiles existed in Cuba at all until the U.S. presented photographic evidence. It is rather pointless to make an attempt at a secret diplomacy with a nation whom has already proved to be elusive when it comes to any truths of which are backed by concrete evidence, much less the truths of their intentions.

Overall, I think the principal of the mission was fulfilled—keeping the peace not only in the United States but in all nations involved. In Kennedy’s speech at American University in June 1963 he proclaimed his intentions during the Cuban Missile Crisis, “I am talking about genuine peace, the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living, and the kind that enables men and nations to grow, and to hope, and build a better life for their children—not merely peace for Americans, but peace for all men and women”. So, you can look back and criticize the President’s methods of handling the Cuban Missile Crisis, and I invite that—a difference of opinions is monumental to true understanding, as Kennedy would agree, but I believe that overall the Cuban Missile Crisis was truly one of the President’s ‘finest hours’ as I’m sure many would accept as being our historical truth.

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