W5.08 To the Brink (2)
And besides, Khrushchev will justify the deployment as something that's just being done to defend beleaguered Cuba. He's right about that. The Cubans do go along with the Soviet proposal, though they are confused about why the Soviets were asking them to do this. They do go along, they accept the risk, along with the Soviets. The plan goes ahead. As the Soviets begin moving these huge amounts of military equipment into Cuba, the Americans, of course not really believing that the Soviets would put nuclear missiles in Cuba, because that would seem so rash, do notice that a lot of stuff is going in. They have to decide how they're going to react publicly to that. In September of 1962, Kennedy gives a press conference where he says, in effect: I'm going to tolerate it if you're just giving the Cubans conventional military supplies. Where I draw the line is, don't put in any offensive systems there, by which he means missiles that can strike the United States. He draws that line precisely because he's been told by his intelligence officials that the Soviets don't plan to do that. But at the very time he's drawing that line, it's exactly what the Soviets are intending to do. The ships are already on the way to do it. But then what happens? The Soviet plan is discovered before Khrushchev was ready to unveil it. He was going to unveil the deployment when it was all ready in November. But after a prolonged argument about whether to fly more of these risky reconnaissance flights, like the one that had been shot down over the Soviet Union, advocates for those flights win the argument. One flight goes over Cuba in the middle of October. It spots the missiles being prepared for deployment. The Soviets don't know their plan has been discovered. The Americans know it. Now they have a chance to prepare their own countermove, in secret, to try to regain the strategic initiative. And that brings us to Act Two of this crisis. Kennedy is debating: Do I just invade Cuba? Or do I throw some sort of blockade around it and negotiate some deal with the Soviets to get the missiles out in exchange for something else I'll give them in return? As Kennedy is hosting this secret debate among his advisers, he has an extraordinary meeting on Friday morning, October 19, 1962. And because he was running a taping system in the White House, and I was actually one of the people who edited the transcripts that published this material, I can take you in this time machine inside the White House on that morning. Now here are the people in the room. Only five people in the room, President Kennedy and his four military leaders, the chairman and other members of the joint chiefs of staff. In that small group, Kennedy explains just how he sees this problem. His explanation, the way he appreciates this situation is complex, but rarely do you get such a deep glimpse into the way the leader of a superpower is appreciating a moment in world history. So, let's go into this time machine and listen to the way President Kennedy outlines the way he's viewing the world at this moment when he's deciding between war and peace on the morning of October 19th. I'm going to take you slowly through this, because I want to take the time for you to understand Kennedy's reasoning. Now first he'll start out by explaining why he thinks the Russians did this. This is a very interesting habit of Kennedy. He clinically, coldly empathizes with the other guy, tries to work through their calculations. He sees three reasons that they did this. Let's listen to him explain the first one. » Firstly, I think we ought to think of why the Russians did this. Well, actually, it was a rather dangerous but rather useful play of theirs. If we do nothing, they have a missile base there with all the pressure that brings to bear on the United States and damage to our prestige. » Got that? Now, he's about to explain a second point, which is if he does anything about the missiles, it gives the Soviets an opening to do it back to him, except he'll do something about Cuba. They will retaliate on Berlin. And Berlin is really important to the whole American position in Europe. And the Europeans regard Cuba as trivial. Let's listen. » If we attack, Cuba, the missiles, or Cuba, in any way, then it gives them a clear, line to take Berlin, as they were able to do in Hungary under the Anglo war in Egypt. We will have been regarded as--they think we've got this fixation about Cuba anyway--we would be regarded as the trigger-happy Americans who lost Berlin. We would have no support among our allies. We would affect the West Germansï¿½ attitude towards us. And that we let Berlin go because we didn't have the guts to endure a situation in Cuba. After all, Cuba is 5, 6,000 miles from them. They don't give a damn about Cuba. And they do care about Berlin and about their own security. So they would say that we endangered their interests and security and reunification and all the rest, because of the preemptive action that we took in Cuba. So I think they've got...I must say I think it's a very satisfactory position from their point of view. If you take the view that what really. And thirdly, If we do nothing then they'll they'll have these missiles and they'll be able to say that any time we ever try to do anything about Cuba, that they'll fire these missiles. So that I think it's dangerous, but rather satisfactory, from their point of view. » Now, Kennedy reveals to you the basic premise behind this analysis. » If you take the view, really, that's what's basic to them is Berlin and there isn't any doubt. In every conversation we've had with the Russians, that's what...Even last night we talked about Cuba for a while, but Berlin--that's what Khrushchev's committed himself to personally. So, actually it's a quite desirable situation from their point of view. » Now letï¿½s listen to Kennedy explain to the Joint Chiefs how he's worked through the policy options. The advantage of acting, but also the danger of acting. Because if he acts, whatever he does, whether it's a strike or a blockade, he fears the Soviets will do exactly the same thing back at Berlin. Let's listen. » That's what makes our problem so difficult. If we go in and take them out on a quick air strike, we neutralize the chance of danger to the United States of these missiles being used, and we prevent a situation from arising, at least within Cuba, where the Cubans themselves have the means of exercising some degree of authority in this hemisphere. On the other hand, we increase the chance greatly, as I think they-- there's bound to be a reprisal from the Soviet Union, there always is-- of their just going in and taking Berlin by force at some point. Which leaves me only one alternative, which is to fire nuclear weapons--which is a hell of an alternative--and begin a nuclear exchange, with all this happening. On the other hand, if we begin the blockage that we're talking about, the chances are they will begin a blockade and say that we started it. And there'll be some question about the attitude of the Europeans. So that, once again, they will say that there will be this feeling in Europe that the Berlin blockade has been commenced by our blockade. So I don't think we've got any satisfactory alternatives. When we balance off that our problem is not merely Cuba but it is also Berlin and when we recognize the importance of Berlin to Europe, and recognize the importance of our allies to us, that's the what has made this thing be a dilemma for three days. Otherwise, our answer would be quite easy. » So it looks like Kennedy's stuck, there's nothing he can do. Except Kennedy also recognizes that he has to do something or else Khrushchev's plan to spring this is November and win the Berlin Crisis will succeed. Let's listen. » On the other hand, we've got to do something, because if we do nothing, we're going to have the problem of Berlin anyway. That was very clear last night. We're going to have this thing stuck right in our guts in about two months. And so we've got do something. » So what is Kennedy going to do? Does he attack, or does he negotiate? The answer actually is he develops a third, middle option, a fusion that's developed by a few of his advisors between just blockade and negotiate and a strike and an invasion. Instead, it's a blockade, but the blockade is a first step that might lead to an invasion. It's a blockade and an ultimatum. I'm stopping this thing with a blockade. You get those missiles out or else. Clearly implied is a readiness to attack Cuba and start a war if the Soviets do not withdraw their missiles. The world understands that it's just been taken to the brink of the nuclear war it's been dreading for more than ten years. Then the next stage of the crisis becomes the spring of the American move. The Americans launch a diplomatic offensive. The Soviets don't know that their plan has been unmasked by the Americans, so it's their turn to be caught off-guard when the Americans hit them with a diplomatic offensive with all the Latin American countries inside the United Nations. Envoys sent to the nations of Western Europe, all explaining the American move, rallying international support. At the same time they're orchestrating an extraordinarily difficult naval blockade of Cuba to freeze the situation and keep more missiles from coming in. That itself puts in motion an enormous movement of military forces, heightened states of alert as the military machines move closer to war and it becomes harder and harder to control them, raising the risk that war might break out through inadvertent actions or accident. That brings us then to act three of the crisis. In Act Three, Moscow, first of all reacts. Caught off guard, their first inclination is: We're going to have to step down somehow, but how do we salvage some measure of our prestige? The Americans, meanwhile, are worried about not letting the situation freeze so that the missiles already in Cuba become a kind of fait accompli. How do they keep edging this along so this situation doesn't harden into one where they've got this standoff. Then comes Saturday, October 27th, the most dangerous day of the crisis. Castro expects an invasion, he's already ready for war. The Soviet military commanders on the scene sympathize with this, and as American surveillance aircraft continue to fly over Cuba, the Soviets, as well as the Cubans, start shooting at them. One of the American aircraft, another U2, is shot down. Its pilot is killed. Meanwhile, another American surveillance aircraft on a totally unrelated matter blunders into Soviet airspace, is chased by Soviet aircraft and is able to escape. Meanwhile, the forces of the two sides are coming closer to confrontation. Castro's writing a letter to Khrushchev, which some historians call the Armageddon letter, essentially saying the invasion is coming, you might as well get ready for a nuclear war with the Americans. As Khrushchevï¿½s absorbing all of this, the Americas are saying, gee we were prepared to end this crisis on terms in which we agree not to invade Cuba, which is what you said you're interested in doing. On October 28th, alarmed that the situation is getting out of hand, Khrushchev capitulates and says he's going to withdraw the missiles.