Opinion from a Libertarian ViewPoint

The most important lesson of the Cuban Missile Crisis

Posted by M. C. on October 14, 2022

The carefully concealed truth did not emerge for more than a decade. Kennedy, it turns out, had made a secret deal with Khrushchev. He promised to remove US nuclear missiles from Turkey in exchange for the Soviet removal of missiles from Cuba. So the crisis was ended not by threats of force, as Rusk suggested, but by the precise opposite: diplomatic compromise.

By Stephen Kinzer Contributor,

It’s been 60 years since our last brush with nuclear suicide. Humanity barely survived that encounter in 1962, known to history as the Cuban Missile Crisis. Never since then has nuclear apocalypse been as close as it is today. Take it from President Biden.

“We have not faced the prospect of Armageddon since Kennedy and the Cuban Missile Crisis,” Biden told a California audience a few days ago. His aides, The New York Times reported, have been studying the secret deal that averted catastrophe 60 years ago and “debating whether there might be an analogous understanding” to end the Ukraine war. The central lesson of the Cuban Missile Crisis provides our only extant guide to defusing a nuclear crisis.

A generation of American politicians and strategic thinkers misunderstood this lesson. They may be forgiven, because our government covered up the real story for years. Americans were told that the missile crisis taught one lesson. Later we discovered that it taught the exact opposite.

The missile crisis seized the world’s attention in October 1962. President John F. Kennedy announced that the United States had discovered Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba “capable of striking Washington.” He demanded that the Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev, remove them. That led to the most crucial long-distance negotiation in human history.

All of Kennedy’s military advisers urged him to order massive bombing of Cuba. “The operation is fairly simple, it could be accomplished in a few minutes,” General Curtis LeMay assured him. “We see no problem with this.”

Kennedy did. He worried that subduing Cuba would require not just bombing but a full-fledged invasion, to which Moscow might respond with devastating force. His speech to the nation on Oct. 22, 1962, was delicately balanced. He repeated his demand that the Soviets remove their missiles from Cuba but said the United States would act with “patience and restraint” and not “prematurely or unnecessarily risk the costs of nuclear war in which even the fruits of victory would be ashes in our mouth.”

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