"Scholars, however, have long known a very different story"
February 8, 2013 3:36 PM   Subscribe

The Real Cuban Missile Crisis: Everything you think you know about those 13 days is wrong.
posted by andoatnp (49 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite

 
At this point the "official" narrative has been debunked so often and so effectively that when I saw "everything you think you know is wrong" I assumed that this would be a piece saying that actually some part of the Kennedy-hagiography line was actually true.
posted by yoink at 3:44 PM on February 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


I read this a few days back. It's excellent, but confirmed that I've completed the process of growing incredibly, incredibly cynical because not a single thing surprised me in the least.
posted by nevercalm at 3:44 PM on February 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


So it turns out I must be a scholar. Who knew?
posted by Longtime Listener at 3:48 PM on February 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


I in fact did not know this. Is there a good book on Kennedy that is neither hagiography nor right-wing smear job?
posted by Bookhouse at 3:54 PM on February 8, 2013


Ehh. Everything you think you know about these 13 days, confirmed once again, but article writer has to assume these revelations are actual news to most people.
posted by MartinWisse at 3:56 PM on February 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Not that it isn't a good article though for those who are new to the subject.
posted by MartinWisse at 3:56 PM on February 8, 2013


Three scholarly observations relevant to all of this.

1. There are two JFKs. The hawkish sort of narcissist who took office in 1960 because his side did a better job of rigging the Illinois ballots than Nixon's side. The post-LSD JFK. He tripped the light lysergic, saw the error of his ways, embraced the Buddha, tried to get out Vietnam, joined the Beatles fan club and ultimately got assassinated for his troubles.

2. I'll burn my copy of the JFK Hagiography if all y'all right wing types do the same with your copy of the Ronald Reagan Hagiography.

3. I can't remember my third observation. But trust me, it was scholarly as shit.
posted by philip-random at 3:57 PM on February 8, 2013 [19 favorites]


It was actual news to me. I learned about it in school and haven't really thought about it since; the myths the article debunked were pretty similar to the way I originally heard it.

None of it is particularly surprising, given what I've learned about mythmaking in American history since, but I hadn't actually heard this information before.
posted by Mars Saxman at 4:03 PM on February 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


For some reason I thought this was known. But I guess I only knew that because I watched The Cold War series, and played Twilight Struggle.
posted by symbioid at 4:03 PM on February 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


I did not score many points in those AP history classes for pointing out the Turkey and UK missile bases.

The myth does not take kindly to inconvenient strategic realities.
posted by Slackermagee at 4:06 PM on February 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


Honestly, JFK getting his brains blown out in Dallas was the best thing that could've ever happened to him and America, no matter how awful it was at the time. It got a president in the White House who actually gave a shit about equality and it helped his legacy avoid the quagmire of Vietnam that LBJ got saddled with.
posted by MartinWisse at 4:07 PM on February 8, 2013 [7 favorites]


It got a president in the White House who actually gave a shit about equality and it helped his legacy avoid the quagmire of Vietnam that LBJ got saddled with.

I've been grappling with the concept of quantum immortality lately. Thought exercise: the success of the incredibly unlikely asassination plot was due to the fact that this is the billion to one universe where the world wasn't destroyed over nuclear delployment during remainder of the JFK, or future RFK, presidency.
posted by hwyengr at 4:32 PM on February 8, 2013 [15 favorites]


Next up? Why we are all better off that MLK got shot.
posted by found missing at 4:32 PM on February 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


I haven't watched this since the 1970s when it was on TV, but I formed most of my impressions of the Cuban missile crisis from the teleplay The Missiles of October, based on RFK's book. I have just discovered that it is available on YouTube. Some of it is obviously inaccurate, given recordings and such released long after it was done. William Devane plays the president. Martin Sheen plays RFK. Now I'll have to watch it and see if it is as good as I remember.
posted by Xoc at 4:36 PM on February 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Um, did anyone not know about the missile swap at this point? It's been in several films, both documentary and re-enactment.

In fact I have a crusty old international relations text book which discusses everything in FPP, including the reasons why Britain and France decided to establish their own nuclear forces. Which was partly based on the US's proclivity to go toe to toe with the USSR without consulting their main allies.
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 4:36 PM on February 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


If this article is true, and RFK did consistently demand an actual invasion of Cuba, then it's not an exaggeration to say that his assassination probably saved the human race from total destruction.

That is ... amazing.
posted by Avenger at 4:39 PM on February 8, 2013 [5 favorites]


Well, to be fair, RFK in '62 isn't the same as RFK in '68, having lived through the Cuban Missile Crisis.
posted by MartinWisse at 5:04 PM on February 8, 2013 [5 favorites]


I'm jaded enough not to believe in the "Camelot" myth of the JFK presidency, but I don't think that the crisis was completely the sort of thoughtless brinkmanship that the article tries to portray.

I don't for one second buy the author's contention that the Cuban missiles were strategically tolerable, any more than the Jupiters in Turkey were tolerable to Russia. Also, although very provocative and dangerous, I don't think Russia would have likely gone nuclear if Cuba was invaded, since US / Cuba relations were still so raw.

Notice when the author finally brings out some axes to grind:
This notion that standing up to aggression (however loosely and broadly defined) will deter future aggression (however loosely and broadly defined) fails to weather historical scrutiny. After all, America’s invasion and occupation of Iraq didn’t deter Muammar Qaddafi; America’s war against Yugoslavia didn’t deter Saddam Hussein in 2003; America’s liberation of Kuwait did not deter Slobodan Milošević; America’s intervention in Panama did not deter Saddam Hussein in 1991; America’s intervention in Grenada did not deter Manuel Noriega; America’s war against North Vietnam did not deter Grenada’s strongman, Hudson Austin; and JFK’s confrontation with Khrushchev over missiles in Cuba certainly did not deter Ho Chi Minh.
Um, what? You can't compare those with the US-Russia standoff, and it conveniently ignores other US meddling in some of those special cases.

The happy fact is that both US and Russia jointly stepped back from the edge a bit, and we've all benefited.
posted by Artful Codger at 5:08 PM on February 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


It wasn't in Cuba?
posted by nathancaswell at 5:21 PM on February 8, 2013 [5 favorites]


I don't for one second buy the author's contention that the Cuban missiles were strategically tolerable

A) why not?

and

B) Kennedy and Kennedy's military advisors all seemed to think they were strategically tolerable (but not politically tolerable). What do you know that they didn't?
posted by yoink at 5:31 PM on February 8, 2013


It wasn't in Cuba?

It was actually a back yard in Ohio, and instead of missiles? Water balloons!
posted by jason_steakums at 5:37 PM on February 8, 2013


Wait wait wait... are they claiming that Magneto wasn't involved?
posted by Halloween Jack at 5:39 PM on February 8, 2013 [12 favorites]


I don't for one second buy the author's contention that the Cuban missiles were strategically tolerable, any more than the Jupiters in Turkey were tolerable to Russia. Also, although very provocative and dangerous, I don't think Russia would have likely gone nuclear if Cuba was invaded, since US / Cuba relations were still so raw.

As the article points out both the Jupiter missiles in Turkey and the Soviet missiles in Cuba were liquid engined. This meant that they would take several hours to fuel before being able to launch. In the advent of an actual confrontation between the US and the USSR, they would have been knocked out by air strikes long before they could actually be used. This was essentially Kennedy's back up plan during the crisis.

Political considerations were at the heart of the Cuban missile crisis, both the long standing concerns of the Munroe Doctrine, and the 60's discourse of who could be tougher on Russia in American domestic politics. Not unlike the contemporary discourse of who is tougher on terror.
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 5:54 PM on February 8, 2013


Pshaw, next some moonbat will be telling us that Hiroshima and Nagasaki weren't necessary to win WW2.
posted by localroger at 6:09 PM on February 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


"Kennedy and Kennedy's military advisors all seemed to think they were strategically tolerable (but not politically tolerable)."

The thing that amazes me after reading the article is that these men were recommending a strategy that could lead to their eminent death, or at the very least the death of most of their friends and families, to support the credibility of the United States and the Kennedy Administration. To make the US look tough they were willing to let their families burn.
posted by Kevin Street at 6:42 PM on February 8, 2013


Everyone of a certain age can remember exactly where they were and what they were doing when JFK nearly got them killed.
posted by randomkeystrike at 6:43 PM on February 8, 2013 [8 favorites]


Since I'm lazy as hell, I'll just point out now I've been wanting to make a post about The Armageddon Letters since last November. (If I was a dishonest man, I'd say last October)
posted by absalom at 6:52 PM on February 8, 2013


Political considerations were at the heart of the Cuban missile crisis, both the long standing concerns of the Munroe Doctrine, and the 60's discourse of who could be tougher on Russia in American domestic politics. Not unlike the contemporary discourse of who is tougher on terror.

Politics were part of it, of course, but strategically (which of course involves symbolic as well as genuine threat) you cannot just ignore missiles on your doorstep, if you're intent on remaining #1. What do you allow next?

I wouldn't be surprised to learn that Khrushchev put missiles on Cuba for the express purpose of a stronger bargaining position re the US missiles on Russia's doorstep.
posted by Artful Codger at 7:36 PM on February 8, 2013


Good book on it.
posted by carping demon at 8:06 PM on February 8, 2013


Even having known of the Jupiter missiles in Turkey, the article still exposed the completely optional nature of the confrontation. I had not been aware, for example, that mutual withdrawal had been contemplated and dismissed before the standoff was even known to the public.
posted by wierdo at 8:07 PM on February 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Phrases like "everything you think you know ... is wrong" are incredibly baity. I already knew the general series of events as described in the article, so (although the article was well-written and thought-provoking) I was a bit disappointed.
posted by jyc at 8:19 PM on February 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Artful Codger: you didn't read the article did you? It's not a surprise, that's exactly why Khrushchev did, and everyone knew (well Kennedy had to be reminded). The missiles didn't represent any new threat though - missiles from Russia or a sub kill just as effectively as missiles from Cuba.
posted by Popular Ethics at 8:32 PM on February 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


He told me everything I thought I knew was wrong, then proceeded to lay out the story almost exactly as I was taught it in high school…back in 1985-6, even down to the missile swap with regards to ours in Turkey.
posted by los pantalones del muerte at 12:04 AM on February 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Politics were part of it, of course, but strategically (which of course involves symbolic as well as genuine threat) you cannot just ignore missiles on your doorstep, if you're intent on remaining #1. What do you allow next?

I wouldn't be surprised to learn that Khrushchev put missiles on Cuba for the express purpose of a stronger bargaining position re the US missiles on Russia's doorstep.
posted by Artful Codger at 7:36 PM on February 8 [+] [!]


Well yes, the soviets just had to cop it apparently. Look at a map. Look at where Turkey is. Look at where the former USSR was. FFS.
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 1:36 AM on February 9, 2013


Reagan put SS 20 intermediate range nukes in Turkey in 1982 and that confrontation with the West ended with the collapse of the USSR. Kennedy was 20 years too early.
posted by three blind mice at 2:50 AM on February 9, 2013


RFK did consistently demand an actual invasion of Cuba, then it's not an exaggeration to say that his assassination probably saved the human race from total destruction.

And yet, when confronted with Operation Northwoods it was Kennedy that said no.
posted by rough ashlar at 5:07 AM on February 9, 2013


Reagan put SS 20 intermediate range nukes in Turkey in 1982 and that confrontation with the West ended with the collapse of the USSR.

The fact that the SS-20 was a Soviet missile undercuts this statement a little bit.
posted by COBRA! at 5:12 AM on February 9, 2013 [5 favorites]


. There are two JFKs. The hawkish sort of narcissist who took office in 1960 because his side did a better job of rigging the Illinois ballots than Nixon's side.

Actually, Kennedy would have won without Illinois.
posted by spaltavian at 5:15 AM on February 9, 2013


Artful Codger: you didn't read the article did you? that's exactly why Khrushchev did...

I did read it; you're right, it was fairly close to the beginning, but I got all excited and forgot it. This does bolster one part of my argument, which in a nutshell is:

- the presence of Soviet missiles in Cuba was simply not tolerable, for many reasons, including political, regardless of whether from a strictly military perspective the Cuban missiles weren't so threatening.

The other part of my (poorly made) argument is:
- missiles on Cuba was sort of a bluff (which we all seem to agree on). I don't think USSR would have pushed the red button if the US had invaded Cuba. As the article states, the US had markedly superior capabilities at the time.

Khrushchev bluffed, the US made the right noises for domestic consumption but secretly gave the USSR what they were really after. As dangerous a time as it was, I think that article still overplays the real risks, underestimates both JFK and Khrushchev, and Armageddon wasn't quite as close as it tries to portray.

(and sorry for saying Russia when I meant USSR)
posted by Artful Codger at 5:52 AM on February 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


the US made the right noises for domestic consumption but secretly gave the USSR what they were really after.

Bin Laden - get the US military bases out of Saudi Arabia
Bush - We won't give into terrorists
*spongebob narrator voice* Later
US pulls out of Saudi Arabia

Same as it ever was.
posted by rough ashlar at 6:00 AM on February 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


Around the 25th anniversary of the crisis, the Kennedy School of Government managed to get a bunch of the Soviet and a bunch of the US folks who were involved at fairly high level all in a room and talked about stuff. I'm not sure if the actual document of the proceedings have been put online, but there's a copy somewhere in a Harvard library. I remember skimming the document back years ago when someone I know was working with it. I don't remember details, but I do remember that things were closer than either side had realized and there was a fair bit of "Wait, what? Shiiiiit." from both sides as they talked about it. Also, they showed the group parts of two movies - one American movie excerpt showing what was supposedly happening in the Soviet command room and a Soviet movie showing what was supposedly happening in the American command room.

If you want to mainline some of the history/policy wonkery, I'd look at some of these articles.
posted by rmd1023 at 6:45 AM on February 9, 2013


> Well, to be fair, RFK in '62 isn't the same as RFK in '68, having lived through the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Small thanks to RFK '62, evidently.


> 2. I'll burn my copy of the JFK Hagiography if all y'all right wing types do the same with your copy
> of the Ronald Reagan Hagiography.

It's possible I was saved from Reaganolatry by being from Georgia, cheering for Carter as my homeboy, and being pissed at Reagan for winning. But maybe not, because I didn't think JFK was God either despite having somewhat reluctantly voted for him in my first-ever trip to the polls (I voted for him because Nixon) nor that Obama was God despite having voted for him, twice now. (In 2008 I thought he might well turn out to be a standard issue control-freak Chicago pol, Democratic flavor, and could easily also be pretty bloodthirsty overseas in the JFK-LBJ Democratic tradition. Though I actually quite liked the pre-candidacy McCain I picked O because he was 1. black, and it's time, and 2. Not George Bush--or rather, much more importantly, the cronies he would bring with him were Not George Bush's Cronies.) So, looking back at Reagan, I now see him chiefly as a man with the good luck to come into office at exactly the moment when the USSR, America's great international opponent/bogeyman, was on the point of falling over of its own accord. Which it would have done if Lambchop had been President.) But then I may not actually be a right-winger, only thought one in niche places like metafilter.

PS don't tell jonmc, but I didn't think Clapton was God either.
posted by jfuller at 7:29 AM on February 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm not finished reading the article yet - but a couple of questions are swirling in my head:
1) why did Kennedy ramp up the military so much? What was his motivation?
2) we appear to have had plans for a surprise first strike. Why? What would have motivated the US to start a war?
posted by double bubble at 9:44 AM on February 9, 2013


What would have motivated the US to start a war?

War between the USSR and the USA was thought to be inevitable, and the chances of success (or even survival) would much higher for whoever struck first.
posted by rmd1023 at 10:33 AM on February 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


1) why did Kennedy ramp up the military so much? What was his motivation?

It was the closest election in US history, and Nixon was vice president to the guy who made the military industrial complex speech upon leaving office. Lots of easy votes to be had on the side of arms production.
posted by Chuckles at 11:20 AM on February 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


then it's not an exaggeration to say that his assassination probably saved the human race from total destruction.

Why do you think Monroe was killed? I mean, after she blew Nikita Khrushchev... oh, wait, that hasn't been declassified.

It is a stance toward the world that can easily doom the United States to military commitments and interventions in strategically insignificant places over intrinsically trivial issues.

We do need a military Augustus.
posted by Smedleyman at 2:07 PM on February 9, 2013


Noam Chomsky on Stern's book: Cuban missile crisis: how the US played Russian roulette with nuclear war
posted by homunculus at 5:42 PM on February 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


why did Kennedy ramp up the military so much? What was his motivation?

Chalmers Johnson has a series of books on what military spending means.

niche places like metafilter.

Plenty of "chat places" like Metafilter, so what Metafilter "does" is not 'niche'. It's as unique as a domain name and the people who participate.

Politics eventually seep into conversations and the 'flavor' here is one of If the policy/action has a Democrat behind it, the number of people complaining is minimal. If the policy/action has a Republican behind it it is declared evil.

Pshaw, next some moonbat will be telling us that Hiroshima and Nagasaki weren't necessary to win WW2.

Or that the Lusitania had ammo on it.
posted by rough ashlar at 6:12 AM on February 10, 2013


Being mad is good strategy. A rational actor can only make game-theoretically plausible threats, whereas an irrational actor can plausibly threaten to behave irrationally. MAD doctrine is a lie named for the truth it seeks to hide.
posted by pfh at 6:39 AM on February 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


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