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David Biale & Sarah Abrevaya Stein
The latest U-2 photos revealed that several MRBM launchers were no longer visible and could have been moved. JFK urged stressing the mobility of the missiles in order to defuse charges that they should have been discovered earlier: “Let’s get that on the record.” The president also seemed surprised to learn that “There is a question about whether these things really exist?” and finally agreed to display some of the photos at the upcoming U.N. debate. Soon after JFK left the meeting, Secretary Rusk arrived with the news that the Organization of American States (OAS) would unanimously endorse the blockade later that afternoon. His colleagues were thrilled that “our diplomacy is working”; but Rusk cautiously observed, “Well, my God! . . . I think it was very significant that we were here this morning.” It appeared that the Soviets were not going to respond to the blockade with a sudden, irrational nuclear strike on the United States.
October 23, 6:00 p.m.
A vigorous debate developed over whether the navy should stop and search Soviet ships that had reversed course before reaching the quarantine line. The president argued that a ship carrying
offensive weapons would most likely turn around to avoid capture. “We’ve hadno indications,” Rusk explained, “of any Soviet instructions . . . to pull way. . . . Just the converse.” Kennedy also expressed serious concerns that the oviet crews might resist boarding and that machine-gun fire could result in
dozens of casualties on both sides. In addition, the defense department’s ivil defense director all but admitted that there was not much that could be done o protect civilians, especially in rural areas, from radiation exposure in he event that “ten or fifteen missiles” were fired at the U.S. from Cuba.
October 23, 7:00 p.m.
Shortly after the conclusion of the 6:00 p.m. meeting, the president and his brother Bobby talked alone in the Oval Office. “It looks like it’s gonna be real mean, doesn’t it?” JFK declared. “If they get this mean on this one—Jesus Christ! What are they gonna fuck up next?” “There wasn’t any choice,” RFK responded; “I mean you woulda been impeached.” “Well, that’s what I think,” JFK replied. They agreed that OAS support would be invaluable in legitimizing the blockade but also recognized that no one could forecast events at the quarantine line the following morning. Wednesday, October 24, 10:00 a.m. The ExComm gathered in the Cabinet Room at virtually the moment that the quarantine proclamation became legally effective. The discussion initially focused on the ships approaching the quarantine line; however, an unconfirmed message arrived claiming that “all six Soviet ships currently identified in Cuban waters have either stopped or reversed course.” There was, nonetheless, great concern that Soviet submarines near Cuba might sink a U.S. Navy vessel. The president (at RFK’s suggestion) ordered all navy ships to have a Russian-speaking officer on board. When confirmation arrived that the Soviet ships had indeed reversed course, the president instructed that they should not be stopped, boarded, or harassed: “Youd don’t wanna have word goin’ out from Moscow, ‘Turn around,’ and suddenly we sink their ship.”
October 24, 4:30 p.m.
The president chatted briefly in the Oval Office with a few advisers. He was shown photos that revealed Soviet efforts to camouflage the missile sites during the night and remarked: “I think the irony will be that the Russians led us into a trap.” Bundy recommended using the photos to “back our claim,” and JFK approved making them available to the press.
October 24, 5:00 p.m.
The president met for the second time with the bipartisan leaders of Congress. Rusk explained that the situation was still fluid and that the Soviets had not yet decided on their next move. President Kennedy suggested several possible scenarios: the Soviets might turn back some ships carrying weapons; they might choose a ship “for a test case, either to have us sink it, or disable it, and have a fight about it”; or they might allow the inspection of ships not carrying offensive weapons. Senators Russell and Fulbright, his toughest critics at the first congressional meeting, asked why conventional weapons (e.g., rifles) were not being interdicted. The president explained that “the first collision with the Soviets” should be on offensive missiles “for political reasons . . . this puts us in a much stronger position around the world.” But he added, “if they accept the quarantine, we will not permit these rifles to go through.” The congressional leaders agreed to remain on eight-hour standby for another meeting.
October 24, 6:00 p.m.
After the congressional meeting, the president talked informally with several advisers in the Oval Office.
Former defense secretary Robert Lovett endorsed the blockade because it gave the Soviets “a couple of days while they make up their own minds what their intentions are.” He was, like the president, suspicious of military overconfidence, especially the “congenital habit of overstating the ease as well as
the results of an air strike.” The views of the sixty-seven-year-old Lovett dovetailed with those already expressed by the forty-five-year-old commander in chief: “There’s no such thing,” he explained, “as a small military action. . . . Now the moment we start anything in this field, we have to be prepared to do everything.” He urged the president to wait until Soviet intentions had become clear. JFK expressed concern that work on the missile sites would continue regardless of the United Nations proposal for a joint suspension of the quarantine and arms shipments to Cuba. McCone stressed, and Kennedy agreed, that any deal had to include a halt to work on the missile sites and assurances that no missiles would be placed on launchers, to be verified by on-site U.N. observers.
Excerpts taken from The Cuban Missile Crisis in American Memory, by Sheldon Stern.
The principal purpose of the meeting was to finalize the president’s speech to the nation (scheduled for early that evening) and the letter to Khrushchev, which would be handed to the Soviet ambassador just before airtime. Secretary of State Dean Rusk proposed a possible U.N. role in neutralizing nuclear missiles in any country that was not a nuclear power—in effect, Cuba, Turkey, and Italy. “Why don’t we go all the way?” the president responded. “That gives us an excuse to get ’em out of Turkey and Italy.” However, he rejected any proposal to lift the quarantine until the missiles were removed from Cuba. There was also discussion about how to handle the press and public relations after the speech, perhaps by making some U-2 photos public.
October 22, noon
The president asked if American personnel in Turkey had been instructed (as he had ordered two days earlier) not to fire the Jupiter missiles without direct presidential authorization. Assistant defense secretary Paul Nitze strenuously resisted, claiming that the JCS had already issued instructions to cover that eventuality; he also reminded the president that an attack on Turkey meant immediate execution of the European Defense Plan—“which is nuclear war.” “I don’t think,” JFK pronounced sharply, “we ought to accept the Chiefs’ word on that one, Paul.” Nitze finally agreed to make sure the JCS understood the president’s orders (for a more complete account of this xchange, see Epilogue).
October 22, 3:00 p.m.
The president met with the full National Security Council, including the Joint Chiefs, to formalize his decision to blockade Cuba. “Khrushchev,” he grimly predicted “will not take this without a response, maybe in Berlin or maybe here. But the choices being one among second best—I think we’ve done the best thing at least as far as you can tell in advance.” He conceded that if work continued on the sites or a
U-2 was shot down then additional steps would be considered. He seemed confident that a convincing case could be made in the court of world public opinion that the blockade was not comparable to the 1948 Soviet blockade of Berlin: “This is not a blockade in that sense. It’s merely an attempt to prevent
the shipment of weapons there.” Kennedy did not want to hand Khrushchev a propaganda plum by revealing that surprise air attacks had even been discussed and was anxious to manage the news in order to preserve this cover story. “So I think,” he ordered, “we oughta just scratch that from all our statements and conversations. . . . I can’t say that strongly enough.”
October 22, 5:00 p.m.
Only two hours before going on national television to reveal the crisis in Cuba, the president met with the bipartisan leaders of the House and Senate—summoned from across the country since Congress was not in session. The leaders, aware that they were being informed, not consulted, sat in stunned silence during a detailed intelligence briefing. Finally, two of the most senior Senate Democrats (Richard Russell of Georgia, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, and J. William Fulbright of Arkansas, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee) vigorously attacked the blockade decision as inadequate and demanded a full invasion (for a more complete account of this exchange, see Epilogue). The president tried to defend his decision, arguing that an attack on Cuba could result in the loss of Berlin or the possible firing of nuclear missiles at the U.S., which he described as “one hell of a gamble.” He predicted that attacking the missile bases and killing thousands of Russians would be far more dangerous than stopping their ships. But he also admitted, “Now, who knows that? . . . We just tried to make good judgments about a matter on which everyone’s uncertain. But at least it’s the best advice we could get. So we start here.”
Excerpts taken from The Cuban Missile Crisis in American Memory: Myth vs. Reality, by Sheldon Stern
Defense secretary Robert McNamara endorsed the blockade but admonished the president that “there were differences among his advisers.” JCS chairman General Maxwell Taylor insisted that attacking the missiles was less dangerous than allowing the sites to become operational. RFK argued that this might be the last chance “to destroy Castro.” The president finally made his position clear: a blockade was the least provocative first step. He again suggested that it might be necessary to remove U.S. missiles from Turkey “if this issue were raised by the Russians.” He also ordered that American personnel in Turkey be instructed not to fire the Jupiter missiles, even if attacked, without a direct presidential order. Kennedy directed Ted Sorensen to prepare a speech to the nation announcing the blockade.
Sunday, October 21, early morning and 2:30 p.m.
The discussions turned to the implementation and enforcement of the blockade, defined as a "quarantine of offensive missile equipment.” The president expressed the hope that the Soviets would “turn their ships back rather than submit to inspection.” But he still feared that Khrushchev might instead rush the missile sites to completion, announce that “Soviet rockets will fly” if the U.S. attacked Cuba, and move to force the U.S. out of Berlin. Kennedy also ordered the evacuation of U.S. dependents
from the Guantánamo naval base within twenty-four hours; 2,500 military family members were given fifteen minutes to pack one bag each before boarding navy transport ships for Norfolk, Virginia.
Friday, October 19, 9:45 a.m.
The president met with the Joint Chiefs of Staff to reveal his decision to blockade rather than bomb or invade Cuba. He explained that a limited first step might persuade the Soviets not to retaliate in Berlin—reducing the chance of nuclear war. General Curtis LeMay, air force chief of staff, countered that only an invasion would deter Khrushchev in Berlin and called the blockade “almost as bad as the appeasement at
Munich.” The navy, army, and marine chiefs of staff agreed that the only solution in Cuba was “the full gamut of military action by us.” The president insisted that a Soviet nuclear strike on American cities would result in 80-100 million casualties: “you’re talkin’ about the destruction of a country.” The
point, he contended, “is to avoid, if we can, nuclear war by escalation. . . . We’ve got to have some degree of control.”
October 19, afternoon and eveningThe ExComm met at the State Department (the president had left to campaign in the Midwest) and remained deeply divided about taking military action against Cuba. The tentative consensus for a blockade also began to erode. Robert Kennedy contacted his brother in Chicago and the president, claiming to have a cold and fever, promptly returned to Washington.
Early that morning, U-2 photos turned up evidence of intermediate-range ballistic missile sites in Cuba. The IRBMs had a range about twice that of MRBMs and carried far deadlier warheads. Soviet strategic bombers, with the capacity to carry nuclear payloads, were also discovered. The ExComm reconvened with a renewed momentum for military action—especially an invasion. Support for a surprise bombing attack had begun to erode because it seemed reminiscent of Pearl Harbor. But the president resisted the pressure for an invasion, insisting that many people would regard such an attack as “a mad act by the United States.” He also made two tentative references to the possibility of a deal involving the U.S. missiles in Turkey. There was particular concern that Khrushchev would order Soviet troops into West Berlin if the U.S. attacked Cuba—likely leading to nuclear war. “Now the question really is,” the president declared, “what action we take which lessens the chances of a nuclear exchange, which obviously is the final failure.” The blockade option began to look more and more advantageous.
October 18/19, midnight
President Kennedy returned to the Oval Office alone at midnight to record his recollections of an unrecorded meeting just held in the White House living quarters. He observed that there had been a consensus for a blockade, which he described as a limited action “for a limited purpose.” “I was most anxious,” he stressed, that the blockade proclamation should not include a declaration of war.
Excerpts taken from The Cuban Missile Crisis in American Memory: Myth vs. Reality, by Sheldon Stern.
For more on the Cuban Missile Crisis, be sure to tune in to tonight's episode of Commander in Chief: Inside the Oval Office on the Military Channel
The ExComm met at the State Department without the president (who was campaigning for the November congressional elections). There was still a great deal of uncertainty and vacillation, but support seemed to be coalescing around some combination of air strikes, a blockade, and diplomatic approaches
to the U.S.S.R. Former secretary of state Dean Acheson, invited by the
president, insisted on immediate air strikes to eliminate the nuclear threat and
demonstrate American resolve to the Soviets.
Excerpt taken from The Cuban Missile Crisis in American Memory: Myth vs. Reality, by Sheldon Stern
The fifteen men gathering in the Cabinet Room that morning were stunned that the Soviets had deceived the administration about their intentions in Cuba. Analysts from the National Photographic Interpretation Center explained that the medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM) sites thus far discovered were still under construction. It quickly became clear that any attempt to destroy the sites with air attacks had to be carried out before they became fully operational. However, there was no way to be certain when the sites would become operational, and bombing was also unlikely to destroy all the missiles. The Soviets might retaliate by seizing
West Berlin or by firing the missiles that survived the bombing at the U.S.
mainland—initiating a nuclear world war. Three principal options were on the table: air strikes against the missile sites, a naval blockade of Cuba, and/or a full-scale invasion. By the end of the meeting, the president had all but decided in favor of the air strikes.
October 16, 6:30 p.m.
Several participants suggested that the presence of the Soviet missiles in Cuba did not really alter the
strategic balance of nuclear power. “It doesn’t make any difference,” the president argued, “if you get blown up by an ICBM flying from the Soviet Union or one that was ninety miles away. Geography doesn’t mean that much. . . . After all this is a political struggle as much as military.” The president
admitted to being puzzled by Soviet motives in Cuba. There was some awareness that Khrushchev might be reacting to the presence of U.S. missiles in Turkey and Italy; but no one in the room seriously considered the possibility that he had acted defensively, to protect his Cuban ally. The morning meeting had ended with a consensus for the use of force—particularly for a limited air strike on just the missile sites. During the evening, however, there was a growing awareness of the dangers raised by any military action in Cuba. If the U.S. attacked the island nation, especially without warning, where would it end?
Excerpts taken from The Cuban Missile Crisis in American Memory: Myth vs. Reality
A promotion at work, a happy marriage, and more time with the kids: Can women have it all?
Anne-Marie Slaughter, a woman who seemingly had it all—having worked as a State Department official, a law professor, and a Princeton dean with two teenage sons to boot—took that question, and in a recent cover story in The Atlantic, incredibly answered no.
The article, titled “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” suggests that we, as a society, have to be more realistic about the possibility of balancing a career and a family—because, according to Slaughter, it’s much harder than we’re led to believe. (Cue: controversy! Check out this response from Slate.)
For all its heat, this is hardly an issue unique to our time, according to Rachel Mesch, a SUP author-to-be. In fact, Mesch traces this controversy back 100 years and across the Atlantic (pun intended) to the covers of French magazines in the Belle Époque. Instead of being docile, women were photographed as climbers, scholars, and athletes—capable, that is, of both femininity and feminism. In other words, a century ago people were already talking about what we refer to today as the "modern woman."
For more on this and the path taken by 20th-century feminism, look for Rachel Mesch’s upcoming book, to be released in Fall 2013. In the meantime, get a taste for her book in her recent piece in Slate.