That is what we discover over and over by investigating particular cases, including Cuba (not surprisingly) though the fanaticism in that particular case might merit examination. U.S. policy towards Cuba is harshly condemned throughout Latin America and indeed most of the world, but “a decent respect for the opinions of mankind” is understood to be meaningless rhetoric intoned mindlessly on July 4th. Ever since polls have been taken on the matter, a considerable majority of the U.S. population has favored normalization of relations with Cuba, but that too is insignificant.
Dismissal of public opinion is of course quite normal. What is interesting in this case is dismissal of powerful sectors of U.S. economic power, which also favor normalization, and are usually highly influential in setting policy: energy, agribusiness, pharmaceuticals, and others. That suggests that, in addition to the cultural factors revealed in the hysteria of the Camelot intellectuals, there is a powerful state interest involved in punishing Cubans.
Saving the World from the Threat of Nuclear Destruction
The missile crisis officially ended on October 28th. The outcome was not obscure. That evening, in a special CBS News broadcast, Charles Collingwood reported that the world had come out “from under the most terrible threat of nuclear holocaust since World War II” with a “humiliating defeat for Soviet policy.” Dobbs comments that the Russians tried to pretend that the outcome was “yet another triumph for Moscow’s peace-loving foreign policy over warmongering imperialists,” and that “[t]he supremely wise, always reasonable Soviet leadership had saved the world from the threat of nuclear destruction.”
Extricating the basic facts from the fashionable ridicule, Khrushchev’s agreement to capitulate had indeed “saved the world from the threat of nuclear destruction.”
The crisis, however, was not over. On November 8th, the Pentagon announced that all known Soviet missile bases had been dismantled. On the same day, Stern reports, “a sabotage team carried out an attack on a Cuban factory,” though Kennedy’s terror campaign, Operation Mongoose, had been formally curtailed at the peak of the crisis. The November 8th terror attack lends support to Bundy’s observation that the threat to peace was Cuba, not Turkey, where the Russians were not continuing a lethal assault — though that was certainly not what Bundy had in mind or could have understood.
More details are added by the highly respected scholar Raymond Garthoff, who also had rich experience within the government, in his careful 1987account of the missile crisis. On November 8th, he writes, “a Cuban covert action sabotage team dispatched from the United States successfully blew up a Cuban industrial facility,” killing 400 workers according to a Cuban government letter to the U.N. Secretary General.
Garthoff comments: “The Soviets could only see [the attack] as an effort to backpedal on what was, for them, the key question remaining: American assurances not to attack Cuba,” particularly since the terrorist attack was launched from the U.S. These and other “third party actions” reveal again, he concludes, “that the risk and danger to both sides could have been extreme, and catastrophe not excluded.” Garthoff also reviews the murderous and destructive operations of Kennedy’s terrorist campaign, which we would certainly regard as more than ample justification for war, if the U.S. or its allies or clients were victims, not perpetrators.
From the same source we learn further that, on August 23, 1962, the president had issued National Security Memorandum No. 181, “a directive to engineer an internal revolt that would be followed by U.S. military intervention,” involving “significant U.S. military plans, maneuvers, and movement of forces and equipment” that were surely known to Cuba and Russia. Also in August, terrorist attacks were intensified, including speedboat strafing attacks on a Cuban seaside hotel “where Soviet military technicians were known to congregate, killing a score of Russians and Cubans”; attacks on British and Cuban cargo ships; the contamination of sugar shipments; and other atrocities and sabotage, mostly carried out by Cuban exile organizations permitted to operate freely in Florida. Shortly after came “the most dangerous moment in human history,” not exactly out of the blue.
Kennedy officially renewed the terrorist operations after the crisis ebbed. Ten days before his assassination he approved a CIA plan for “destruction operations” by U.S. proxy forces “against a large oil refinery and storage facilities, a large electric plant, sugar refineries, railroad bridges, harbor facilities, and underwater demolition of docks and ships.” A plot to assassinate Castro was apparently initiated on the day of the Kennedy assassination. The terrorist campaign was called off in 1965, but reports Garthoff, “one of Nixon’s first acts in office in 1969 was to direct the CIA to intensify covert operations against Cuba.”
We can, at last, hear the voices of the victims in Canadian historian Keith Bolender’s Voices From the Other Side, the first oral history of the terror campaign — one of many books unlikely to receive more than casual notice, if that, in the West because the contents are too revealing.
In the current issue of Political Science Quarterly, the professional journal of the association of American political scientists, Montague Kern observes that the Cuban missile crisis is one of those “full-bore crises… in which an ideological enemy (the Soviet Union) is universally perceived to have gone on the attack, leading to a rally-’round-the-flag effect that greatly expands support for a president, increasing his policy options.”
Kern is right that it is “universally perceived” that way, apart from those who have escaped sufficiently from the ideological shackles to pay some attention to the facts. Kern is, in fact, one of them. Another is Sheldon Stern, who recognizes what has long been known to such deviants. As he writes, we now know that “Khrushchev’s original explanation for shipping missiles to Cuba had been fundamentally true: the Soviet leader had never intended these weapons as a threat to the security of the United States, but rather considered their deployment a defensive move to protect his Cuban allies from American attacks and as a desperate effort to give the U.S.S.R. the appearance of equality in the nuclear balance of power.” Dobbs, too, recognizes that “Castro and his Soviet patrons had real reasons to fear American attempts at regime change, including, as a last resort, a U.S. invasion of Cuba… [Khrushchev] was also sincere in his desire to defend the Cuban revolution from the mighty neighbor to the north.”
“Terrors of the Earth”
The American attacks are often dismissed in U.S. commentary as silly pranks, CIA shenanigans that got out of hand. That is far from the truth. The best and the brightest had reacted to the failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion with near hysteria, including the president, who solemnly informed the country: “The complacent, the self-indulgent, the soft societies are about to be swept away with the debris of history.
Only the strong… can possibly survive.” And they could only survive, he evidently believed, by massive terror — though that addendum was kept secret, and is still not known to loyalists who perceive the ideological enemy as having “gone on the attack” (the near universal perception, as Kern observes). After the Bay of Pigs defeat, historian Piero Gleijeses writes, JFK launched a crushing embargo to punish the Cubans for defeating a U.S.-run invasion, and “asked his brother, Attorney General Robert Kennedy, to lead the top-level interagency group that oversaw Operation Mongoose, a program of paramilitary operations, economic warfare, and sabotage he launched in late 1961 to visit the ‘terrors of the earth’ on Fidel Castro and, more prosaically, to topple him.”
The phrase “terrors of the earth” is Arthur Schlesinger’s, in his quasi-official biography of Robert Kennedy, who was assigned responsibility for conducting the terrorist war, and informed the CIA that the Cuban problem carries “[t]he top priority in the United States Government — all else is secondary — no time, no effort, or manpower is to be spared” in the effort to overthrow the Castro regime.