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Reply #51: JFK was almost alone in opposing war over Cuban missiles. [View All]

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Octafish Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Jun-11-06 12:12 AM
Response to Reply #49
51. JFK was almost alone in opposing war over Cuban missiles.
Just about everybody else wanted to go to war -- from the Pentagon to Congress to the Cabinet -- except Undersecretary of State George Ball.

President Kennedy listened to his own counsel and decided to find an alternative that wouldn't immediately lead to war, probably nuclear war.

The War Room

What Robert Dallek's new biography doesn't tell you about JFK and Vietnam.

By Fred Kaplan
Posted Monday, May 19, 2003, at 7:31 PM ET

Would John F. Kennedy have gone to full-scale war in Vietnam, like his successor, Lyndon B. Johnson? This may be the most haunting question of the past 40 years. Certainly it accounts for whatever traces still survive of the "Camelot myth." For all the revelations of scandal that have tainted the image of JFK, there remains the monumental what if: Had Kennedy dodged the bullets in Dealey Plaza, might America have dodged the nightmare of the subsequent decadethe 50,000 body bags, the Chicago riots, the election of Nixon, the cynicism of a generation?

The historian Robert Dallek doesn't state the matter this dramatically, but his new book, An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963, argues that JFK would not have waged war in Vietnam. I agree. But if I didn't, this book would not have persuaded me. There's a compelling case to be made, but Dallek doesn't nail it.


What, then, is the compelling case for why JFK wouldn't have gone to war? Those who argue that JFK would have gone into Vietnam just as LBJ did make the point that Kennedy was every bit as much a Cold Warrior as Johnson. They also note that the advisers who lured Johnson into warBundy, Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, Secretary of State Dean Rusk, and the resthad been appointed by Kennedy; they were very much Kennedy's men.

But this is where there is a crucial difference between JFK and LBJa difference that Dallek misses. Over the course of his 1,000 days as president, Kennedy grew increasingly leery of these advisers. He found himself embroiled in too many crises where their judgment proved wrong and his own proved right. Dallek does noteand very colorfully soKennedy's many conflicts with his military advisers in the Joint Chiefs of Staff. But he neglects the instanceswhich grew in number and intensity as his term progressedin which he displayed equal disenchantment with his civilian advisers. Yet Kennedy never told Johnson about this disenchantment. It didn't help that Johnson was a bit cowed by these advisers' intellectual sheen and Harvard degrees; Kennedy, who had his Harvard degree, was not.


However, Dallek fails to note the key revelation of those tapesthat on Saturday, Oct. 27, the last day of the crisis, when Khrushchev offered the Cuba-for-Turkey trade, every U.S. official in the room was virulently opposed to the deal and wanted to bomb the Russian missile siteseveryone but JFK and Undersecretary of State George Ball. (Not insignificantly, Ball became the top internal dissident on Vietnam policy during LBJ's presidency.)


We've only recently discovered that the Soviets were going to go nuke -- their generals were stating the same things our nutjobs were: "We can win a nuclear war if we strike first." Here's McNamara's report from a meeting held to discuss the Cuban Missile Crisis. McNamara said he was approached by some guy "with a straggly beard who looked like bin Laden..."

Robert McNamara

The Observer


The Cuban Missile Crisis is never far from his mind. "We came very, very close" McNamara confides slowly, "closer than we knew at the time". He treats it as a near death experience, constantly replaying the options and going over what might have happened. As the sole surviving member of Kennedy's Cabinet during the crisis, he feels that this is knowledge that he is duty bound to pass on. Living up to his reputation as the 'Human IBM machine' he has dissected the experience in minute detail - taking part in a five year research project that interviewed protagonists on either side. He seems to have a near perfect recollection of conversations that happened over forty years ago - complaining that Hollywood's recent version of the Cuban Missile Crisis crisis, Thirteen Days, put many of his best lines, gleaned from contemporary tapes, into Kennedy's mouth.

That film presents McNamara stopping the Pentagon bullet-heads from firing shots at Russian submarines on the edge of the blockade area. Did this happen? "They made the chiefs appear much more belligerent than they were. I think that's unfortunate. But we ultimately removed the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Anderson. He was the only chief of staff in the history of the country who has ever been removed in service by presidential action and the movie shows some of the reasons why". He describes the crucial exchange in a room with 30 admirals: "At one point Anderson and I were having an argument and he said: 'Mr Secretary, the navy's been handling blockades successfully since John Paul Jones. If you let us handle this one, then we'll handle it successfully'. I replied 'have you heard what I said? There won't be a shot fired without my permission, is that understood?' Then I walked out of the room".

McNamara did not realise how crucial that exchange had been until forty years later when, a few months ago, he travelled to Moscow for a showing of the film. Afterwards a "man with a straggly beard who looked like Bin Laden" got up to ask a question. It turned out to be one of the Russian submarine commanders, who revealed that the subs approaching the blockade were carrying nuclear-tipped torpedoes. He claimed that they had orders to shoot 'when they thought it was desirable' if they were out of radio contact. Several did lose touch with Moscow, and continued preparing to launch for days after Kruschev had ended the crisis. McNamara has since discovered that when these submarine crews returned to the USSR they were severely criticised and disciplined because they had not launched nuclear weapons. He is visibly shaken by this recent discovery: "We had never heard of that until that time. And I was so shocked I lost my cool".


PS: Thank you for giving a damn, lonestarnot!

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