Friday, October 26, 2012

The Cuban Missile Crisis: Day Eleven

October 26, 1962, the eleventh day of the Cuban Missile Crisis brought the United States face-to-face with the real possibility of invading Cuba. While the quarantine was holding, there was a suspicion that the Soviets would test the line. Diplomatic measures were at a stand still.

Friday morning, the United States received a lengthy, disjointed and emotionally charged letter from Chairman Khrushchev. The letter, delivered to the U.S. embassy in Moscow and then sent via telegram to the U.S. State Department, offered a proposal to dismantle the missiles in Cuba in exchange for a promise from the United States that neither it nor its allies would invade Cuba.

Khrushchev wrote that the ships being intercepted on the quarantine line were not carrying weapons as the weapons were already in Cuba:
"You have now proclaimed piratical measures, which were employed in the Middle Ages, when ships proceeding in international waters were attacked, and you have called this "a quarantine" around Cuba. Our vessels, apparently, will soon enter the zone which your Navy is patrolling. I assure you that these vessels, now bound for Cuba, are carrying the most innocent peaceful cargoes. Do you really think that we only occupy ourselves with the carriage of so-called offensive weapons, atomic and hydrogen bombs? Although perhaps your military people imagine that these (cargoes) are some sort of special type of weapon, I assure you that they are the most ordinary peaceful products.
"Consequently, Mr. President, let us show good sense. I assure you that on those ships, which are bound for Cuba, there are no weapons at all. The weapons which were necessary for the defense of Cuba are already there. I do not want to say that there were not any shipments of weapons at all. No, there were such shipments. But now Cuba has already received the necessary means of defense."
Khrushchev would then offer 2 proposals, the first being that the United States agree to, like the Soviets, the proposal from Secretary General U Thant. That proposal is described as follows by Chairman Khrushchev:
"Let us normalize relations. We have received an appeal from the Acting Secretary General of the UN, U Thant, with his proposals. I have already answered him. His proposals come to this, that our side should not transport armaments of any kind to Cuba during a certain period of time, while negotiations are being conducted--and we are ready to enter such negotiations--and the other side should not undertake any sort of piratical actions against vessels engaged in navigation on the high seas. I consider these proposals reasonable."
The second of the two proposals involved the potential of a U.S. invasion of Cuba:
"If assurances were given by the President and the Government of the United States that the USA itself would not participate in an attack on Cuba and would restrain others from actions of this sort, if you would recall your fleet, this would immediately change everything."
This, of course, was the position of Khrushchev and the Soviet government, not the position of Castro and the Cuban government.

Prime Minister Fidel Castro and Chairman Nikita Khrushchev
On the eleventh day of the crisis, Fidel Castro weighed in on how he felt the Soviets should respond to the potential American threats against Cuba: 
Letter from Prime Minister Castro to Chairman Khrushchev

October 26, 1962

Dear Comrade Khrushchev:

Given the analysis of the situation and the reports which have reached us, [I] consider an attack to be almost imminent -- within the next 24 to 72 hours. There are two possible variants: the first and most probable one is an air attack against certain objectives with the limited aim of destroying them; the second, and though less probable, still possible, is a full invasion. This would require a large force and is the most repugnant form of aggression, which might restrain them.

You can be sure that we will resist with determination, whatever the case. The Cuban people's morale is extremely high and the people will confront aggression heroically.

I would like to briefly express my own personal opinion.

If the second variant takes place and the imperialists invade Cuba with the aim of occupying it, the dangers of their aggressive policy are so great that after such an invasion the Soviet Union must never allow circumstances in which the imperialists could carry out a nuclear first strike against it.

I tell you this because I believe that the imperialists' aggressiveness makes them extremely dangerous, and that if they manage to carry out an invasion of Cuba -- a brutal act in violation of universal and moral law -- then that would be the moment to eliminate this danger forever, in an act of the most legitimate self-defense. However harsh and terrible the solution, there would be no other.

This opinion is shaped by observing the development of their aggressive policy. The imperialists, without regard for world opinion and against laws and principles, have blockaded the seas, violated our air-space, and are preparing to invade, while at the same time blocking any possibility of negotiation, even though they understand the gravity of the problem.

You have been, and are, a tireless defender of peace, and I understand that these moments, when the results of your superhuman efforts are so seriously threatened, must be bitter for you. We will maintain our hopes for saving the peace until the last moment, and we are ready to contribute to this in any way we can. But, at the same time, we are serene and ready to confront a situation which we see as very real and imminent.

I convey to you the infinite gratitude and recognition of the Cuban people to the Soviet people, who have been so generous and fraternal, along with our profound gratitude and admiration to you personally. We wish you success with the enormous task and great responsibilities which are in your hands.

Fraternally,

Fidel Castro 
Castro and Khrushchev disagreed on how to proceed. Khrushchev was, to the lament of Castro, in the driver's seat. However, it was clear to the Soviets and the United States that if the U.S. did invade Cuba, Cuba would respond and that response would be both unpredictable and deadly. Cuba would prove to be the wild card.

The eleventh day of the crisis would be one of diplomacy. While Ex-Comm worked to have Khrushchev's letter translated and then a response mapped out, the Secretary General reached out to Castro. Meanwhile, President Kennedy remained the leader of the free world and had to attend to other world issues including an ongoing dispute between India and China.
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Audio from the 26th's Ex-Comm meeting is available from the Miller Center. The recording begins with Kennedy's meeting with Indian Ambassador Nehru and concludes with the Ex-Comm meeting. It is as reflective of the tension at this point in the crisis as any piece of audio available to historians today.

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