Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Cuban Missile Crisis: Day Six

Editor's Note: Two pieces of news today served as a reminder that the long shadow of the Cuban Missile Crisis is still on us. The Associated Press reported today that Fidel Castro met with former Venezuelan Vice President Elias Jaua. This is the first reported siting of Castro in months. In recent years there have been various rumors about Castro ranging from him being gravely ill, possibly dead or having suffered a stroke. Also, a piece in the New York Times caught my attention and told a story that is often part of the lives of Cuban-Americans who left Castro's Cuba after the 26th of July Movement overthrew the Cuban government in 1959. The Cuban Revolution tore many families apart and continues to impact the Cuban-American community.

Once President Kennedy settled on a blockade of Cuba, there was a great deal of work to be done.

McNamara's notes from 10/21/62
The majority of what needed to be done rested on the shoulders of Kennedy's speechwriters, particularly Ted Sorensen. By 11 a.m., Sorensen was on his fourth draft of the speech Kennedy would give on national television the following evening. In addition to the speech, a letter to Chairman Khrushchev was being penned to notify him of the United States' action prior to the televised speech. While the speech and letter were being written, the White House began tailoring a resolution for the upcoming meeting of the United Nations Security Council. The statement Ambassador Stevenson would give in that meeting was being written by Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.

Kennedy's Sunday schedule included meetings with National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy, Secretary of State Dean Rusk, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara and Bobby Kennedy. Additionally, Kennedy was briefed by Admiral George Anderson of the Joint Chiefs on the specifics of the blockade.

Sunday also presented the added obstacle of dealing with a now suspicious press. The State Department Public Affairs Bureau got word that Robert Allen and Paul Scott, columnists, were about to run a story stating that the United States was preparing to invade Cuba. Additionally, the Chicago Sun-Times had information on military preparations that signaled to them that the U.S. was in fact preparing for an invasion.
"News leaks and inquiries for the first time were a growing problem as crisis was in the air. The movement of troops, planes, and ships to Florida and the Caribbean, the unavailability of high officials, the summoning of Congressional leaders, the Saturday night and Sunday activity, the cancellation of the Presidential and Vice Presidential campaign trips and the necessity of informing a much larger circle of officials meant that our cherished hours of secrecy were numbered. Washington and New York newspapers were already speculating. Publishers were asked not to disclose anything without checking. One newspaper obtained the story Sunday evening and patriotically agreed at the personal request of the President not to print it. The direct questions of other reporters were avoided, evaded or answered incorrectly by officials who did not know the correct answers; and few outright falsehoods were told to keep our knowledge from the Communists."
Those dealing on the front line of keeping the press from revealing what was actually happened included Press Secretary Pierre Salinger, Special Counsel Ted Sorensen, to whom the preceding quote is attributed, and Special Assistant Ken O'Donnell. It was generally agreed upon that the press had to remain in the dark about the ongoing discussions and that the focus of Ex-Comm had to be on the logistics of the blockade.

While what the United States would be undertaking was strategically a blockade of Cuba, it became apparent that calling it a blockade was problematic. A blockade, considered an act of war, might be met as such. It was decided that instead of blockade, the administration would refer to the action as a quarantine of Cuba. It was also decided that the blockade would not keep all ships and materials from reaching Cuba. Sorensen's description of this:
"The blockade option was gradually reshaped--to permit food, medicine, gasoline, and the necessities of life; to prohibit the sinking of ships stopped for inspection; and to avoid language inviting a reciprocal blockade of West Berlin. Instead of 'blockade,' a bellicose label, we would call it 'a quarantine against additional offensive weapons in Cuba.'"
The language of the various speeches and letters being prepared was only one facet of the preparations for Monday night's address. Press Secretary Pierre Salinger was finally told of the situation in Cuba and asked to make arrangements with the networks for the Monday night televised speech. To prevent speculation and the possibility of the Soviets ratcheting up the timeline of making the missiles operational, the White House wanted to wait until the last possible moment to request time from the networks. What wouldn't wait were the diplomatic discussions.

Dean Acheson, former Secretary of State, had been participating in Ex-Comm meetings at Kennedy's request and was asked to speak to President de Gualle of France. Other meetings were being set up with America's allies and diplomats. It would take every minute between the blockade decision and the Monday night speech to notify all necessary parties. Preliminary arrangements with the Organization of American States and United Nations were also being plotted.

Monday would be both diplomatically sensitive and logistically demanding.
Pierre Salinger wrote about the curious press in With Kennedy (page 250-51).
Sorensen's quote about the press is found in his biography Kennedy (pages 697-98).
Sorensen's quote comes from Counselor: A Life at the Edge of History (page 290).

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