|Kennedy meets with Gromyko in Oval Office.|
The most important event on the third day of the crisis was a meeting between President Kennedy and Soviet Minister of Foreign Affairs Andrei Gromyko. Gromyko assured President Kennedy that all aid that had been given to Cuba by the Soviet Union was for defensive positioning only. Meaning, the Soviets are ensuring that Cuba had the ability to defend itself in the event of an American invasion of the island. President Kennedy did not show his hand and they did not discuss American knowledge of the missile installations. This was the Soviet's first attempt to downplay to the United States that they were arming Cuba with more serious weapons, missiles or otherwise, and was the first of many attempts to convince the Americans that they were merely readying Cuba for an attack by the United States or her allies, not furthering their own ability to attack the United States. It's important to understand the figures on each side of the crisis:
Undersecretary of State George Ball
National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy
Treasury Secretary C. Douglas Dillon
Deputy Secretary of Defense Roswell Gilpatric
Deputy Undersecretary of State U. Alexis Johnson
Vice President Lyndon Johnson
Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy
Assistant Secretary of State Edwin Martin
CIA Director John McCone
Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara
Assistant Secretary of Defense Paul Nitze
Policy planner Walt Rostow (State Dept.)
Secretary of State Dean Rusk
Special Counsel Theodore Sorensen
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Maxwell Taylor
Ambassador-at-large for Soviet Affairs Tommy Thompson
U.N. Ambassador Adlai Stevenson
Soviet Key Players
Andrei Gromyko, Soviet foreign minister
Chairman Nikita Khrushchev
Ambassador Alexander Alexeev, Soviet ambassador to Cuba
Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin, Soviet ambassador to the United States
Valerian Zorin, Soviet representative at the United Nations
Rodion Malinovsky, Soviet defense minister
Anastas Mikoyan, Deputy prime minister of the Soviet Union
Leaders On the Ground in Cuba
Prime Minister Fidel Castro
General Issa Pliyev, Commander of Soviet troops in Cuba
Osvoldo Dorticos, Cuban president
Going back to the tension between Kennedy and the generals, this tension was not lost on Chairman Khrushchev. Khrushchev wrote in his memoir about the tension between Kennedy and his generals rivaling that between the United States and the Soviet Union. He wrote: "For some time we had felt that there was a danger that the President would lose control of his military[.]"
The first major clash with the generals came on the third day of the crisis between Kennedy and General Curtis LeMay (USAF Chief of Staff). In a brainstorming session, Kennedy had asked LeMay to theorize regarding the potential reaction of the Soviet Union if the U.S. should go forward with an air strike of Cuba. David Talbot portrays the interaction as follows:
"The loathing between the two men was mutual and complete. They had already clashed over the developing crisis, at a White House meeting held the day before [October 18th, 1962]. Kennedy had asked LeMay to predict how the Russians would respond if the United States bombed Cuba. 'They'll do nothing,' LeMay blandly replied. 'Are you trying to tell me that they'll let us bomb their missiles, and kill a lot of Russians and then do nothing?' an incredulous Kennedy shot back. 'If they don't do anything in Cuba, then they'll certainly do something in Berlin.'"
General Curtis LeMay, known to many as General "Bombs Away" LeMay, had been an advocate of air strikes, particularly of the Soviet Union, for over a decade. That he would be inclined to favor a sudden, devastating air strike on the missile sites was not particularly surprising. What was surprising was the way that LeMay made his opinions known.
Kennedy was not impressed with LeMay's answer regarding potential reactions by the Soviets and said as much to Ken O'Donnell and Ted Sorensen:
"After the meeting, the president was still shaking his head over the general's blithe prediction. 'Can you imagine LeMay saying a thing like that?' Kennedy wondered aloud to O'Donnell when he got back to his office. 'These brass hats have one great advantage in their favor. If we listen to them, and do what they want us to do, none of us will be alive later to tell them that they were wrong.'"
Kennedy, despite his generals, did not jump to the immediate conclusion that the only way of removing the missiles from Cuba was with bombs or boots on the ground. Unlike some of his generals, including LeMay, he continued to consider the threat to Berlin should the Soviets respond to any action by the Americans. As Talbot wrote, and as many over the years have concluded, "JFK was always sensitive to how a move on one square of the Cold War chessboard might trigger a countermove somewhere else." The most immediate countermove being Berlin.
Nearly 72 hours after Kennedy and his closest advisors first reviewed the U-2 surveillance images taken on October 14th, the president and his advisors awaited new U-2 reconnaissance images that would be taken that day.
Quote from Chairman Khrushchev taken from Khrushchev Remembers (page 498).