Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Cuban Missile Crisis: Day Two

Day two of the Cuban Missile Crisis, October 17, 1962, saw the first delineations occur among the members of Kennedy's Ex-Comm.

1 of 2 Kennedy-marked maps of missile sites in Cuba. (JFK Library)
As Kennedy and his advisors looked closely at the missile sites on the island of Cuba (represented in the map to the right, notations made on October 17, 1962 by Kennedy himself), three options quickly came to the forefront:
1. Do nothing. The United States always had the option of doing nothing in response to the missile sites in Cuba.

2. A blockade of Cuba. Using American ships to block shipments from the Soviet Union to Cuba, presumably until the missiles are completely withdrawn.

3. Direct negotiations with Chairman Khrushchev. Requesting, ultimately, that the missiles be withdrawn from the island.

4. A surprise air strike on Cuba. A direct air strike on the erected missile sites in Cuba without any warning given to either Cuba or the U.S.S.R.

5. A forewarned air strike on Cuba. A direct air strike on the missile sites following a warning given to Cuba and the U.S.S.R. The warning would give both parties a period of time, as little as 24 hours, to begin dismantling the missile sites and without action an air strike would follow. This could also include the dropping of leaflets to the Cuban people to evacuate from the area of the coming air strikes.

6. Invasion of Cuba. An invasion of Cuba to take control of and dismantle offensive missiles.
The opinion of Ex-Comm was varied. While the military members of Ex-Comm favored a surprise air strike, particularly Air Force General Curtis "Bombs Away" LeMay and General Maxwell Taylor, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara became the main advocate for a blockade. McNamara believed, as did Robert Kennedy, that a blockade was the only way of avoiding a retaliatory response from the Soviets. An air strike would likely result in a counter attack on the United States by the Soviet Union. Secretary Dillon believed that a blockade would eventually force the Soviets to negotiate the removal of the missiles. However, he also feared that failure of the blockade would force the U.S. to invade Cuba.

McNamara's advocacy for a Cuban blockade, as he later recounted, hinged on that very fear of a retaliatory response:
"When it first became known that the Russians were building nuclear missile sites in Cuba, President Kennedy and many of his advisers believed that an attack on the missile sites was almost inevitable. The reason was this: The president had warned the Russians publicly the previous month that, if they were to put missiles in Cuba, "the gravest issues would arise"--which is a diplomatic way of saying that we would remove them by force, if necessary. But of course, we never dreamed that they would actually do it, for the simple reason that we would find it totally unacceptable.

"But after a few hours of discussion, it became obvious to some of us--certainly to me--that we had to consider what the Russians would do if we attacked and, depending on the level and location of their military response, how we might respond to their response."
Ex-Comm, despite the advocacy of a blockage by the Secretary of Defense, was finding consensus about an air strike. The only question remaining for the majority of the members of Ex-Comm was whether or not to warn the Soviets and Cubans that an air strike was in the works.

No decision was made on day two, but after a U-2 reconnaisance mission that night that took images of intermediate range nuclear missiles, a quick, decisive move on the part of the United States was looming.
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McNamara's quote comes from Wilson's Ghost: Reducing the Risk of Conflict, Killing, and Catastophe in the 21st Century (page 76). Wilson's Ghost is an essential read by James G. Blight and Robert S. McNamara.

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