Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Cuban Missile Crisis: Day Thirteen

Sunday morning, October 28th, Americans awoke on the thirteenth day of the crisis to news that Chairman Khrushchev had announced the Soviet Union would remove their missiles from Cuba.

To ensure the United States receive his response to the letter President Kennedy wrote him the day before and the ultimatum given to Ambassador Dobrynin by Robert Kennedy, Khrushchev not only sent his message via telegram to the State Department, he broadcast his message on Soviet radio (he knew the United States would be monitoring this). 

"In order to eliminate as rapidly as possible the conflict which endangers the cause of peace, to give an assurance to all people who crave peace, and to reassure the American people, who, I am certain, also want peace, as do the people of the Soviet Union, the Soviet Government, in addition to earlier instructions on the discontinuation of further work on weapons construction sites, has given a new order to dismantle the arms which you described as offensive, and to crate and return them to the Soviet Union.
[...]
"I regard with respect and trust the statement you made in your message of October 27, 1962, that there would be no attack, no invasion of Cuba, and not only on the part of the United States, but also on the part of other nations of the Western Hemisphere, as you said in your same message. Then the motives which induced us to render assistance of such a kind to Cuba disappear.
"It is for this reason that we instructed our officers—these means as I had already informed you earlier are in the hands of the Soviet officers—to take appropriate measures to discontinue construction of the aforementioned facilities, to dismantle them, and to return them to the Soviet Union. As I had informed you in the letter of October 27, we are prepared to reach agreement to enable United Nations Representatives to verify the dismantling of these means.
"Thus in view of the assurance you have given and our instructions on dismantling, there is every condition for eliminating the present conflict."
In addition to informing the United States of his decision to dismantle the weapons in Cuba, Khrushchev opened the door for future negotiations with the United States about nuclear weapons. He wrote:
"We should like to continue the exchange of views on the prohibition of atomic and thermonuclear weapons, general disarmament, and other problems relating to the relaxation of international tension."

By opening this door, Khrushchev led the Soviet Union into a negotiations the following year with the United States culminating in the Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.

In addition to reaching out to President Kennedy, Chairman Khrushchev informed Prime Minister Castro that the missiles would be removed from his country and asked him to not provoke the American pilots that would continue reconnaissance flights until the missiles were removed. Few Americans would disagree that these tense days in October of 1962 represented the best diplomatic moments of both Khrushchev and Kennedy's political careers.

After assembling the members of Ex-Comm (audio of that meeting available here), President Kennedy responded to Chairman Khrushchev's radio message as the telegram had not yet arrived. Accepting the terms of the withdrawal of the missiles and thanking Khrushchev for his devotion to peace, Kennedy, too, mentioned the potential for future disarmament:
"Mr. Chairman, both of our countries have great unfinished tasks and I know that your people as well as those of the United States can ask for nothing better than to pursue them free from the fear of war. Modern science and technology have given us the possibility of making labor fruitful beyond anything that could have been dreamed of a few decades ago.
"I agree with you that we must devote urgent attention to the problem of disarmament, as it relates to the whole world and also to critical areas. Perhaps now, as we step back from danger, we can together make real progress in this vital field. I think we should give priority to questions relating to the proliferation of nuclear weapons, on earth and in outer space, and to the great effort for a nuclear test ban. But we should also work hard to see if wider measures of disarmament can be agreed and put into operation at an early date. The United States Government will be prepared to discuss these questions urgently, and in a constructive spirit, at Geneva or elsewhere."
While the day's biggest victory came in Khrushchev's promise to remove the missiles in Cuba, the importance of the discussion about disarmament cannot be overlooked or underestimated.


Secretary General U Thant
The proposal agreed upon by the United States and Soviet Union was welcomed by United Nations Secretary General U Thant. The UN would be responsible for supervising the removal of the missiles in Cuba. A large responsibility that fell to U Thant was negotiating with Castro who felt the Soviets were being weak in their removal of the missiles. Castro invited U Thant to Cuba and U Thant felt the opportunity would allow him to discuss with Castro how the process and supervision of the missile removal would occur.

Castro, as he had throughout the crisis, remained a wild card. In response to news that Khrushchev had acquiesed, Castro sent letters to both Khrushchev and U Thant outlining his many objections to the agreement. Castro wrote to Khrushchev that the Cubans "are opposed, by principle, to inspections on our territory." This appeared, along with the issue of American's violating the Cuban airspace, a major concern of Castro.

Secretary Rusk delivered the message of Khrushchev and the agreement between the two super powers to the Organization of American States. It was essential that the Latin American countries understand that the quarantine would remain in place until the United Nations could confirm that the missiles had been dismantled and removed from Cuba.

Though victory had been secured, President Kennedy warned the members of Ex-Comm to refrain from celebration. After meeting with Ex-Comm Sunday morning and early afternoon, Kennedy did not take time away from the oval office. He sat down and wrote a letter to Mrs. Anderson, the wife of the U-2 pilot shot down over Cuba.
___________________________________
Khrushchev's entire letter is available from the State Department's Office of the Historian. The Office of the Historian at State offers a treasure trove of resources related to the Cuban Missile Crisis and Kennedy foreign policy.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

The Cuban Missile Crisis: Day Twelve

October 27, 1962, is the closest the world has ever been to nuclear war. 

The United States had before it two conflicting messages from Chairman Khrushchev, each proposing different ends. Yet, despite the conflicting messages, the moment of greatest danger came when the United States learned that a U-2 pilot had been shot down while on a reconnaissance mission over Cuba.

Khrushchev's second letter, received Saturday morning, did not mention his previous letter and instead referenced the United States' missiles in Turkey. Khrushchev's proposal in the second letter was an exchange of sorts--U.S. missiles in Turkey removed in exchange for the dismantling of missiles in Cuba. This proposal, like that in the first, asked the United States to promise not to attack or invade Cuba. However, unlike the first letter, the second said the Soviet Union would also promise not to invade or attack the U.S. missile sites in Turkey.

A portion of the letter received by Kennedy from Khrushchev:
"I therefore make this proposal: We are willing to remove from Cuba the means which you regard as offensive. We are willing to carry this out and to make this pledge in the United Nations. Your representatives will make a declaration to the effect that the United States, for its part, considering the uneasiness and anxiety of the Soviet State, will remove its analogous means from Turkey. Let us reach agreement as to the period of time needed by you and by us to bring this about. And, after that, persons entrusted by the United Nations Security Council could inspect on the spot the fulfillment of the pledges made. Of course, the permission of the Governments of Cuba and of Turkey is necessary for the entry into those countries of these representatives and for the inspection of the fulfillment of the pledge made by each side. Of course it would be best if these representatives enjoyed the confidence of the Security Council, as well as yours and mine--both the United States and the Soviet Union--and also that of Turkey and Cuba. I do not think it would be difficult to select people who would enjoy the trust and respect of all parties concerned.
"We, in making this pledge, in order to give satisfaction and hope of the peoples of Cuba and Turkey and to strengthen their confidence in their security, will make a statement within the framework of the Security Council to the effect that the Soviet Government gives a solemn promise to respect the inviolability of the borders and sovereignty of Turkey, not to interfere in its internal affairs, not to invade Turkey, not to make available our territory as a bridgehead for such an invasion, and that it would also restrain those who contemplate committing aggression against Turkey, either from the territory of the Soviet Union or from the territory of Turkey's other neighboring states.
"The United States Government will make a similar statement within the framework of the Security Council regarding Cuba. It will declare that the United States will respect the inviolability of Cuba's borders and its sovereignty, will pledge not to interfere in its internal affairs, not to invade Cuba itself or make its territory available as a bridgehead for such an invasion, and will also restrain those who might contemplate committing aggression against Cuba, either from the territory of the United States or from the territory of Cuba's other neighboring states."
President Kennedy and the members of Ex-Comm were understandably baffled by the change of tone in the second letter and the divergence from the proposal presented in the first letter.


Major Rudolph Anderson, Jr., USAF
As the members of Ex-Comm were considering the possibilities of the second letter, word came that Major Rudolph Anderson had been shot down over Cuba by one of the missile sites while conducting what was now a routine surveillance flight over the sites.

It was then, in the words of Castro, "that the moment of maximum tension occurred."

The United States was now faced with two very real possibilities: First, the United States would have to respond to the downed American pilot, and second, any action on their part might result in a Soviet invasion of Turkey. Both the shooting down of the pilot and Khrushchev's second letter were now dangerously intertwined.

At one point during the lengthy Ex-Comm meeting on the 27th, President Kennedy left the room and Secretary of Defense McNamara presented four propositions to the members of the committee:
Robert McNamara: Let me state my propositions over again. First, we must be in a position to attack quickly. We've been fired on today. We are going to send surveillance aircraft tomorrow. Those are going to be fired on without question. We're going to respond. You can't do this very long. We're going to lose airplanes, and we'll be shooting up Cuba quite a bit, but we're going to lose airplanes every day. So you can't just maintain this position very long. So we must be prepared to attack Cuba--quickly. That's the first proposition. Now the second proposition. When we attack Cuba we're going to have to attack with an all-out attack.... I personally believe that this is almost certain to lead to an invasion. I won't say certain to, but almost certain to lead to an invasion-
Douglas Dillon: Unless you get a cease-fire around the world-
Robert McNamara: That's the second proposition.
McGeorge Bundy: Or a general [nuclear] war.
Robert McNamara: The third proposition is that we do this, and leave those missiles in Turkey, the Soviet Union may, and I think probably will, attack the Turkish missiles. Now the fourth proposition is, if the Soviet Union attacks the Turkish missiles, we must respond. We cannot allow a military response by NATO.
Since the discovery of the missile sites in Cuba, President Kennedy was well aware of the threat to American pilots who would be conducting reconnaissance flights. This was, without question, the worst case scenario and the timing came at the worst possible moment of the crisis. Kennedy, to his credit, did not have a knee-jerk reaction to the news. He insisted that no response occur until the Air Force could determine that there was not a mechanical failure or pilot error that caused the death of Major Anderson. This reaction, rather than listening to the immediacy voiced by his Joint Chiefs, gave the United States the added hours needed to secure a deal with Chairman Khrushchev. Had Kennedy reacted differently, the course of human history might have been radically different.

As the meeting of Ex-Comm wore on, the State Department submitted a draft of a letter responding to Chairman Khrushchev's second letter. It was met with heavy objection. Bobby Kennedy then suggested, and President Kennedy agreed, that they could go forward ignoring the second letter and responding to the first. Bobby Kennedy and Ted Sorensen went to work drafting the response. 

After making a few changes, President Kennedy approved the following letter:
Letter from President Kennedy to Chairman Khrushchev
October 27, 1962,
I have read your letter of October 26th with great care and welcome the statement of your desire to seek a prompt solution to the problem. The first things that needs to be done, however, is for work to cease on offensive missile bases in Cuba and for all weapons systems in Cuba capable of offensive use to be rendered inoperable, under effective United Nations arrangements.
Assuming this is done promptly, I have given my representatives in New York instructions that will permit them to work out this weekend--in cooperation with the Acting Secretary General and your representative--an arrangement for a permanent solution to the Cuban problem along the lines suggested in your letter of October 26th. As I read your letter, the key elements of your proposals--which seem generally acceptable as I understand them--are as follows:
  1. You would agree to remove these weapons systems from Cuba under appropriate United Nations observation and supervision; and undertake, with suitable safeguards, to halt the further introduction of such weapons systems in to Cuba.
  2. We on our part, would agree--upon the establishment of adequate arrangements through the United Nations to ensure the carrying out and continuation of these commitments--(a) to remove promptly the quarantine measures now in effect and (b) to give assurances against an invasion of Cuba. I am confident that other nations of the Western Hemisphere would be prepared to do likewise.
If you give your representatives similar instructions, there is no reason why we should not be able to complete these arrangements and announce them to the world within a couple of days. The effect of such a settlement on easing world tensions would enable us to work toward a more general arrangement regarding "other armaments," as proposed in your second letter which you made public. I would like to say again that the United States is very much interested in reducing tensions and halting the arms race; and if your letter signifies that you are prepared to discuss a detente affecting NATO and the Warsaw Pact, we are quite prepared to consider with our allies any useful proposals.
But the first ingredient, let me emphasize, is the cessation of work on missile sites in Cuba and measures to render such weapons inoperable, under effective international guarantees. The continuation of this threat, or a prolonging of this discussion concerning Cuba by linking these problems to the broader questions of European and world security, would surely lead to an intensified situation on the Cuban crisis and a grave risk to the peace of the world. For this reason I hope we can quickly agree along the lines outlined in this letter and in your letter of October 26th.
John F. Kennedy
While the crisis, even the fate of the world, hinged on Nikita Khrushchev's response, Bobby Kennedy met with Soviet Ambassador Dobrynin to express his concern that the threat was worsening and that they had arrived at the final chance for diplomacy.

President Kennedy and the members of Ex-Comm went to bed on night of the 27th not knowing what the world would look like the next day.
___________________________
Khrushchev's second letter is available in its entirety from Mt. Holyoke.
Castro's quotation and a further discussion of the killing of Major Anderson can be found in Castro: My Life (page 277).
Excerpt of Ex-Comm conversation is taken from Wilson's Ghost (page 78).

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.
___________________
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.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Cuban Missile Crisis: Day Ten

The tenth day of the Cuban Missile Crisis brought the evidence of the Soviet missiles in Cuba to the world stage. 

Convened in New York City, the United Nations Security Council met to discuss a proposal by Secretary General U Thant to suspend the quarantine for two weeks while the diplomatic community sought a resolution to the crisis. Chairman Khrushchev accepted this proposal. However, the proposal was neither accepted nor rejected by the United States, hoping to keep control of the situation in American hands. Simultaneously, the United States sent Ambassador Adlai Stevenson to the meeting of the Security Council to present the evidence.

The interaction between Stevenson and Zorin at the United Nations (text follows, beginning with Mr. Stevenson):


Mr. Stevenson: I want to say to you, Mr. Zorin, that I do not have your talent for obfuscation, for distortion, for confusing language, and for doubletalk. And I must confess to you that I am glad that I do not!

But if I understood what you said, you said that my position had changed, that today I was defensive because we didn't have the evidence to prove our assertions, that your Government had installed long-range missiles in Cuba.

Well, let me say something to you, Mr. Ambassador—we do have the evidence. We have it, and it is clear and it is incontrovertible. And let me say something else—those weapons must be taken out of Cuba.

And next, let me say to you that, if I understood you, with a trespass on credulity that excels your best, you said that our position had changed since I spoke here the other day because of the pressures of world opinion and the majority of the United Nations. Well, let me say to you, sir, you are wrong again. We have had no pressure from anyone whatsoever. We came in here today to indicate our willingness to discuss Mr. U Thant’s proposals, and that is the only change that has taken place.
But let me also say to you, sir, that there has been a change. You—the Soviet Union has sent these weapons to Cuba. You—the Soviet Union has upset the balance of power in the world. You—the Soviet Union has created this new danger, not the United States.

And you ask with a fine show of indignation why the President did not tell Mr. Gromyko on last Thursday about our evidence, at the very time that Mr. Gromyko was blandly denying to the President that the USSR was placing such weapons on sites in the new world.

Well, I'll tell you why—because we were assembling the evidence, and perhaps it would be instructive to the world to see how a Soviet official—how far he would go in perfidy. Perhaps we wanted to know if this country faced another example of nuclear deceit like that one a year ago, when in stealth, the Soviet Union broke the nuclear test moratorium.

And while we are asking questions, let me ask you why your Government—your Foreign Minister—deliberately, cynically deceived us about the nuclear build-up in Cuba.

And, finally, the other day, Mr. Zorin, I remind you that you didn't deny the existence of these weapons. Instead, we heard that they had suddenly become defensive weapons. But today, again if I heard you correctly, you now say that they do not exist, or that we haven’t proved they exist, with another fine flood of rhetorical scorn. 

All right, sir, let me ask you one simple question: Do you, Ambassador Zorin, deny that the USSR. has placed and is placing medium- and intermediate-range missiles at sites in Cuba? Yes or no—don’t wait for the translation—yes or no?

Mr. Zorin: Mr. Stevenson, would you continue your statement, please. You will receive your answer in due course. Do not worry.

Mr. Stevenson: You can answer yes or no. You have denied they exist. I want to know if I understood you correctly. I am prepared to wait for my answer until hell freezes over, if that’s your decision. And I am also prepared to present the evidence in this room.
This exchange would go down in history as Adlai Stevenson's finest diplomatic moment. He would, for many years after, take considerable criticism for his position earlier in the crisis of advocating the United States trade the removal of their missiles in Turkey and Italy in addition to their naval base at Guantanamo Bay for the removal of Soviet missiles in Cuba. It was not lost on Adlai that his time in politics was coming to an end. He earned the respect of the members of Ex-Comm with his performance at the United Nations. President Kennedy wired Stevenson that evening with the following message:
"WATCHED YOUR SPEECH THIS AFTERNOON WITH GREAT SATISFACTION. IT HAS GIVEN OUR CAUSE A GREAT START....THE UNITED STATES IS FORTUNATE TO HAVE YOUR ADVOCACY. YOU HAVE MY WARM PERSONAL THANKS."
While the moment would be one of Stevenson's finest, the same could not be said for his Soviet counterpart. Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., who wrote the text of Adlai Stevenson's statement to the U.N. on the 23rd, said that in Stevenson's confrontation with Soviet ambassador Zorin, Zorin "seemed to be laboring without instructions" and "was not effective." This opinion was almost unanimous.

One of the critical voices of Zorin's performance was none other than Prime Minister Castro. His depiction of that day was as critical of Zorin as it was of the position of the United States:
"Well, there was that famous debate, which I would categorize as embarrassing, between the American ambassador, Adlai Stevenson, and the Soviet ambassador, Valerian Zorin. Stevenson [...] made a spectacular presentation to the United Nations Security Council in which he showed large aerial photographs of the strategic missile bases. The Soviet ambassador denied the evidence, denied that the proof was authentic. He rejected the debate. It was all ad hoc, all improvised - the man wasn't prepared to debate. He didn't attack, didn't denounce, didn't explain the powerful reasons that Cuba - a small country under constant threats both explicit and implicit from the superpower, under assault - had for requesting aid, and the USSR, faithful to its principles and internationalist duties, for providing it, and he got himself all tangles up in mediocre argument that stemmed, ultimately, from the vacillations and public mishandling of the issue by Khrushchev in the months leading up to the crisis. He made the mistake of rejecting the real debate, which should been over the sovereignty of Cuba, its right to defend itself, to protect itself. That was on 25 October 1962."
Ambassador Stevenson would return to Washington the following day, "relatively optimistic" about a settlement, as Schlesinger described him, but by the end of the week "rumors of an impending invasion reachined a new height of intensity."

Meanwhile, the United States knew that work was going forward on readying the missiles in Cuba. Daily U-2 flyovers were bringing the White House up-to-date images of the missile sites. Film from the day before the Security Council meeting showed construction was continuing. And morning and evening flyovers were taking place over Cuba. The belief of Ex-Comm was that the launch sites would be ready in 48-72 hours.

USS Joseph P. Kennedy
By this time, the United States had quite a fleet of ships in the Caribbean maintaining the quarantine. There were no fewer than two cruisers, twenty-five destroyers (including the USS Joseph P. Kennedy, named for President Kennedy's brother who was killed in World War II), several carriers and submarines, and numerous support ships. The Navy had allowed the Bucharest, a Soviet tanker, to proceed through the quarantine line. The Bucharest was the first tanker to reach the line with the intent to continue. It was decided that a ship of its kind would not be able to hold missiles below deck and as such posed no threat to continuing the mission on the island. That night, Kennedy approved adding missile fuel to the list of items that would not be allowed to proceed through the quarantine.

With success in convincing the world community that missiles were being installed in Cuba by the Soviets, the United States still sought success in convincing the Soviet Union that it was in the best interest of the world for their missiles to be dismantled. Unfortunately, the Soviets were going in the opposite direction as they worked to make their missiles operational.
____________________________
The full statement of Ambassador Stevenson that included the presentation of evidence is available here.
The text of Kennedy's message to Stevenson is found in the essay "Adlai's Integrity and Credibility Were Impressive National Resources" by Carl McGowan. McGowan's essay is contained in Adlai Stevenson's Lasting Legacy, edited by Judge Alvin Liebling (page 195).
Schlesinger's comments were written in the October 28th entry in his Journals (page 176).
Castro's characterization of the U.N. debate between Stevenson and Zorin is found in Fidel Castro: My Life (pages 276-77).

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Cuban Missile Crisis: Day Nine

Editor's Note: Last night on PBS, a great episode of Secrets of the Dead featured a Soviet naval officer, Vasili Arkhipov, whose refusal to fire a nuclear missile may have saved the world from nuclear war. I highly recommend you watch it--it's available online--to understand precisely what was going on out in the Caribbean when the quarantine went into effect.

Having signed the quarantine order the day before, President Kennedy received word from Chairman Khrushchev via an unconventional message broadcast by the Soviet news agency and a telegram responding to Kennedy's message of October 23rd.

Khrushchev wanted to ensure President Kennedy that the Soviet government would do everything in their power to prevent any sort of standoff from occuring in the Caribbean. He did not, however, shy away from stating his disgust with the course of the United States and the illegitimacy of the Organization of American States' vote for the quarantine.

It's important to read Khrushchev's telegram at length to fully grasp the Soviet objection:
Letter from Chairman Khrushchev to President Kennedy

October 24, 1962

Dear Mr. President:

I have received your letter of October 23, have studied it, and am answering you.

Just imagine, Mr. President, that we had presented you with the conditions of an ultimatum which you have presented us by your action. How would you have reacted to this? I think that you would have been indignant at such a step on our part. And this would have been understandable to us.

In presenting us with these conditions, you, Mr. President, have flung a challenge at us. Who asked you to do this? By what right did you do this? Our ties with the Republic of Cuba, like our relations with other states, regardless of what kind of states they may be, concern only the two countries between which these relations exist. And if we now speak of the quarantine to which your letter refers, a quarantine may be established, according to accepted international practice, only by agreement of states between themselves, and not by, some third party. Quarantines exist, for example, on agricultural goods and products. But in this case the question in no way one of quarantine, but rather of far more serious things, and you yourself understand this.

You, Mr. President, are not declaring a quarantine, but rather are setting forth an ultimatum and threatening that if we do not give in to your demands you will use force. Consider what you are saying! And you want to persuade me to agree to this! What would it mean to agree to these demands? It would mean guiding oneself in one's relations with other countries not by reason, but by submitting to arbitrariness. You are no longer appealing to reason, but wish to intimidate us.
No, Mr. President, I cannot agree to this, and I think that in your own heart you recognize that I am correct. I am convinced that in my place you would act the same way.

Reference to the decision of the Organization of American States cannot in any way substantiate the demands now advanced by the United States. This Organization has absolutely no authority or basis for adopting decisions such as the one you speak of in your letter. Therefore, we do not recognize these decisions. International law exists and universally recognized norms of conduct exist. We firmly adhere to the principles of international law and observe strictly the norms which regulate navigation on the high seas, in international waters. We observe these norms and enjoy the rights recognized by all states.

You wish to compel us to renounce the rights that every sovereign state enjoys, you are trying to legislate in questions of international law, and you are violating the universally accepted norms of that law. And you are doing all this not only out of hatred for the Cuban people and its government, but also because of considerations of the election campaign in the United States. What morality, what law can justify such an approach by the American Government to international affairs? No such morality or law can be found, because the actions of the United States with regard to Cuba constitute outright banditry or, if you like, the folly of degenerate imperialism. Unfortunately, such folly can bring grave suffering to peoples if all countries, and to no lesser degree to the American people themselves, since the United States has completely lost its former isolation with the advent of modern types of armament.

Therefore, Mr. President, if you coolly weigh the situation which has developed, not giving way to passions, you will understand that the Soviet Union cannot fail to reject the arbitrary demands of the United States. When you confront us with such conditions, try to put yourself in our place and consider how the United States would react to these conditions. I do not doubt that if someone attempted to dictate similar conditions to you -- the United States -- you would reject such an attempt. And we also say -- no.

The Soviet government considers that the violation of the freedom to use international waters and international air space is an act of aggression which pushes mankind toward the abyss of a world nuclear-missile war. Therefore, the Soviet Government cannot instruct the captains of sea vessels bound for Cuba to observe the orders of American naval forces blockading that Island. Our instructions to Soviet mariners are to observe strictly the universally accepted norms of navigation in international waters and not to retreat one step from them. And if the American side violates these rules, it must realize what responsibility will rest upon it in that case. Naturally we will not simply be bystanders with regard to piratical acts by American ships on the high seas. We will then be forced on our part to take the measures we consider necessary and adequate in order to protect our rights. We have everything necessary to do so.

Respectfully,
N. Khrushchev
It came as no surprise that the Soviets did not respect the decision of the Organization of American States, an organization they were not a part of and their ally Cuba boycotted when the decision was made, but the following day they would have to accept the decision of the United Nations Security Council.

Ex-Comm met the morning of October 24th, audio from that meeting is available from the Miller Center at the University of Virginia. Bobby Kennedy described that meeting as follows:
"This Wednesday-morning meeting, along with that of the following Saturday, October 27, seemed the most trying, the most difficult, and the most filled with tension. The Russian ships were proceeding, they were nearing the five-hundred-mile barrier, and we either had to intercept them or announce we were withdrawing. I sat across the table from the President. This was the moment we had prepared for, which we hoped would never come. The danger and concern that we all felt hung like a cloud over us all and particularly over the President."
In addition to meeting with the Executive Committee of the National Security Council, Kennedy met again with congressional leadership to update them on the quarantine.

While the diplomatic rhetoric continued, the quarantine went into effect. 

As the quarantine went into effect, eighteen cargo ships were headed toward the American ships maintaining the quarantine. The previous night, Bobby Kennedy met with the Ambassador Dobrynin about whether or not the captains of oncoming ships had been made aware of the quarantine and been given orders to cooperate. Bobby Kennedy was unsuccessful in determining of the ship captains had any idea what was going on. This upped the tension among Ex-Comm as ships neared the line.

Presidential historian and biographer Robert Dallek described the morning the quarantine went into effect as a moment when, "the group feared that they were on the brink of unavoidable disaster." While the members of Ex-Comm sat on the edge of their seats awaiting the first two ships to reach the quarantine line, the United States increased their state of readiness to DEFCON 2.

Special Counsel Ted Sorensen wrote about the moment the first ships reached the quarantine line and their immediate reversal:
"At our Wednesday morning meeting, held just as the quarantine went into effect, some half-dozen Soviet submarines were reported to have joined these ships. Orders were prepared to sink any subs interfering with the quarantine. In the midst of the same meeting, more news arrived. The Soviet ships nearest Cuba had apparently stopped or altered their course. A feeling of relief went round the table."
That moment when the United States acknowledged the existence of that Soviet submarine, made Bobby Kennedy question later: "Was the world on the brink of a holocaust?" Though the reversal of some of the ships felt like a victory, it was not lost on the members of Ex-Comm that the Soviets were rapidly nearing completion of the missiles in Cuba. Also, there were still many ships heading for the quarantine line that might need boarding.
The following day the United States would get the opportunity to take their case to the courtroom of world opinion. The following day Ambassador Stevenson would make one of the most important speeches of his career before the United Nations Security Council.
______________________________
The entire section of Robert F. Kennedy's Thirteen Days on the approaching ships as the quarantine went into effect is too lengthy to quote in its entirety. These quotes come from pages 52-54.
Dallek's quote comes from An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963 (page 561).
Sorensen's quote comes from his biography of Kennedy, aptly titled Kennedy (page 709).

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Cuban Missile Crisis: Day Eight

Tuesday, October 23, 1962, brought the first direct communication between President Kennedy and Chairman Khrushchev as well as a response from Prime Minister Fidel Castro.

Chairman Khruschev's message, by means of a State Department telegram, came at approximately 11 a.m. Tuesday morning:
Letter from Chairman Khrushchev to President Kennedy

October 23, 1962

Mr. President,

I have just received your letter, and have also acquainted myself with the text of your speech of October 22 regarding Cuba.

I must say frankly, that the measures indicated in your statement constitute a serious threat to peace and to the security of nations. The United States has openly taken the path of grossly violating the United Nations Charter, the path of violating international norms of freedom of navigation on the high seas, the path of aggressive actions both against Cuba and against the Soviet Union.

The statement by the Government of the United States of America can only be regarded as undisguised interference in the internal affairs of the Republic of Cuba, the Soviet Union and other states. The United Nations Charter and international norms give no right to any state to institute in international waters the inspection of vessels bound for the shores of the Republic of Cuba.

And naturally, neither can we recognize the right of the United States to establish control over armaments which are necessary for the Republic of Cuba to strengthen its defense capability.

We reaffirm that the armaments which are in Cuba, regardless of the classification to which they may belong, are intended solely for defensive purposes in order to secure the Republic of Cuba against the attack of an aggressor.

I hope that the United States Government will display wisdom and renounce the actions pursued by you, which may lead to catastrophic consequences for world peace.

The viewpoint of the Soviet Government with regard to your statement of October 22 is set forth in a Statement of the Soviet Government, which is being transmitted to you through your Ambassador at Moscow.

(s) N. Kruschev
While Khrushchev did admit that there were missiles on the island of Cuba, he continued to push the line that the missiles were merely for Cuba's protection from an eventual invasion by the United States.

Kennedy's advisors would meet to discuss the telegram from Khrushchev. The audio of those meetings are available in parts here, here, here and here

Ex-Comm immediately went to work forming the following response to Khrushchev:
Response to Chairman Khrushchev from President Kennedy

October 23,1962

Dear Mr. Chairman:

I have received your letter of October twenty-third. I think you will recognize that the steps which started the current chain of events was the action of your Government in secretly furnishing offensive weapons to Cuba. We will be discussing this matter in the Security Council. In the meantime, I am concerned that we both show prudence and do nothing to allow events to make the situation more difficult to control than it already is.

I hope that you will issue immediately the necessary instructions to your ships to observe the terms of the quarantine, the basis of which was established by the vote of the Organization of American States this afternoon, and which will go into effect at 1400 hours Greenwich time October twenty-four.

Sincerely,

JFK
Secretary Rusk had, in one of his brighter shining moments of the crisis, secured the overwhelming vote of the Organization of American States in favor of the quarantine measures. And Ambassador Stevenson called for an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council. Stevenson was successful in bringing the Security Council together

Ambassador Adlai Stevenson's statement carried the demands from President Kennedy's speech to the nation directly to the Security Council:
"The time has come for this Council to decide whether to make a serious attempt to bring peace to the world-or to let the United Nations stand idly by while the vast plan of piecemeal aggression unfolds, conducted in the hope that no single issue will seem consequential enough to mobilize the resistance of the free peoples. For my own Government, this question is not in doubt. We remain committed to the principles of the United Nations, and we intend to defend them. . . ."
Representative Zorin, the Soviet representative to the United Nations, responded to Stevenson's statement by saying it represented the " totally untenable nature of the position taken by the United States Government." The Security Council would reconvene on Thursday the 25th, a date forever associated with Adlai Stevenson's finest moment.

The correspondence between Kennedy and Khrushchev and statements of Stevenson and Zorin would not be the only rhetoric of the day. Prime Minister Castro's response to the previous evening's address by President Kennedy was less measured than that of Chairman Khrushchev. Referring to the United States as both imperialists and warmongers, Castro's interview was defensive of both their current position with the missiles in their country and their relationship, or lack thereof, with the United States since their revolution. Castro stated imperically: "Anyone who tries to come and inspect Cuba must know that he will have to come equipped for war." Castro's comment, though inflammatory, would be of less importance throughout the crisis than those of the Soviet government.

With the support of our allies and the Organization of American States, the United States now looked ahead to the hour the quarantine would go into effect.
_______________________
Stevenson's statement comes from United Nations, Security Council, Official records, XVIIth year, 1022nd Meeting, October 23, 1962 s/PV.1022, pp 1-39. It is available online through Fordham University.

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Cuban Missile Crisis: Day Seven

Day seven of the Cuban Missile Crisis was, in many respects, the most crucial day in the crisis timeline. The administration would take their case to their allies, their diplomats, members of congress and, most importantly, the American people.

With the address to the nation scheduled for seven o'clock Monday evening, the White House had much to do.

Former Secretary of State Dean Acheson briefed President de Gualle and NATO on the missiles and the blockade. Ambassador David Bruce, the U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom, briefed Prime Minister Macmillan. Ambassador Walter C. Dowling, U.S. ambassador to West Germany, briefed Chancellor Adenauer. And the U.S. Information Agency went to work on a plan to deliver the message to the people of Cuba. 

The task of notifying an elite group of men fell to the president himself. President Kennedy would personally notify the three former presidents--Hoover, Truman and Eisenhower--of the existence of the missiles as well as the military blockade that would be put in place. The conversation between Kennedy and President Eisenhower, who he always called 'General,' spoke to the uncertainty all around Kennedy and his constant seeking of other opinions to fully inform himself of his options:
JFK: General, what about if the Soviet Union--Khrushchev--announces tomorrow, which I think he will, that if we attack Cuba that it's going to be nuclear war? And what's your judgment as to the chances they'll fire these things off if we invade Cuba?
Eisenhower: Oh, I don't believe that they will.
JFK: You don't think they will?
Eisenhower: No.
JFK: In other words, you would take that risk if the situation seemed desirable?
Eisenhower: Well, as a matter of fact, what can you do?
JFK: Yeah.
Eisenhower: If this thing is such a serious thing, here on our flank, that we're going to be uneasy and we know what thing is happening now, all right, you've got to use something.
JFK: Yeah.
Eisenhower: Something may make these people shoot them off. I just don't believe this will.
JFK: Yeah, right.
Eisenhower: In any event, of course, I'll say this. I'd want to keep my own people very alert.
JFK: Yeah. Well, hang on tight!
Eisenhower: Yes, sir.
JFK: Thanks, General.
Eisenhower: All right. Thank you.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this exchange is how Eisenhower's inclinations are the exact opposite of those of Kennedy's Joint Chiefs.

While Sorensen and the speech writers made last minute changes to the speech (Sorensen confirmed that he was only able to write one speech--that advocating for the blockade--and years later when a second speech surfaced detailing the air strike option, he flatly denied having penned it), Dean Rusk, Bobby Kennedy and Arthur Schlesinger met to go over the draft that Ambassador Stevenson would present to the United Nations Security Council on Thursday. The team was constantly looking a step ahead, plotting each step carefully.

There continued to be a sense of disbelief among members of Ex-Comm that the Soviets had so deliberately and stealthily placed the missiles in Cuba. Kennedy himself was amazed and mentioned the following to Schlesinger that morning:
"[Kennedy] noted how strange it was that no one in the intelligence community anticipated the possibility of a Soviet attempt to transform Cuba into a nuclear base; all the intelligence people had wholly excluded this on the ground that the USSR would not be so stupid as to offer us this pretext for intervention."
There was nothing routine about the situation the United States government faced. Preparations were underway in the Oval Office for the evening's speech; removal of furniture was necessary to make way for the cameras. Arrangements had to be made for the White House staff, including some members of Ex-Comm, to sleep in the White House bomb shelter.

Holding off a request for airtime for as long as possible to prevent panic, Press Secretary Pierre Salinger waited until noon Monday to request airtime on each of the networks for President Kennedy's speech. Meanwhile, President Kennedy had to formally establish the Executive Committee of the National Security Council (Ex-Comm) and did so with National Security Action Memorandum 196. This action took place at three o'clock. An hour later, cabinet members were assembled to be briefed on the situation in Cuba and the plan moving forward. Up until this time, only Secretaries McNamara, Rusk and Dillon and Attorney General Kennedy knew of the crisis. The most tense moment of day seven came when President Kennedy called in members of congress, seventeen of them, to brief them on the situation and the blockade plan (audio of that meeting can be found here and here). Secretary Rusk served as a buffer between Kennedy and congressional leaders who did not feel a blockade was a strong enough response to the situation at hand. At six o'clock, the United States ambassador to the Soviet Union, Foy Kohler, delivered a message to Chairman Khrushchev informing him of the speech and blockade. Coinciding with Kohler's action, Dean Rusk was tasked with the delivery of a similar message to Soviet Ambassador Dobyrnin. At seven o'clock, Kennedy went on air to deliver his speech to the American people and the world community.



President Kennedy's speech was as much a message to the American people as it was a conversation with Chairman Khrushchev and hard line Soviets. Khrushchev later called the speech of October 22nd, a "huge press campaign" as well as "a belligerent show of [American] strength."

Sorensen, the architect of the speech, said of Kennedy's speech:
"That televised address to the nation on the night of October 22, 1962, was not the best speech of JFK's presidency, but it was surely his most important. It fully informed the American people and the world of what appeared to be the greatest danger to our country in history, without creating a national panic, despair, or a cry for either surrender or war. It was used as a state document for presentation of the American case to the heads of every government around the globe at a moment when maximum support from other governments and world opinion was essential."
The next three days were, in the words of Schlesinger, "continued pandemonium."
___________________________
The existence of the second speech was made known at a 2002 reunion in Havana of the key players in the crisis. Sorensen mentions this in Counselor: A Life at the Edge of History (page 294). Sorensen's statement on importance of speech can be found on page 298.
The conversation between Kennedy and Eisenhower is available, both transcript and audio, in the invaluable Listening In: The Secret White House Recordings of John F. Kennedy (page 158).
Schlesinger quotes taken from Journals, 1952-2000 (pages 174-75).
Khruschev's quotes come from Khrushchev Remembers (page 496).

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).

Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Cuban Missile Crisis: Day Five

As Kennedy left the White House Friday, his advisors continued discussing how to proceed. Ex-Comm met most of Friday afternoon and again Friday night at the State Department. Bobby Kennedy was in constant contact with his brother. Friday night, Kennedy landed at O'Hare International in Chicago after a few campaign stops in the Midwest. Greeting him at his hotel was an anti-Castro demonstration out front. Picketers carried signs reading, "LESS PROFILE--MORE COURAGE." Though Kennedy was keeping his campaign appearances, the Cuba issue was never far from his thoughts.

On the trip with Kennedy in Chicago was White House Press Secretary Pierre Salinger. The press secretary had not been informed of the discovery of offensive weapons in Cuba. It was, as many later said, a way of keeping Salinger from having to inform the press. While Salinger took many questions from the press on the campaign trip, his lack of information on Cuba prevented him from answering them. Salinger finally approached Kennedy's special assistant Kenny O'Donnell and asked what was happening. O'Donnell would not tell Salinger what he knew. However, he did offer this warning to Salinger:
"'All I can tell you is this,' he said. 'The President may have to develop a cold somewhere along the line tomorrow. If he does, we'll cancel out the rest of the trip and head back to Washington.'"
Saturday morning, O'Donnell's warning came to fruition and the press was told that President Kennedy had developed a respiratory infection and would be returning to the White House. Salinger spoke with President Kennedy as they developed the language to give to the press about the cold. Salinger asked Kennedy privately, "Mr. President, you don't have that bad a cold, do you?" Kennedy said no and when Salinger asked him what was going on, Salinger said, "[h]is unprintable answer sent a chill through me."

What had really happened was Kennedy received a phone call from Bobby informing him that Ex-Comm was ready to meet with him to present their recommendations. In Bobby Kennedy's Thirteen Days, he said of this phone call and his brother's return to Washington: "It was now up to one single man. No committee was going to make this decision."

On Kennedy's return trip to D.C., the nation's military was put on alert. Tactical air squadrons were prepared and Secretary McNamara was making arrangements for the naval blockade.

Ex-Comm was convened upon Kennedy's return to the White House Saturday afternoon. The meeting began at 2:30 p.m. and did not end until 5:30 p.m. Kennedy, Vice President Johnson and U.N. Ambassador Stevenson all returned to Washington for this meeting. In the meeting, the positions for air strike and blockade were both laid before Kennedy. The Joint Chiefs were unanimous in their support for the air strike. McNamara, Sorensen and Bobby Kennedy remained supportive of a blockade. Bobby Kennedy wrote of his support for the blockade:
"This was not from a deep conviction that it would [a blockade] would be a successful course of action, but a feeling that it had more flexibility and fewer liabilities than a military attack. Most importantly, like others, I could not accept the idea that the United States would rain bombs on Cuba, killing thousands and thousands of civilians in a surprise attack. Maybe the alternatives were not very palatable, but I simply did not see how we could accept that course of action for our country."
One additional approach was mentioned in the Saturday meeting of Ex-Comm, a particularly courageous suggestion. Ambassador Adlai Stevenson, who had promoted diplomacy from the get-go, had stated his objection to the air strike. He then suggested that the United States make a deal with the Soviet Union that would essentially end with the missiles in Cuba removed in exchange for the U.S. removing their missiles in Turkey and Italy. Stevenson also included in his recommendation that the U.S. surrender their base at Guantanamo to the Cubans. Though Stevenson's suggestion was ridiculed by the Joint Chiefs and others in the room, including CIA Director McCone, Bobby Kennedy would later write about Stevenson's suggestions: "I thought he was courageous to make them, and I might add they made as much sense as some others considered during that period of time."

When the meeting had concluded, President Kennedy had made the decision to go forward with the blockade. Though he was inclined to seek television time to address the nation Sunday night, it was determined that Monday night would be more acceptable as it would give the administration time to approach congressional leadership, America's allies and diplomats about the existence of the missiles and the plan of action. This would give Kennedy's speechwriters time to complete the draft Sorensen had already started for the televised address.

By Saturday night, things were underway. Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., who would go to work on Adlai Stevenson's speech to be given at the United Nations, wrote of that Saturday and Sunday:
"The secret was superbly kept. Late Saturday--as the President abruptly returned from the campaign and as Rusk cancelled a speech--a sense of excitement and anticipation began to flood Washington. That night at Jim Rowe's dance there was a great speculation as to what was up. By Sunday morning speculation was beginning to settle on Cuba; and by Sunday afternoon Scotty Reston [of The Times] was able to call me up with what substantially was the whole story."
The next 48 hours would frame the administration's plan and how that plan would be presented to the American people and the world community.
_____________________________
Pierre Salinger wrote about the campaign swing that ended by Kennedy's so-called "cold" in his memoir With Kennedy (page 250). Salinger would not be brought into the loop until Sunday morning in a 9 a.m. meeting with McGeorge Bundy in the Situation Room. Salinger then sat in on many meetings with Kennedy advisors from that point forward.
Bobby Kennedy's quotations come from Thirteen Days (pages 37, 29 and 39, respectively).
Excerpt from Journals, 1952-2000 by Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. (pages 173-174).