The Charlotte News

Saturday, October 23, 1937


Site Ed. Note: The first full public day of the Cuban missile crisis, October 23, 1962, would be one primarily of insuring full legal basis for the quarantine, through obtaining the unanimous consent of the Organization of American States, pursuant to the Rio Treaty, to implement it and to condemn the Cuban government for permitting the presence of Soviet offensive missiles. That was accomplished in the afternoon.

The quarantine would go into effect the following day at 1400, Greenwich Mean Time, 10:00 a.m., Eastern Standard Time, (noon, western Greenland time).

Premier Khrushchev would respond to the Presidentís Monday evening speech and letter by saying that the quarantine was illegal under international law and that no nation had the right to stop and search or seize ships of any other nation in international waters. He asserted the right of the U.S.S.R. to ship arms to Cuba for its defense. The communique would stop short, however, of suggesting the quarantine as an act of war.

Twice during the day, EXCOMM met, primarily to discuss final routine orders regarding implementing of the quarantine. C.I.A. Director McCone reported that there appeared to be no Cuban personnel at work on the missile site construction. The President authorized Defense Secretary McNamara to be in charge of the quarantine and to authorize force against vessels only in the event of non-compliance with orders to stop and allow search or in the event of direct hostile action against United States personnel. Any ship bound for Cuba, crossing the quarantine line, found to be in possession of arms would be seized and taken into a United States port. In the event that a U-2 reconnaissance flight was shot down, there would first be a determination that the action was deliberately hostile, and that determination would be made by the President, or Secretary McNamara if the President were not available immediately. Only in the event that the action were determined to be hostile would authorization be provided under the Presidential directive to allow the SAM site responsible to be destroyed. Initially, six low-level reconnaissance flights would commence, to accumulate further evidence for Ambassador Stevenson to present before the United Nations Security Council.

Interestingly, the President would order photographs to be taken of all air defense installations in the Southeast, to insure that these bases were at full readiness for coastal defense in case of surprise attack.

Just why the President wanted photographic evidence for his own eyes of this readiness potential is of course subject to speculation. But, it is probably a fair guess that his recollections of what had occurred at Pearl Harbor, despite orders from the President to be at full readiness for the potential of Japanese surprise attack, stood refreshed in his mind; perhaps, given his witness in the Pacific theater and his personal loss in that War, both in Europe and the Pacific, such understanding never left his mind. Whatever the reason for it, General LeMayís tactical readiness would be overseen and maintained.

Perhaps, the ever so slightly eneciable exchange with General LeMay at a meeting on Friday morning, when EXCOMM was still discussing the various options and the President had been questioning again why the Soviets would undertake this implacement now when they already had sufficient ICBMís to hit us and that whatever deficiencies they might have in the overall strategic nuclear balance could be offset within a year, had been conducive to this sort of concern:

LeMay--(taped conversation, Oct. 19, 1962): "This [blockade idea] is almost as bad as the appeasement at Munich...(8:00)

"This [missile installation in Cuba] increases their accuracy against the fifty targets that we know that they can hit now. But the biggest thing is that if we leave them there, itís a blackmail threat against not only us but the other South American countries that they may decide to operate against. Thereís one other factor that I didnít mention thatís not quite in our field, is the political factor. But you invited us to comment on this at one time. And that is that we have talked about Cuba and the SAM sites down there and you had made a pretty strong statement about the main defensive, that we would take action against offensive weapons. I think that a blockade and political talk would be considered by a lot of our friends and neutrals as being a pretty weak response to this and Iím sure a lot of our own citizens would feel that way, too. In other words, you're in a pretty bad fix, Mr. President." (22:25-23:20)

JFK: "What'd ye say?"

LeMay: "I say, you're in a pretty bad fix."

JFK: "Youíre in it with me." [Tense laughter.]

Robert Kennedy would meet later on the night of October 23 with Ambassador Dobrynin, indicating he was doing so on his own, not at the insistence of the White House. He would report that evening to his brother the results of the meeting and follow up with a memo to EXCOMM the following morning.

At the meeting, Dobrynin would continue to insist that there were no missiles of any kind in Cuba. The Attorney General insisted that there were and that he should acquaint himself better with the facts. Dobrynin expressed consternation at the fact that the President had not indicated his evidence of missile installations to Mr. Gromyko during the meeting with him on Thursday. Dobrynin, when asked by RFK what the Soviet orders would be to ships passing toward the quarantine line, responded that the orders of the previous month were for ships to proceed to Cuba and he assumed that those orders would not be altered.

In a recorded interchange between RFK and the President after the 10:00 p.m. meeting with Dobrynin, the President indicated his belief that had he not done something about the missiles, especially in light of the Congressional resolution of October 3 and his own words in September that no action would be taken toward Cuba unless the Soviets undertook aggressive action, he would have been impeached. He also expressed his belief that the timing of the whole matter by the Soviets was an attempt to embarrass the Administration in the fall mid-term elections, thus undermining the political power of the Administration.

Robert Kennedy had indicated to Dobrynin his dismay, given the evidence now, over the two-faced nature of the Sovietsí communications since September, the TASS statement of September 11 indicating there would be no offensive weapons placed anywhere outside the Soviet Union and Dobryninís own private assurances to RFK six weeks earlier that there would be no action taken which would upset the apple cart prior to the fall elections. But Dobrynin had quibbled on the point, insisting that there were no missiles in Cuba capable of reaching the United States, and that the Soviet Union had therefore been true to its word. RFK expressed that a primary reason for the reaction by the Administration to the evidence of missile installations was this duplicity, and therefore the element of clandestine behavior by the Soviet Union. The President, he told Drobrynin, had assured the Congress and the American people in September, based on Dobryninís assurances and the TASS statement, that there were no offensive weapons in Cuba, and therefore had taken a much softer approach toward Cuba than that being urged by Senators Capehart and Keating, and the other voices who favored a hard line on Cuba, invasion or blockade. The Attorney General dismayed that these continuing false statements on the Soviet build-up of offensive missiles were despoiling the previously existing feeling of mutual trust between the Administration and Chairman Khrushchev, and the better course toward restoring this trust would be for the Soviets simply to admit the presence of the missiles so that constructive steps might be initiated toward their immediate removal.

So we return to the point, one now by October 23 plainly privately troubling both the President and the Attorney General: Was the Crisis primarily stimulated by a political tug of war, Republicans versus Democrats in the fall election of 1962, not the least news of which was being generated by the gubernatorial race in California between Governor Brown and the former Vice-President? Were the Soviets then, reading the tea leaves to their favor, in order to weaken the Administrationís firm policy on maintaining the security of West Berlin and West Germany, playing their cards at this critical political juncture in order to tarnish, even destroy, JFKís credibility with the American people, to bring the 1960 shoe-banging proclamation of 1956 by Khrushchev to a reality, in the kitchen? And were the hard line Republicans, with similar interests in mind, going right along with the game plan, indeed, aiding and abetting the kitchener scheme?

Difficult questions to answer, even 45 years later. We shall leave it to your better judgment for resolution.

All we know for certain is that the Confederate blockade runner Kate hit that Union blockade line back in September, 1862 and was capturedÖ

And, we believe at least, we know who subsequently won the Civil War: that is to say that we all did, even if it cost Mr. Lincoln and the hundreds of thousands of soldiers who died in the cause their latter lives.

But for now, we must mind the watch on the quarantine line, set to begin October 24 at noon sharp.

A-B-C, it's so elementary...

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