The Charlotte News

Monday, October 25, 1937


Site Ed. Note:

At the hole where he went in
Red-Eye called to Wrinkle-Skin.
Hear what little Red-Eye saith:
"Nag, come up and dance with death!"

Eye to eye and head to head,
(Keep the measure, Nag.)
This shall end when one is dead;
(At thy pleasure, Nag.)
Turn for turn and twist for twist--
(Run and hide thee, Nag.)
Hah! The hooded Death has missed!
(Woe betide thee, Nag!)

There were two elements of major news this date, October 25, 1962: First, fifteen ships bound for Cuba were reported to have turned around and headed back to the Soviet Union before reaching the quarantine line; Second, a dramatic and fiery confrontation between U. N. Ambassador Adlai Stevenson and Soviet U. N. Ambassador Zorin, which historically would come to signify and define the standoff as its most volatile, electrical and precipitous moment.

Adlai Stevenson was from an old political family in Illinois. His grandfather had been Vice-President under Grover Cleveland from 1893 to 1897. He had been Governor of Illinois and twice his partyís nominee for the presidency, both times facing the old Combined Allied Invasion Forces General Dwight Eisenhower, in 1952 and 1956. Both times, he had made a poor showing electorally, but a splendid showing in terms of both political manners and carrying himself off as a thinking manís candidate. The latter was considered his greatest weakness in politics, however, that he appealed too much to the cerebral, was considered nearly professorial on the campaign trail, unable thereby to endear himself to the folk of the countryside who didnít give a whit in cornutopia for good ideas: action, my friend, and plenty of it--that keeps the wheels greased and the tractor running, both in the pocketbook and in terms of national security. Donít need no eggheads round here telling me how to run my business or my farm. I Like Ike.

How a man or woman sounds, the confidence with which they utter statements, on the campaign trail, after all, to this day, is more a hallmark of the man or woman in the average voterís eyes than the substance, or accuracy, of what he or she is saying to their minds. How they dress, never a hallmark of Stevenson in his crumpled suits and well-worn shoes, more a statement than a vaunted speech on how to effect world peace and to do so by achieving with it world prosperity.

Stevenson had the appeal necessary for his constituency on the stump in Illinois, but never achieved it, including his last run for the nomination in 1960, on the stumps of the hinterlands of the country in large. To much of the latter, he was just that "egghead". Still to others, because he was perceived as soft on Communism by his gentlemanly, erudite mode of expression, a man even dangerous for the job of Commander-in-Chief.

This single day in his life, though challenging that image with a resoluteness seldom seen in international political exchange by normally reserved diplomats, would, for some of our more stubborn and bellicose citizens, still nevertheless not ever finally amend the soft-shell imagery bequeathed him by that egghead perception, nay, that of the soft-talk pinko Commie sympathizer.

A year later, October 24, 1963, he would venture to Dallas for a talk on the Red Chinese-Russian crisis in international affairs and the upset it was precipitating in the strategic nuclear balance, calling it the most dangerous of all the threats in the world at the time. He was jeered by about 120 demonstrators, one of whom, a North Texas State student, subsequently arrested, shoved Stevenson and spat on him. The local organizers of Stevensonís talk attributed the disturbance to right-wingers of the John Birch Society, as whipped up by retired General Edwin Walker.

While we wonít digress too far into General Walker, it should be recalled that in late September, 1962 he had whipped up a crowd for god and country to prevent James Meredith from entering as a student at the University of Mississippi; two persons were killed in the resulting melee. Ironically, Walker had been in charge of the unit in Little Rock in 1957 which, under Presidential directive, had assured order so that African-American students could attend previously segregated public schools. Walker had been reassigned from duty in West Germany in 1961 after it was reported that he had identified in the press Eleanor Roosevelt, former President Truman, and former Secretary of State Acheson as Communists; Walker then resigned the Army and formed a cabal of Birchers in Dallas. Walker, strangely, also was a putative target of Oswald on April 13, 1963. Oswald, it was reported, missed at a distance of about one-third the length of a football field, aiming at a stationary target, Walker at his desk. The bullet ricocheted off a part of the window frame. Oswald left a note in Russian for his wife Marina, telling her that he intended to kill Walker and what she should do if he were caught. No such note of course was ever found with regard to his activities of November 22, 1963, only the bare fact of his having left his wedding ring behind on that date, during a period of separation from his Russian-born wife.

So, on October 25, 1962, the public, for the first time, saw a side to Ambassador Stevenson which they had never witnessed, a controlled burn of red-faced anger welling from him, and effectively so. Zorin continued to accuse the United States of lying about the presence of missiles in Cuba despite the photographs being displayed by Stevenson, already appearing in the press during the previous two days. Zorin asserted that the photographs were faked, that photographs regarding the Bay of Pigs had been similarly faked, and therefore it was to be expected that the U.S., once a liar, could not be trusted now.

But hold. The usually smiling, affable eyes of the United States Ambassador had waxed stubborn and stern. He insisted that Zorin stop evading and answer the question: were there medium range and intermediate range missiles from the Soviet Union on the island of Cuba? "Yes or no. Donít wait for the translation."

To which Zorin calmly replied that he was not in a court of American law and that Stevenson would have his answer "in due course".

"I am prepared to wait for your answer until Hell freezes over if that is your decision."

The cooling off period counseled by U Thant might yet occur, but the fiery rhetoric suggested another turn; matters must now be resolved.

The Cold War was edging closer and closer to becoming a hot one, and this exchange between the normally cool diplomats of their respective countries was the best symbol of it.

World opinion had already firmly coalesced beside the position of the United States since Mondayís announcement and subsequent events; national opinion on the quarantine was also similarly unified, firmly in support of the President's bold action, though not without sporadic protest.

But this singular statement now by the usually prim Stevenson, carried via the networks before the United Nations, would go a long way toward finally galvanizing public opinion on the point. Here, visibly, before the court of world opinion, the Soviet Union had denied the writing on the wall, had accused the United States of lying about that which was before everyoneís eyes, had instead claimed fakery in the photographic studio, rather than admitting the hard facts, that offensive missiles existed and were being set up in Cuba, 90 miles from the coast of the United States, and capable of hitting targets throughout the hemisphere, including virtually all of the United States.

The Soviets were obviously what Stevenson had branded Zorin, possessed of "a talent for obfuscation"--a professorial way of saying he was a goddamned liar.

There were two meetings of EXCOMM on October 25, 1962. In the morning meeting that day, the petroleum tanker Bucharest, still approaching the line, was ordered by the President to be allowed to proceed unabated as it plainly carried no weapons. He also approved eight more low-level reconnaissance flights over Cuba.

In the second meeting that afternoon at 5:00, initially without the President, John McCone provided intelligence that there were fifteen ships still headed for the quarantine line, among them the Graznyy, a tanker which appeared to carry ammonia in its tanks. Fifteen other ships had turned around.

Treasury Secretary Dillon stated that there had been a run on gold in Germany and to a lesser extent in London, indicative of concern that world war might be imminent.

Secretary McNamara reported that an East German passenger ship, Voelker Freundschaft, was headed for the line and a decision needed to be made whether to stop and board it. Since we had let the Soviet petroleum ship pass, and since this new ship undoubtedly contained only passengers, not missiles, McNamara counseled against stopping it. The Graznyy, he reported, had stopped and so no immediate decision needed to be made on whether to board it. Thus far, no ship had been boarded. They had either turned around or posed no immediate threat of increasing the missile launch capability.

Secretary Rusk reported on diplomatic matters, that a decision needed to be made whether preliminary indications by Khrushchev of a willingness to discuss matters, as proposed by U Thant at the U.N., was sincere, or whether the Soviets were preparing to attack and merely using this tender of an olive branch as a further delaying tactic while more of the missiles proceeded toward operational status. If the talks with U Thant failed to bring resolution, we could go to the General Assembly with an appeal, where some 80 nations would likely support a denuclearization policy in Latin America. Because the IRBMís, the missiles with a range of 2,200 nautical miles, were close to becoming operational, talks with U Thant, if they proceeded, counseled Rusk, would have to be limited to a period of a few days.

McNamara added that the missiles which were already operational had an eight-hour countdown to launch; the low-level reconnaissance flights, which had so far gone well in providing close-up information on SAM sites and missile readiness, would indicate when and whether the missiles were being moved into position to be loaded onto the mobile launchers. (There was no intelligence, incidentally, provided so far which would confirm LeMayís assertions on Friday that once the Soviets were aware of our knowledge of the sites, the missiles would disappear "into the woods". (Whether he meant into the woods of Cuba or the Northwoods, no one really knows.) By the way, those unfamiliar too much with the history of 1968 should recall that General LeMay ran as the Vice-Presidential candidate on the "segregation now, segregation tomarra, segregation faweva" platform of George Wallace that fateful year in United States politics.)

McNamara further counseled that more pressure could be brought to bear on the Soviets through the quarantine by holding up jet fuel and other petroleum products, effectively causing Cuba to run out of gas in short order. He also recommended, along with General Taylor, nighttime reconnaissance missions and dropping flares over the IRBM sites, as a psychological ploy.

The President then joined the meeting and ordered, based on U Thantís message regarding suggested talks, and in light of the retreat from the line by Soviet cargo ships, that no confrontation occur until such talks could either proceed or be refused by the Soviet Union.

The Attorney General stated his belief that it would be better not to confront the Soviets at the line, that if the talks at the U. N. were refused or failed, the wiser course would be to proceed to take out the missiles, rather than have a direct confrontation on the high seas, while continuing to utilize the quarantine to maintain strict surveillance of Soviet sea traffic into Cuba.

The President decided that the East German passenger ship would not be stopped, that the Graznyy would not be stopped for now, and that, if the Soviets refused to talk at the U. N., jet fuel would be added to the list of embargoed items.

Since fifteen ships had turned about from the line and there still appeared some potential for a diplomatic solution, we would avoid confrontations for now. But we must act soon, said the President, as the sites were still under construction and headed toward an operational state.

McCone reaffirmed the intelligence provided on Saturday, that some of the MRBM sites were already operational.

The President also this date personally drafted a short reply to Khrushchevís letter of October 24, in which the President again asserted that it was the Soviet Union which had precipitated the crisis by first denying in September that it had any intentions of introducing offensive weapons into Cuba and then doing so, the incontrovertible evidence of which had moved the United States to take the action of quarantine. The President again urged Khrushchev to remove the missiles.

To supplement the chronology set forth, here some contemporary coverage from a few newspapers scattered across the country, selected, first, for their availability online (for a subscription fee) at the Newspaper Archive website, and, second, for representing a geographical spread of what the public was seeing in their local newsprint at the height of the Crisis.

You might note, as fate would have it, that The Gettysburg Times, selected primarily because it is the local print outlet in what was then former President Eisenhowerís town of residence, and because of the town's obvious historical importance as a symbol to the country, contains an analysis of Latin America under the Kennedy Administrationís Alliance for Progress programs, written by Ben Meyer of the Associated Press.

Mr. Meyer was the gentleman summoned by Mary Cash on the afternoon of July 1, 1941 to come to her aid regarding the strangely anomalous and, to her, inexplicable behavior of her husband, only to find the Geneve Hotel room in Mexico City, where she had left Jack Cash a few minutes earlier, empty. Later that evening, they would find him dead at the Reforma.

When Joseph Morrison, who incidentally was on the platform representing the School of Journalism when President Kennedy spoke on University Day at U.N.C. on October 12, 1961, undertook, during his research on the first Cash biography in 1964, to contact Mr. Meyer about his memories of that July 1, Meyer, then living in Maryland, strongly, and very nearly rudely, rebuffed Morrison, saying that he preferred not to talk about the death of W. J. Cash, that the Mexican authorities had completed their investigation in 1941 and he could add nothing. He requested not to be bothered about it further.

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