The Charlotte News

Thursday, October 28, 1937


Site Ed. Note: A new dawn would greet the world this Sunday morning. During the previous twelve hours, the Kremlin had been at work in deliberation on a response to the unconditional offer: remove the missiles in return for a no-invasion pledge regarding Cuba or be prepared to have them removed by force.

At 9:00 a.m. the teletype at the White House began clattering away its automated print. The salient parts of the message, in terms of response to the imminent issue raised by the White House and by the Attorney General the previous evening, from Premier Khrushchev to President Kennedy, ran thusly:

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.

I note with satisfaction that you have responded to the desire I expressed with regard to elimination of the aforementioned dangerous situation, as well as with regard to providing conditions for a more thoughtful appraisal of the internal situation, fraught as it is with great dangers in our age of thermonuclear weapons, rocketry, spaceships, global rockets, and other deadly weapons. All people are interested in insuring peace.

Therefore, vested with trust and great responsibility, we must not allow the situation to become aggravated and must stamp out the centers where a dangerous situation fraught with grave consequences to the cause of peace has arisen. If we, together with you, and with the assistance of other people of good will, succeed in eliminating this tense atmosphere, we should also make certain that no other dangerous conflicts which could lead to a world nuclear catastrophe would arise.

In conclusion, I should like to say something about a detente between NATO and the Warsaw Treaty countries that you have mentioned. We have spoken about this long since and are prepared to continue to exchange views on this question with you and to find a reasonable solution.

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…

The message continued on about the U-2 flight which had gone off course from its base in Alaska and had flown over the Chukotka Peninsula in the Soviet Union before correcting course and flying home. It mentioned the controversial May 1, 1960 U-2 surveillance flight over the Soviet Union in which pilot Francis Gary Powers was shot down, tried for espionage, and imprisoned in the U.S.S.R., until negotiations later freed him in a prisoner exchange of February, 1962. Krushchev reminded how that incident had provoked the cancellation of the planned Paris Conference between Khrushchev and President Eisenhower. Khrushchev also cautioned about further surveillance over Cuba and that such surveillance could lead to unraveling the fragile accord which was now being reached before it had a chance to conclude.

The President later explained in response that the stray U-2 was carrying neither arms nor photographic equipment but was taking air samples to determine the impact on the atmosphere caused by recent testing by the Soviet Union of an hydrogen bomb which had produced a radiation belt around the globe. A similar test of a thermonuclear device by the United States in July had produced similar results. (The launch of a satellite, the Anna, launched on an unusually low arcing trajectory because of its similar mission to test the atmosphere for radiation impact, had been delayed from the previous week out of concern that it might be misinterpreted by the Soviets as a nuclear warhead equipped missile; the satellite, after due advice to the Soviets of its intended mission, would be launched Tuesday from Cape Canaveral.)

As the Khrushchev response rolled in, a sigh of relief was breathed for the first time since the October 14 U-2 photographs came to the President’s attention on the morning of Tuesday, October 16.

The Crisis, as such, was over by 11:00 a.m. Eastern Standard Time.

President Kennedy, however, expressed caution to EXCOMM members, that the response to the Khrushchev letter should be reserved, but hopeful.

And that is what the telegraphed reply expressed:

I am replying at once to your broadcast message of October twenty-eight even though the official text has not yet reached me because of the great importance I attach to moving forward promptly to the settlement of the Cuban crisis. I think that you and I, with our heavy responsibilities for the maintenance of peace, were aware that developments were approaching a point where events could have become unmanageable. So I welcome this message and consider it an important contribution to peace.

The distinguished efforts of Acting Secretary General U Thant have greatly facilitated both our tasks. I consider my letter to you of October twenty-seventh and your reply of today as firm undertakings on the part of both our governments which should be promptly carried out. I hope that the necessary measures can at once be taken through the United Nations as your message says, so that the United States in turn can remove the quarantine measures now in effect. I have already made arrangements to report all these matters to the Organization of American States, whose members share a deep interest in a genuine peace in the Caribbean area.

You referred in your letter to a violation of your frontier by an American aircraft in the area of the Chukotsk Peninsula. I have learned that this plane, without arms or photographic equipment, was engaged in an air sampling mission in connection with your nuclear tests. Its course was direct from Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska to the North Pole and return. In turning south, the pilot made a serious navigational error which carried him over Soviet territory. He immediately made an emergency call on open radio for navigational assistance and was guided back to his home base by the most direct route. I regret this incident and will see to it that every precaution is taken to prevent recurrence.

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.

The President informed former Presidents Eisenhower, Truman, and Hoover of the good news.

Reconnaissance flights were suspended for the day and no activity was reported at the quarantine line. The Graznyy, moving steadily toward the zone on Saturday, had now again stopped dead in the water.

President Kennedy would not live long enough to see the word used by Khrushchev, détente, become a policy of the Nixon White House after Leonid Brezhnev, along with Aleksej Kosygin--who would assume the titular role previously occupied by Khrushchev, that of Premier, but with greater authority now vested in the General Secretary, Brezhnev--, would come to power two years later, as the 70-year old Khrushchev was edged out by the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet, forcing his resignation in October, 1964, in large part over what it considered mishandling of the missile crisis. Khrushchev had led his country through the most troubling times of the Cold War, from 1956 to 1964, and to his great credit, this simple Russian peasant without any formal college education, had come to power denouncing the atrocities and other abuses of his predecessor, Josef Stalin, vowing a new era which would stress economic and social development rather than militarism as a goal of the Soviet Union. In practice, of course--perhaps strapped by the Party bosses, much as some of our leaders were and remained strapped from progress toward ideals by the same forces within the United States historically, those grasping forces of greed, both materially and for power--it would not turn out the way of his desires.

But, out of the Crisis did come a sense of this elderly gentleman’s humanity and ultimate sensibility, and a dead reckoning with the fate of the world if left in the hands of those bent on global destruction.

And a common bond was born from it.

Yes, Khrushchev and the Soviets had clearly precipitated this Crisis which nearly brought the end of the world; yes it was reckless, even degenerate in its ultimate potential for disaster.

But then, in reflection, one can make the same argument for the whole of the arms build-up since World War II by the two super-giants, on both sides—a heightened tension which President Kennedy had dedicated himself to undoing with the controversial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, ratified by President Kennedy, after Congressional approval, on October 7, 1963, banning all above-ground atmospheric testing of thermonuclear weapons. The Soviets had agreed to its terms in August, 1963.

Khrushchev insisted still in his letter of October 28 the contrary, that the Crisis was caused by the American threat of invasion to Cuba, precipitated by the Bay of Pigs invasion, and the loose talk in the United States since that time, both by politicians in Congress and by pockets of anti-Castro Cubans, at least as Khrushchev viewed the situation.

And, of course, in hindsight, reading Operation Mongoose’s stated means and goals, and even more so, that of Operation Northwoods, both plans proposed in early March, 1962, one can begin to understand where it was that the Soviet eyes and ears on American soil got their troubling information; as disingenuous as the sources were, this fact could not be known then to the halls of the Kremlin.

It was as hard to distinguish official policy of the Government from the lunatic fringe in this country as it was for EXCOMM to determine on the Friday and Saturday past the reasons for the variations in the two letters from the Kremlin, for this group of the nation’s best and brightest, as David Halberstam later called them, to understand originally why the missiles were being placed in Cuba when no decisive strategic advantage was gained by it.

They say the Devil confuses. And when one is confronted with confusion and confusing and conflicting representations, one becomes confused and subject to acting then on emotion, fight or flight, instincts left from the jungle. Straight talk and plain talk, less secrecy in the world, is required to prevent the resurgence of the Cold War mentality. Trust and faith, a true faith, not just a word bantered about to impress voters in the Bible Belt and thereby cynically to achieve a shallow and hollow victory, a power which in the end becomes useless for its vapidity in its origins.

It would take the diligent efforts of yet six more presidents of the United States, the leaders of the NATO bloc, and the leaders of the resistance in places like Poland and Czechoslovakia and Hungary, the Soviet satellites thrust under the yoke of Communism, endless negotiations, speeches, threats and counter-threats, before the Iron Curtain, as Churchill had dubbed it in the 1950’s, finally fell, and along with it, its most historic symbol, the Berlin Wall, erected in August, 1961, torn down in November, 1989.

But this day, October 28, 1962, as the church bells rang as people headed home from their Sunday vigil, presented a new beginning of a sort, one which could stop and give thanks that a new day was still possible after the days past, one aimed toward that which followed over the next three decades, toward an understanding between peoples of divergent backgrounds, cultures, and geographical origins, of different languages, comprised of different alphabetic symbols.

Ironically, the supreme test of John Foster Dulles’s theory of brinkmanship, would be posed not by General Eisenhower as President, nor by Richard Nixon as President, but rather by the young, "unimpressive to date in foreign affairs", the inexperienced young sailor, the light-weight pretty boy from Cape Cod, the disarmingly reticent but arrogantly assertive rich boy with the Ivy League haircut and manners and brogue to match, the fellow who pronounced it most of the time "Cubar", a wistful Irish fellow, both mystic and whimsical, with an irritating habit for profound eloquence in the bargain—John F. Kennedy.

And a damned impressive sight it was, too, lads and lassies.

You should have been there…

We ourselves, out of that particular period of a week following the announcement publicly of the Crisis, will always remember filling out that name tag to paste on the bottom of our school desk seat, the one with our name and address, then in a city’s district known as "Buena Vista", pronounced, the locals insist, "Beauna", rather than "Bwena", but no matter—and our blood type on that card, presumably, in case we needed a transfusion after the H-Bomb had turned us to toast.

But no matter. We didn’t need that tag after all. We didn’t perish in the night. And we knelt and said a prayer of thanks that we hadn’t.

The President, also on this Sunday afternoon, drafted a letter to Major Rudolf Anderson’s widow expressing personally his sorrow at her husband’s death and that he had died in the distinguished and crucial service of his country. And, indeed, he did. Major Anderson, the only loss of life in the Crisis, like all of those pilots who flew U-2 and low-level reconnaissance over Cuba in those days, risked their lives on each mission, without bombs, without guns, without fighter escorts, their only weapon being that little focal plane shutter and its blink to the earth as they throttled down over this island nation in the Caribbean.

Had it not been for their brave record of the events, we likely would not have made it. We likely would not be here. We likely would have been toast.

And so Major Anderson, as President Kennedy stated in his letter, deserves continually the thanks of a grateful nation for his ultimate sacrifice.

And so, too, do the members of EXCOMM, all of whom, as McGeorge Bundy, one of the hawks, stated on Sunday, no matter whether hawk or dove, were pleased that the doves won in this thirteen day time of history.

And most especially, of course, to John and Robert Kennedy, who also served their country dedicatedly and courageously, leading to the ultimate sacrifice, in standing for and encouraging in others, especially the young, within that historically cynical realm known as politics, the courage of ideals and ideas rather than mere bullets and ballots.

The fall elections went forth as scheduled on November 6, as the missiles were being crated and shipped back to the Soviet Union, under daily surveillance to insure that this task was done as promised.

In the elections, among others, the President’s 30-year old brother, Edward Kennedy, was elected Senator from Massachusetts. He still serves his country in the United States Senate, and faithfully so.

Mr. Nixon, out in California, would lose his bid to become Governor to Edmund G. Brown, who won his second term. In parting, former Vice-President Nixon would declare that his road in politics was at an end, and then, with a bit of a smirk, stated acerbically, "You won’t have Dick Nixon to kick around anymore." That pronouncement, of course, proved a bit premature.

And, the world little noted then, but would long remember, that somewhere in the middle of London, England, just as the President of the United States made his first statement of September 4, 1962, warning the Soviets against an offensive build-up and assuring that as long as weapons in Cuba remained strictly defensive in nature, no harm would come to that island, just on the day that statement occurred, a recording was made of a song by four young lads from Liverpool, England.

No one then, outside Hamburg or Liverpool anyway, had heard of them, or the song, or its intended flip-side on a little wax-plastic disc with a big hole in the middle--which would break if tossed across the room like a discus, as we found out a time or two.

A week later, on September 11, 1962, just as TASS released its statement indicating that it did not need to seek out any base for offensive weapons outside the physical boundaries of the Soviet Union and did not intend to introduce offensive weapons into Cuba, just then, one day before the President set a goal for the United States of landing a man on the moon by the end of the decade, that a day before he would again assert at his September 13 press conference from the White House the same notion as on September 4, that the United States intended no harm to the island of Cuba so long as there were no offensive weapons there capable of reaching the United States--just then, an alternate version of the same song was recorded at Abbey Road Studios in London, with a session drummer, Andy White.

This latter version of the song was the one later introduced to America and became the standard version.

Subsequently, in due course, not having to wait until hell froze over, Parlophone Records, on October 5, 1962, over in England, just as the President ordered the CIA U-2 surveillance to cease out of concern that the SAM sites photographed would cause a plane to be shot down and provoke an incident leading potentially to dire and fatal consequences, then turning the surveillance over to SAC, under the command of General LeMay, just then on October 5, did Parlophone release this record by the four lads from Liverpool, their first as a group.

It would later top out at number 17 on the UK charts. Each of the four lads was paid for the September 4 session 7 pounds, 10 shillings; 5 pounds, 15 shillings for the September 11 session.

Over time, their salaries would increase.

And on Sunday, October 28, 1962, the fog which had enshrouded L.A. the previous day, lifted.

Godspeed to the folks around the Los Angeles basin this day in 2007 who have lost their homes by wildfire and to the firefighters who are continuing to fight the blazes.

The news of 1962 is here.

Now we lay us down to sleep…

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