Thirteen Days By Robert Kennedy Thirteen Days, by Robert Kennedy, is a portrayal of the drama surrounding the Cuban missile crisis, and an analysis of the ordeal. There are two sides to this conflict which was played out in the post-World War II era. On one hand you have the Communists of the Soviet Union, whose desire to bring all of Europe under their heel would nearly spark a war that would annihilate the human race. On the other stands the Americans who wished the “vindication of right” and to prevent the further spread of Communism. The tensions begin to mount after Germany and Berlin were divided among the victorious countries of the Allies and three major power blocs formed. The countries that had been newly formed in the aftermath of the war declared themselves to be neutral.
The western countries, led by America, and the Soviet Union, along with its newly “acquired” countries, formed the other two. The Soviet Union had surrounded itself with Communist satellite countries, and was taking every opportunity to impose Communism onto any other country possible. In response to this policy the U.S. announced the Truman Doctrine, which was aimed at controlling the Soviet encroachment, and the Marshall Plan, designed to support the recovery of war-devastated Europe to make Communism less appealing. However, two things came to pass that sent shockwaves through the U.S.
The first of which was the Communist overthrow of the Chinese government, which began to instill deeper fear of Communism. The second was the Soviet Union’s newly discovered atomic ability. Now the U.S. was not the world superpower, did not have sole possession of the most powerful weapon in the world, the weapon that was the edge we needed to keep Communism in check. These events contributed to the anti-Communist furor that swept the country for the next twenty years which resulted in “witch-hunts” that ruined many lives and careers, most often unjustly due to the “cases” being totally fabricated and unsupported by fact.
When Joseph Stalin died, power went to an obscure Communist official named Nikita Khrushchev. His goal was to have the Soviet Union be an equal to the United States militarily and economically. Although he tried to soften Stalin’s brutal tactics, Soviet foreign policy remained the same. This ruthless treatment of satellite nations that tried to break free fostered further distrust between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. At the inauguration of our new president, John F. Kennedy, Khrushchev decided to test Kennedy’s resolve with renewed pressure on Berlin via the construction of the Berlin Wall. However, none of these events were to equal the effect that came from one small island ninety miles off of the coast of Florida, the small island of Cuba.
When Fidel Castro took over Cuba by means of a revolution, he quickly established his government as the first openly Communist government in the western hemisphere. He petitioned the Soviet Union for aid, which was cheerfully given him. These events went against our current policies, as well as the Monroe Doctrine, which established us as the police force of the western hemisphere. Ninety miles away from the greatest bastion of Capitalism was now residing its greatest foe. This tense situation was brought to a boiling point by the arrival of Soviet technicians and soldiers on the island, followed by shipments of Soviet technology.
Our frequent U-2 flyovers had produced evidence of the beginning construction of missile sites, which we were assured were to be of a purely defensive nature. John F. Kennedy, who was young, inexperienced, and nave about the reality of his professional relationship with the Soviet leader, chose to trust Khrushchev on the matter of the missile sites. It was not until much later that he learned the truth, that the Soviets had actually begun construction on offensive nuclear missile sites, with missiles capable of reaching most major U.S. cities.
This realization sparked a massive government operation to discover everything possible about this new threat, and at the same time to cover it up for the nonce so as not to cause a general panic. Since the Bay of Pigs incident, Kennedy no longer blindly followed the advice of his military advisors, but instead decided to rely on the advice from the more intellectual minds of the nation. He then formed these minds into the ExComm council, which was to prove vital in all areas of the crisis, and essential to the successful outcome. The level of security levied on this group was so great that even their wives were not to be told of anything. Potentially the greatest advice this group of advisors gave Kennedy kept the U.S. out of what could have turned into a global disaster.
They strongly advised against the military’s option of a direct air bombardment of the missile sites and/or a Marine invasion of the island of Cuba. This would have been a total disaster on all fronts as the 10,000 Soviet soldiers thought by CIA and military intelligence to be stationed on Cuba turned out to be closer to around 40,000. Also these troops had possession of tactical nuclear weapons, and the authority to use them on invading U.S. military forces as well. Instead Kennedy decided to use the ExComm’s recommendation of a “quarantine” of Cuba (really a blockade) to prevent further Soviet supplies from reaching Cuba. After this, the tensions continued to rise until negotiations with Khrushchev began to be established. Utilizing the advice of the ExComm, and weeks of tact and diplomacy (and the occasional bicycle riding Western Union letter carrier to send Khrushchev terms and updates of events) Kennedy negotiated with Khrushchev mutually beneficial trade-offs.
The U.S. would lift the “quarantine” and also give “assurances against an invasion of Cuba” in return for the dismantling and removal of all offensive nuclear weapons. Although Khrushchev and Kennedy were fairly satisfied with this resolution, Fidel Castro was totally enraged. He believed that the Soviets had somehow betrayed him, and he then attempted to force the Soviets to launch a full-scale nuclear assault on the continental U.S. When this failed, he attempted to do it himself. This was only prevented due to the quick deployment of contingents of Soviet soldiers to Cuba to ensure the dismantling proceeded. The way in which this book made me feel can best be explained as scared.
Scared that we have already come so close to destroying the world as we know it, and that it was the work of so few men that has kept us here. The amazing amount of control at home and in his attitude, along with the political savvy exhibited by Kennedy, an inexperienced and young president, and the intricate political fencing he executed with the aid of the ExComm is simply mind-boggling. To have the fate of the entire world rest on your shoulders is a burden best left for Atlas, not mere mortals. This work has given me a deeper insight to the intricacies of modern politics, a realm I thought to be filled only with special interests and incompetent government officials. If it was so difficult to ensure there would be a tomorrow fifty years ago, I cannot imagine the exponential level of difficulty and stress that is now placed upon and experienced by the men responsible for these systems.
All of which who could literally destroy the world with the pressing of a single button, and have these weapons of total destruction aimed at each other 24/7. History.