One Minute to Midnight
June 1, 2013
I have just finished reading One Minute to Midnight by Michael Dobbs and it is a book I would recommend to anyone, but especially to those who are interested in how “government” actually “works.” Dobbs de-mythologizes what he can, leading him to conclude that the panegyrics written by Kennedy devotees paint a picture of someone who did not, in actuality, exist. The historian, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., for example, wrote that “Kennedy had ‘dazzled the world’ through a ‘combination of toughness and restraint, of will, nerve and wisdom, so brilliantly controlled, so matchlessly calibrated.’” And, moreover, “Bobby Kennedy, Theodore Sorensen, and many lesser acolytes reached similar starry-eyed conclusions.” [p. 343]
So far from this being the case that the world was almost led into a nuclear holocaust even though two principals, Kennedy and Khrushchev, were doing their best to avoid it. That is, to avoid it after bringing the world to its brink. Recklessly, JFK and his brother, Bobby, were going after Castro and his revolution with a passion that is hard to explain, while Khrushchev gambled by placing nuclear missiles and tactical nuclear weapons – the latter are really not much different than the former in terms of destructibility – in Cuba. As Dobbs says, “Cuban and Soviet fears of American intervention were not simply the result of Communist paranoia.”  And Khrushchev was overthrown in 1964 for, among other things, “megalomania,” “adventurism,” and bringing the world to “the brink of nuclear war.” These are the words of those who overthrew Khrushchev, other Communists in the Soviet Union.
And yet more interesting to me is that JFK has been remembered in this country the way Schlesinger, et. al., would have him remembered. His recklessness, which was evident in his private as well as his public life, is overlooked, as is the fact that “the day-to-day diplomacy [was not] ‘brilliantly controlled’ as the Kennedy camp would have us believe.”  In fact, it is even worse than Dobbs makes it out to be insofar as Kennedy was prepared to attack and then invade Cuba in order to take out the missiles. And he was prepared to do so with nuclear weapons, tactical nuclear weapons. [It is good to recognize that one “tactical nuclear weapon” would take out Havana and kill millions of people and take out the Guantanamo naval base at the eastern tip of Cuba.] In other words, while Kennedy is to be praised for waiting a few days and resisting the push of the likes of Curtis LeMay, he was, in the final analysis, going to “go LeMay” on Cuba, And it is difficult to see, given the presence of nukes in Cuba and 40,000 Soviet troops, how such an attack would not escalate into a full scale war between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R.
And, for me, this is the crux: Full scale nuclear war over missiles and other nukes in Cuba? Really? Kennedy was prepared to wage such a war for such a reason. It is, at least, mind-boggling. And it points back to the Kennedy obsession with Castro and Communism and the thought that both had to be taken on militarily. We know now little could be more delusional than such thinking as Communism pretty much destroyed itself. It certainly destroyed itself in the Soviet Union and, thanks to the gods, even some Communists understood this. Virtually, without a shot being fired, the dreaded “final tyranny,” which is what I was taught in college about the Soviet Communism, disappeared from the earth. So too will Communism in Cuba and this rather sooner than later. A couple of deaths and it is all over for Communism there.
In his novel, Slaughterhouse Five, Kurt Vonnegut writes that we humans are viewing the world as if we were looking through a narrow pipe while moving on a hand-cart on a railroad track. The pipe does not move left or right, up or down, and we see only a very small piece of our reality. Yet we think what we are seeing is the whole or most of “reality” and not a thin sliver of it. Not so. And Slaughterhouse Five revolves around the fire bombing of Dresden one night during WWII, an event that has yet to be explained. We are lucky, as Dobbs and some others point out, that in 1962, somehow we stumbled into and out of the onset of a nuclear holocaust.
As Dobbs tells us, Fritz Nolting, a former ambassador to Saigon, noticed the hubris of “the best and the brightest.” “’Very gung-ho fellows,’ he recalled…for a 1978 book. ‘Wanting to get things straightened up in a hurry, clean up the mess. We’ve got the power and we’ve got the know-how and we can do it. I remember on one occasion cautioning Bob McNamara that it was difficult, if not impossible, to put a Ford engine into a Vietnamese ox-cart.’
‘What did he say?’ the interviewer wanted to know.
‘He agreed, but he said, ‘we can do it.’”
Well, not so much, apparently. McNamara, eventually, learned this lesson and even came to admit that he had been criminally responsible in his “can-do” and “gung-ho” attitude. It seems though, as JFK said so correctly, “There’s always some sonofabitch that doesn’t get the word.”