Those of us old enough to remember, cannot forget the Cuban missile crisis and the Kennedy administration. We learned about how close the world came to the brink of nuclear war, under the threat of missiles with nuclear warheads installed by Nikita Khrushchev in Cuba following by president Kennedy's heroic imposition of a blockade of Cuba and the Soviet withdrawal of the missile threat. Both Kennedy brothers were acclaimed as heroes in the public version of the story, supported and supplemented by historians like Arthur Schlesinger Jr. And for half a century, the world has clung to that moment, as both historic and heroic, given the various options faced by the world community.
Now there is a new book, researched and written by the former historian at the John F. Kennedy Library for 23 years, Sheldon M. Stern, that debunks the heroic myth especially.
Stern's book, The Cuban Missile Crisis in American Memory, published by Stanford, concludes that "John F. Kennedy and his administration, without question, bore a substantial share of the responsibility for the onset of the Cuban missile crisis," according to the review of the book by Benjamin Schwarz in the current edition of The Atlantic. Schwarz documents the comparative size and shape of the military arsenals of the Soviet Union and the United States at the time, giving the Americans a sizeable advantage, known to both Kennedy and Khrushchev.
Moreover, despite America's overwhelming nuclear preponderance, JFK, in keeping with his avowed aim to pursue a foreign policy characterized by 'vigor', had ordered the largest peacetime expansion of America's military power, and specifically the colossal growth of its strategic nuclear forces. This included deploying, beginning in 1961, intermediate-range 'Jupiter' nuclear missiles in Italy and Turkey--adjacent to the Soviet Union. From there, the missiles could reach all of western U.S.S.R., including Moscow and Leningrad (and that doesn't count the nuclear-armed 'Thor' missiles that the U.S. already had aimed at the Soviet Union from bases in Britain)....
It's with little wonder, then, that, as Stern asserts--drawing on a plethora of scholarship including, most convincingly, the historian Philip Nash's elegant 1997 study, The Other Missiles of October--Kennedy's deployment of the Jupiter missiles "was a key reason for Khrushchev's decision to send nuclear missiles to Cuba." Khrushchev reportedly made that decision in May 1962, declaring to a confidant that the Americans 'have surrounded us with bases on all sides' and that missiles in Cuba would helpful to counter an 'intolerable provocation.' ...(In retirement, Khrushchev explained his reasoning to the American journalist trobe Talbott: Americans 'would learn just what it feels like to have enemy missiles pointing at you; we'd be doing nothing more than giving them a little of their own medicine.' ( p.74, The Atlantic, January/February, 2013)
Is it not more than a little ironic, that after more than a decade of denial that he ever participated in taking performance enhancing substances, including blood doping, in order to accomplish seven Tour de France victories, Lance Armstrong is being unmasked at the same time, on the same day for the same cover-up of the 'back' story of his heroic accomplishments, just as is the American president, for his?
And to think that the public face, to the Americans, has always been more important than full disclosure with all of its problems, as it has to all those who prefer a perfect public image, including those in too many leadership positions still today, in government, in corporate executive suites, in bishop's mitres and in military and athletic leadership positions.
It is not rocket-science to anticipate that there are a lot more doctoral theses to emerge uncovering the many stories of heroism that will inevitably deflate many balloons still floating through the universe...and when will it become the norm for each of us to acknowledge that we all have feet of clay, as the phrase in the vernacular paints the picture?