Cuban Missile Crisis: Son of K. Gives View From CCCP

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In American Heritage, Sergei Khrushchev gives his father's view of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. (The article is from 2002, but I haven't seen it before.) As you might expect, in Krushchev's telling the Soviets are just a bunch of peacable guys minding their own business when the Yanquis start causing trouble, but the article contains some interesting bits for aficionados. Krushchev notes that the famous meeting between Robert F. Kennedy and Soviet ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin was not the first time those two got together during the crisis. (Either that or he's claiming the entire RFK/Dobrynin negotiation channel gets "almost no mention" in the popular histories, which is not true: Even the movie 13 Days makes that negotiation a major plot point.) Amid all the hubbub about Judy Miller's allowing herself to become a White House tool, it's also instructive to remember how ABC correspondent John Scali was acting on specific government instructions in sending messages to the Russians. But the most interesting thing is what a major wild-card role Fidel Castro played before and during the crisis. According to Krushchev, in the 1959-60 period, when the U.S. was still trying to figure out whether Castro would go commie, the USSR was equally in the dark:

The arrival in Havana of the partisan fighter Fidel Castro on January 1, 1959, and Fulgencio Batista's flight, attracted little attention in Moscow. When Father asked for information about Cuba, it turned out there was none to give him. Neither the Communist Party Central Committee's International Department, KGB intelligence, nor military intelligence had any idea who Castro was or what he was fighting for. Father advised them to consult Cuba's Communists; they reported that the newcomer was a representative of the haute bourgeoisie and working for the CIA.

In 1960 Father decided to send his deputy Anastas Mikoyan to Cuba to discover what motivated Castro. Mikoyan was an intelligent man and an outstanding negotiator and diplomat. He visited Father at the dacha on the eve of his departure, and I remember one small episode. A group of us went for a walk, and one of Father's aides reported on Castro's recent trip to Washington to meet President Eisenhower. No one had any reliable information. The aide tried to persuade the group that Castro was an American agent, or at least ready to dance to the White House's tune. You couldn't trust him: That was the Kremlin's view of Castro at the time.

(Whole article here.) Castro continued to be an unpredictable asset for the Russians during the missile crisis. In this version, most of the big crisis moments—shooting down the U2, firing on the F-8Us—were either ordered or strongly encouraged by The Beard, against the wishes of the Kremlin.

Krushchev, on the other hand, emerges once again as the Cold War's Rommel—the principled commie who earns the grudging respect of the West. (Speaking of which, here's an interview between a July Plot buff and the Desert Fox's son.) The possibly fake memoir Krushchev Remembers is a book with a million highlights, well worth the 43-cent Amazon price.

NEXT: No Future In Miller's Dreaming

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  1. Tim Cavanaugh,

    McNamara has reported that Castro revealed to him that he would have been happy with a nuclear exchange with the U.S., even one which left Cuba a nuclear wasteland.

  2. Tim Cavanaugh,

    Of course he also states that Gen. LeMay considered the outcome of the “Missile Crisis” a defeat and that he wanted to attack the Cubans and the Soviets when we still had the upperhand.

  3. SOmewhere or other there is, I think, a possibly creditable account that Fidel “pushed the button” personally to shoot down the U-2 while on a tour of the anti-aircraft site.

  4. So is Rudolph Anderson the only casualty of the whole affair?

  5. McNamara has reported that Castro revealed to him that he would have been happy with a nuclear exchange with the U.S., even one which left Cuba a nuclear wasteland.

    Sounds like a classic “converts make the greatest zealots” situation. Or he might’ve just been harboring sour grapes over the whole Washington Senators snub.

    Interesting interview with Rommel’s son, btw, even if (as you’d expect) it sounded a little self-serving at times.

  6. I was in high school when Castro overthrew Batista. Young silly firebrands were we, and fantasizing about going to Cuba to fight for Castro. He was seen as a liberator.

  7. The Rommel interview is very interesting, but wow, talk about bad design. I had to “view as source” in order to read it witout suffering eye pain.

  8. …Castro revealed to him that he would have been happy with a nuclear exchange with the U.S., even one which left Cuba a nuclear wasteland.

    Is it too late to take him up on that?

  9. Considering that he had contact with the KGB,through Nicolai Leonov, their man in
    Mexico City, (re Sec. Mitrokhin, volume)
    I find that a little hard to believe, then
    again, the KGB probably kept Khruschev in
    the dark about such things (ala Truman and
    the Manhattan Program). Are you saying that
    Clinton factotum and wannabe Sec of State,’s
    translation was not genuine;

  10. The “What If?” alternate-history series has an engrossing take on how the
    Cuban Crisis might have played out if we actually went to war. Tellingly, in the story it’s the loose cannons who get it started…

  11. As one who remembers Castro appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show, I can understand how Krushchev might have been a wee suspicious.
    One more factoid and I’m dry. An old college chum of Castro had a very normal and successful career as a professor on the staff of the University of Sinincincinnati.

  12. “Even the movie 13 Days makes that negotiation a major plot point.) Amid all the hubbub about Judy Miller’s allowing herself to become a White House tool, it’s also instructive to remember how ABC correspondent John Scali was acting on specific government instructions in sending messages to the Russians.”

    I’ve got no problem with the govenrment using the press for propaganda operations against our enemies. I don’t even have a problem with the press allowing itself to be so used – against our enemies.

    I’ve got a problem when the government uses the press to carry out propaganda campaigns against its own citizens, and when the press (Miller) collaborates with such an operation.

  13. the principled commie who earns the grudging respect of the West

    What, no threats of canceled subscriptions yet?

  14. Rommel, you magnificent bastard. I read your interview!

  15. Interestingly enough, at the time of the revolution, the Cuban Communist Party supported Batista as it had ministers in his gvmnt. Since Castro wasn’t taking orders directly from Moscow, they were hesitant to openly support him.

    Also, Castro spend most of the d?tente years supporting insurgencies in South and Central America. That and his total mismanagement of the economy requiring heavy Soviet subsidies made him a constant thorn in the Soviet’s side.

  16. Threadjack about an odd event that left me puzzled:

    The other day, when France won its World Cup qualifier, there was a huge fireworks display, and the music to that display was Bruce Springsteen’s “Born In The USA.” I was sort of perplexed by this. 🙂

    Zidane! Zidane! Zidane!

  17. Deus ex Machina,

    Castro left Che hanging out to dry after Moscow told him that if he continued to support Che Moscow would drop support for Castro. Castro knew about the position of Che, the dire times he and his men were experiencing, and could have easily helped him. Instead Castro left Che to his own devices. Don’t get wrong, I don’t mourn for Che or anything, I just think its an interesting bit of information and I tend to throw into the faces of leftists who worship both Che and Castro.

  18. The other day, when France won its World Cup qualifier, there was a huge fireworks display, and the music to that display was Bruce Springsteen’s “Born In The USA.” I was sort of perplexed by this.

    Sting supposedly cringes when he hears of couples who regard “Every Breath You Take” as “their song”. And then, there’s the time when I worked in retail and a guy buying the single of “Father of Mine” by Everclear told me he was getting it for his son.

  19. I’ve never heard the “Castro personally shot down the U-2”, but I find it almost impossible to believe that Castro would not go around bragging about it, had it actually happened.

  20. Hakluyt,
    I’ve heard the same story. There’s no icon more powerful than a dead one.

    Also, a funny take on contemporary Cuba, including the Che cult, here.

  21. And for Chrissakes people, stop playing “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” at the prom. It’s about a teacher banging his student! Get it?

  22. Eric the .5b,

    Well, “Born In The USA” isn’t really a “rah rah USA USA USA” song, but it was still a very odd choice.

  23. I think the biggest reason for the fall of the Soviet Empire was their inability to reconcile acronyms with the words they are supposed to stand for.

  24. Regarding inappropriate songs: don’t forget the theme from Cops; and I can’t be the only person who gets creeped out hearing Sean Hannity open his show every day with a song about wife-beating

  25. McNamara has reported that Castro revealed to him that he would have been happy with a nuclear exchange with the U.S., even one which left Cuba a nuclear wasteland.

    Worse than that:

    “Did you recommend that the Russians use them?” McNamara had asked.

    “Yes, I did,” Castro said.

    “And what would have happened to Cuba?”

    “It would have been totally destroyed.”

    http://www.news.harvard.edu/gazette/2004/03.11/11-mcnamara.html

  26. Amid all the hubbub about Judy Miller’s allowing herself to become a White House tool,

    The phrase “a White House tool” is a good one, and should be used as often as possible, in as many senses as possible. Ditto for “a Congressional tool.”

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