The Cuban Revolution and the island's subsequent alliance with Communism and the Soviet Union offer a perplexing conundrum of the Cold War. It offers a glimpse at why the movement has not been as readily identified for what it truly is as would seem obvious to so many. Communism has many stories and sub-plots. In reviewing all of them it becomes more difficult to "cartoonize" its effect, and its personalities, with the kind of blanket evil that is easily draped over Hitler and Nazi Germany. What Communism is and was is somehow separated in the minds of some, therefore distancing it from Joe Stalin.
The best way to describe the phenomenon of Communist apology would be to imagine that World War II had ended differently. The scenarios are too many to try and compartmentalize here. The Joe Kennedy appeasement strategy is certainly one logical possibility. The point is, that war could have ended, or stalemated, without the U.S. and the Allies as clear victors. If Germany and the U.S. had developed the atomic bomb at roughly the same time, the two countries might have called it quits and settled into a different kind of Cold War. Perhaps the Germans might have obliterated London and the Americans returned the favor on, say, Dresden, or Munich, or even Berlin, and the result could have been a cease-fire.
Germany might have held Europe or most of it. Call it Germania. At some point, the West, or what was remaining of it, would have had to deal with Hitler, and the result might have been similar to the dealings with Stalin. This uneasy "peace" might have held, under the suspension of atomic, hydrogen and nuclear threat, for 50 years. Eventually Hitler would have retired or died. People in the U.S. would have advocated "peace," "understanding," "détente," "normalization," and all the other things the Left wanted during the Cold War with the Communists.
Liberals might view this scenario and say that under these circumstances they would have been the hard-liners fighting the good fight against Fascism, while Hitler's apologists would have been "right wing businessmen" vying to do business with the Germans. They would have "secretly and not-so-secretly" agreed that the Fuhrer was a bit extreme but basically "right" in his views about minorities.
Of course, like so much of liberal thinking, this scenario is utter hogwash.
First, there would be no reservoir of goodwill or admiration for a country we had fought a war with, with all the horrors that are associated with war. The Left might point to extremist organizations in the United States such as the American Nazi Party and the Ku Klux Klan, and say that from within these ranks would have emerged a groundswell of support for Hitler. This is incongruous. First, the American Nazi Party was a tiny, tiny group. George Lincoln Rockwell ran it out of his mother's house. It received attention because the press chose to spotlight it, but it was never a large movement. As for the KKK, the Left would have a hard time explaining these guys, who in the South were all members of the Democrat Party. West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd, a longtime Democrat spokesman of major repute within party circles, was a Klansman. It is not a coincidence that the decline of the KKK in the South took place alongside the rise of the G.O.P. in the region. The old segregationist Dixiecrats were just spin-offs of the Democrats.
Southerners who made up the Confederacy and would be the presumed Hitlerites of this alternative Cold War would have been the highest percentage of those fighting against Hitler. That section of the nation always produces the most military personnel. Such circumstances would not produce friendship or kinship. The old Confederacy was still a Democracy, which revered the Founding Fathers, not just a few of whom were Virginians and other "sons of the South." These are not the kinds of people pre-disposed to accept and excuse totalitarianism, dictatorship or Fascism. The liberal analogy that conservatives are aligned with this kind of thought is simply that with which is false. They try over and over to do it. When Pat Buchanan advocates law 'n' order, some liberal columnist will surely say something stue-piidd like, "It sounded better in the original German."
No, the "party of Lincoln," freedom and peace through strength would have emerged as the last line of defense against Nazism in such a Cold War. One false argument is that the Nazis would have been opposed by the liberals more because a larger number of liberals are Jewish. Over time, however, thoughtful Jews would have transferred to the conservatives, which is what is happening in the real world anyway. The Left would have been taken over by the anarchist wing, as has happened, and they would be the ones appeasing instead of fighting. The Middle East situation is the best example, where strong American defense is the only thing protecting Israel. If the traditional Jewish wing of liberalism still held sway, the Left would not be appeasing Middle East terror. The bottom line is conservatives always have been the protectors of American values by protecting the world through a show of strength. Liberals always have been the blame-America crowd who would just as soon internationalize us.
The point of this Hitler/Cold War scenario, however, is to show that instead of the blanket condemnation of Nazism that is easily delivered from all, under different circumstances the view of Nazism would have been fuzzier. This explains why the view of Communism is fuzzier (on the Left; the right never wavered).
Hitler would have been portrayed by some as a "liberator." For instance, the survivors of Siberia, the gulags, and the collectivist farms had it so bad under Stalin that Hitler could have been made to look better. If you "do the math," it actually ends up this way, since in the "score" of murder, Stalin beat Hitler (Mao beat them both). Many tyrants, Communist and otherwise, might have been "replaced" by Hitler. Some Western pundits would have pointed out how Hitler and Fascism restored schools and health care. This leads us into the next point of discussion, Fidel Castro and Cuba.
No where is this example more obvious in the Communist world than Cuba. Cuba was a country of vast inequality and squalor, where a small segment of wealthy elites ignored the needs of the massive poor. It was corrupt and run by the mob. Havana was a virtual porn shop. Live sex shows were all the rage in Havana nightclubs.
Fidel Castro changed all of this. For these reasons he has been sensationalized by the Left, who for 45 years have tried to apologize for him. The only "explanation" of Castro is that he is a monster and an immensely evil human being. The people of Cuba, despite being in a very bad situation prior to Castro, were vastly better off then than they have been during his long dictatorship. That is not in any way an endorsement of Fulgencio Batista or the Mafia, but simply describes how brutal Communism is.
To an American who cannot comprehend such a thing, I offer that the poorest black person living in the worst, most violence-prone slums of Watts or Harlem, or in the most decrepit rural hovels of the old segregationist South, had it better than average people living in Communist Cuba. I have driven extensively through the slums of Los Angeles and other big American cities, and I have been to the old East Germany and seen it with my own eyes. There is no comparison.
The horrid slums of Latin America, where children prostitute themselves and are subject to the worst abuses, crimes, diseases and despair, approach but do not exceed Communism. In Chile, for instance, many live in squalor. In Cuba, everybody (except the Marxist elite) lives in squalor. The liberals somehow like the fact that all live in squalor instead of just some. As Dr. Zhivago (Omar Sharif) says to the apparatchuk when he returns from the front to find his beautiful apartment occupied by peasants, "It is more…just."
The Cuban Revolution did not just "happen." The U.S. is not an innocent by-stander of it. America propped up distasteful dictators there, just as they did in other countries. This was the result of a dangerous, imperfect world situation that we found ourselves engaged in. The balance between hegemony and justice, freedom and safety, political alliance and insecurity, can be difficult to maintain. There is a standard that the United States always strives for, every time. This standard is one in which people are free, politically and economically. Circumstances very often dilute our ability to uphold this standard. The result is that many people have found themselves to be pawns in an elaborate chess game. The line between intrusion and help is blurred. The Cold War combined with American military and economic power has made it easy to blame much of the world's woes on the U.S. In so doing, the "alternate Universe" is not seen. That is the Universe in which there is no United States. There are just these places, left to fend for themselves, subject to the whims of their own indigenous peoples, the "leaders" that emerge from whatever Darwinian systems they devise. They are at the mercy of whatever larger entities decide to take advantage of them, and must deal with issues like disease and overpopulation using whatever homegrown prescriptions they invent.
Is there some set of circumstances in which this alternate Universe, the one in which America is not a country, a system, an ideal, is a better place than the one in which America does exist? My contention is that the "alternate Universe scenario" is one that conjures up the continuing image of America sanctioned by God.
Doing "God's work" is not easy. The mistakes made are subject to plenty of criticism, some of it rightfully so. U.S. involvement in Cuba has seen its share of mistakes and successes. The struggle began against Spanish colonialism in the late 19th Century. According to some, "victory" was deprived from the people by a U.S. expeditionary force in 1898.
Cuban revolutionary Jose Marti visited the U.S. and wrote, "I have lived inside the monster and I know its entrails...Shall we bring the country dear to our hearts, virgin and fruitful, to this frenzied pack of rich against poor...white against black.... Shall we deliver it into this oven of wrath, into these sharp-toothed jaws, into this smoking crater?"
At the time of the Spanish-American War, colonialism was viewed much like Manifest Destiny had been; justification for expansion. The English poet Rudyard Kipling celebrated the event in a poem inviting the U.S. to "Take up the white man's burden." This is such a controversial concept, so easy to vilify today and yet, underneath its veil of racism and oppression, there is the nagging question, "What was the alternative?"
William Randolph Hearst led the jingoistic cheering for the Cuban war, but the free press did not fall in lock step with that way of thinking. Mark Twain wrote that the expedition's U.S. flags' stripes should be painted over in black and the stars replaced by a skull and crossbones.
Cuba became an economic colony of America. U.S. troops returned on several occasions to put down revolts. By 1920, U.S. business interests owned two-thirds of the arable land. In the 1930s, the Mafia moved in. Cuba became a playground, its beautiful women made available to fulfill the lustful fantasies of rich men. Prior to Las Vegas, Havana's gambling and tourist businesses were second to none. After World War II, Cuba became a way station for heroin shipments between Europe and the U.S., the infamous "French Connection."
In response to the economic inequities, Communism always had a foothold among the poor and the disenfranchised. Communists attacked the private homes of capitalists living in the country, away from the protection of the police and military.
Also, in the 1930s, Negro League baseball made its way into Latin America. Few people know that beisbol, which has gained wild popularity throughout the region, was started by black Americans who traveled south at the behest of Latin dictators. The Negro Leaguers, who needed to play year-round in order to make a living, took advantage of good offers and warm Winter weather. Dominican strongman Rafael Trujillo recruited Negro League all-stars, and warned them that if they lost any games executions would ensue. His team went undefeated. The teams often played for American companies operating in the region. Baseball found its way to Cuba, was a huge success, and soon excellent players emerged from the dusty fields of play.
Fidel Castro was a left-handed pitcher, reputed to have decent ability. According to some reports, the Washington Senators (an ironic twist) offered him a contract, but Castro was too involved in his law studies and radical politics to sign. What an interesting twist of fate this offers. If he had come to America and succeeded, his view of everything might have changed. Does former Senator southpaw Castro eventually attain American citizenship and get involved in the U.S. political scene? One can just picture Castro as a Democrat Congressman.
Castro did use beisbol to attract attention to his cause. As a young radical in Havana, he interrupted a game. Dressed in street clothes, he went to the pitcher's mound, took the ball from the pitcher, and motioned the batter to step up to the plate. The hitter was Don Hoak, who was a top third baseman for the Pittsburgh Pirates during the regular season. The legend has it that Castro threw one right at Hoak's head.
On July 26, 1953, 160 young militants attacked the Moncada barracks in Santiago. Half of them died, most after being tortured. Many went to prison.
"It was not a putsch designed to score an easy victory without the masses," explained Raul Castro, Fidel's brother. "It was a surprise action to disarm the enemy and arm the people, with the aim of beginning armed revolutionary action it marked the start of an action to transform Cuba's political, economic and social system and put an end to the foreign oppression, poverty, unemployment, ill health and ignorance that weighed upon our country and our people."
Fidel himself was captured and imprisoned.
"History will absolve me," was his defense speech. Castro saw injustice in Cuba, and determined to change it with violence. Six years after the ultimate triumph of Gandhi, it seems that this educated man had learned little. Although he later held his Communist cards close to the vest, it seems clear even then that his role model was not the pacifist Gandhi, but the Stalinist Stalin. His goal was not equality for the masses, but power for himself. His early tenets are right out of the party line.
"The big landowners, reactionary clergy and transnational corporations represented by Batista," were the enemy in his eyes. "The national bourgeoisie, capitalists in contradiction with imperialism, but among whom only the most progressive would support a revolution." This statement indicates that Castro advocated class warfare against the successful; hoped to dilute faith in God; wanted to reduce international business; correlated making money with immorality; and tellingly implored the "useful idiots," or as he describes them "only the most progressive," to cheerlead for him.
The masses Castro hoped to reach were, "The 600,000 Cubans without work. The 500,000 farm laborers who live in miserable shacks, the 100,000 small farmers who live and die working land that is not theirs, the 30,000 teachers and professors, so badly treated and paid; the 20,000 small businessmen weighed down by debts; the 10,000 young professional people who find themselves at a dead end. These are the people, the ones who know misfortune, and are therefore capable of fighting with limitless courage."
The problem, as with all problems, is that while Castro effectively identified the problem, he never offered a solution. Were the "20,000 small businessmen weighed down by debt" better off when their small businesses were nationalized by Castro? Is it necessary to answer that question?
Cuba was run by a former Army Sergeant named Fulgencio Batista. Batista was a terrible ruler who was an open partner of the Mafia, who in turn co-existed with large corporations from the U.S. banking, telephone and agricultural industries. Batista saw that Castro had a following, and tried to evoke some "legitimacy" by releasing him, along with other Moncada survivors in May, 1955. Castro was more or less "exiled" to Mexico amid rising repression. In Mexico he met the Argentinean doctor, Che Guevara.
In November of 1956, Castro set sail by yacht for Cuba, proclaiming to his followers that, "We will be free, or we will be martyrs." 82 men waded ashore, and they were strafed by Batista's planes. Pursued by U.S.-supplied troops, there was betrayal within their ranks and they faced ambush.
12 partisans escaped and began guerrilla warfare in the mountains of the Sierra Maestra. On August 21, 1958, Castro ordered Che and Camilo Cienfuegos to lead two columns down from the Sierra Maestra. The story of Castro and Che, their close calls with planes, pursuit by American-equipped forces, betrayal by a guide, eventual escape and revolutionary existence in the mountains, began to take on legendary status. They were like ghosts, rebel images in the minds of a repressed people. The revolucion grew among the poor and the peasants. Castro's fighters took the town of Santa Clara, and word of his successes created a frenzy of excitement among the Havana citizenry.
On New Year's Eve, 1958, while Havana partied, Castro's forces made their play, catching Batista's army off guard. It was brilliant, executed perfectly, took a lot of guts, and was popularly supported. Few major events have taken place so quickly.
Batista fled Havana at 2 A.M., on New Year's Day, 1959, replaced by a military junta. Camilo and Che continued to lead guerrilla columns into Havana. Workers and peasants heeded Castro's call for a general strike, and he was able to seize power.
20,000 died in the revolution. On January 8, 32-year-old Castro entered Havana. He ordered 50,000 rifles and machine guns to be imported to defend the revolution. The rural Cuban population had an average annual income of $91.25 per person. 11 percent of Cubans drank milk, four percent ate meat, two percent had running water, and 9.1 percent had electricity. Three percent had intestinal parasites, 14 percent had tuberculosis, and 43 percent were illiterate. These figures indicate that in Cuba, capitalism had not succeeded, and the long-term goals the U.S. had for the island when they fought the Spanish had failed.
Of course, the conditions in Cuba at its lowest point were considerably better than the conditions of Stalin's collectivist farm population in the 1930s, when millions died. Nevertheless, Fidel Castro and his supporters were willing to embrace that political system with the hopes that it would succeed. In the beginning, they masked their intent just enough to raise the question as to whether they really were Marxists. Mistakes? To paraphrase Frank Sinatra, we made a few. Castro "went Communist" under the Republicans less than a decade after China had gone down the road to hell under the Democrats (albeit, Castro did not "officially" go to the Marxists until after the Bay of Pigs, a little over two years later).
The decision was made, to back Batista. Considering what history tells us about Castro's political jails, torture chambers and willingness to allow global military instability in order to gather attention for his ego, it appears unquestionable that Batista was the better choice. To use the old saw, he was the "lesser of two evils." Make no mistake, Batista was a bad guy, but if he had stayed there might have been hope on the island. Money, which was the corrupting force in Batista's life, also has the power to do good. Cuba was not a foregone conclusion. In fact, with all the rich Americans who were going there, the chances are very good that over time the poverty of Havana's streets would have become a major outrage. The forces of good that drive America would have demanded a change on those streets.
The Philippines is a country that liberals might point to as one "exploited" by America. It has been exploited to the tune of billions and billions of dollars transferred by us to them. A lot of servicemen have had a lot of uncommitted sex with a lot of Manila bargirls, which has made a lot of Filipino men mad at American men. Poverty is still rampant on their streets. The U.S. propped up a dictator named Ferdinand Marcos and his shoe-buying wife. But America also fought alongside the Filipinos like blood brothers against the Japanese. The Filipino people had ample opportunity to see examples of other countries' "exploitation." Our Naval base was a major boon to their economy, and when for political reasons we were asked to leave, we did just that. The relationship is not perfect, but there is no other major power on Earth that would have made a better partner for the Philippines than the U.S. The bottom line is that the Filipino people have resisted Communism, and now they are resisting terrorism, and when all is said and done they are happy that America has been with them, not against them.
Other Latin countries have had legitimate complaints with the U.S. The nature of our relationships with Latin America would be all but impossible to avoid complaint, but they have had the common sense to resist the alternative. Castro did not resist the alternative. His political message was not based on a desire to help the people of Cuba. He thirsted for power like a drug. He lacks morals, and at the heart of his revolution was pure class envy. He wanted to put the "high and mighty" in their place. He hated wealth and American success. He saw in the poverty of Cuba's indigenous population suffering, and determined that such a thing had to be blamed on somebody. Disease and economic deprivation, in his view, simply had to be the sole responsibility of Fulgencio Batista and criminal gambling interests, as if such quirks in the structure of society had never been seen in the history of Mankind. 45 years later, he his utopian vision has managed to create the equality he so desired. Now everybody has nothin'.
The first announcement of the new government was that 50-60 perfect of the casino profits would be directed to welfare programs, which must have made Meyer Lansky's day. "Land reform" was scheduled for May. That term had been the great bogeyman term in Guatemala, where the CIA mistakenly thought it was blatant Stalinist-type redistribution from the wealthy to the people (which in Communism means some apparatchuk). The Leftists, who after Guatemala (were beginning to hate the CIA more and more) said "land reform" was just sound economic policy. This time, "land reform" really did mean stealing.
Large estates were expropriated and turned into state farms. The American-owned
United Fruit Company was taken over with no compensation. As if no lessons had been learned from the Soviet gruppe, farms were immediately collectivized. The new government offered to let the Americans buy back the property that was stolen from them. The Eisenhower Administration told Castro to take a hike.
As in China, the big question was, How could this have happened? How could the CIA have allowed it? Who was this bearded son of a bitch, anyway? Recriminations aside, The Company knew that that their hardest work was now ahead of them. In 1959, they began monitoring telephone conversations of Cuban leaders, and transmitted subversive radio messages to Cuba from Miami, the Bahamas and Central America. Thousands of Cubans escaped the island, and immediately formed up to take it back. The face of Miami changed immediately, from a Southern backwater to a salsa town filled with the most anti-Communist people this side of Budapest. By 1960, saboteurs were operating inside Cuba.
My mid-1960, the U.S. sugar quota from Cuba was cut off. Castro nationalized the mills. In response, the Joint Chiefs of Staff recommended that Ike launch a military invasion. Visions of the Normandy beaches danced in their heads. Richard Nixon, thinking that he would be President when the invasion took place, backed it 100 percent. The CIA and the military went into full-scale operation, training dedicated Cuban exile forces. During the first Nixon-Kennedy debate, having been briefed on the plan but knowing Nixon could not comment on it publicly, JFK charged the administration with negligence in failing to do anything about Castro. Nixon chose not to violate national security, and "lost" the debate (although those listening on radio thought he had won, as opposed to TV viewers mesmerized by Kennedy's looks vs. Nixon's "five o'clock shadow").
When Kennedy "won" the election, he was presented with the invasion plan. He was skeptical of it, and in fact already had healthy doubts about the military rooted all the way back to his Naval career. His Presidential experience would increase his doubts about the armed forces, particularly the top leadership. Negative feelings about the military would become a Kennedy and a Democrat doctrine. It all started with the Bay of Pigs.
As the invasion approached the Cuban coast on April 16, Fidel Castro announced that in fact Cuba was a Communist satellite. At 2 A.M. on April 17, 1,500 Cuban counter-revolutionaries landed at the Bay of Pigs. Castro directed a counterattack, using Soviet-supplied weapons. The Committee for the Defense of the Revolution rounded up thousands of anti-Communists.
The invading force suffered from bad planning, compromised intelligence and poor leadership. Some day documents may surface showing what Americans were spying for the Communists. Landing craft found themselves on the wrong beaches. Forces were stranded in the water, facing strafing fire while they slowly disembarked. In the end, however, the operation failed because Kennedy refused to provide air cover, which would have demonstrated what everybody knew anyway, which is that it was an American operation. It was not thought through. The force was destroyed in less than 72 hours, and the U.S. suffered a major defeat in the Cold War.
Kennedy took responsibility, which is fair since he was the President. After all, he wanted the job. Since it was not his plan, and he was only in office three months when it was put into action, it is fair to say that the blame should not be put entirely on his shoulders. However, it was too important an event, with such wide-reaching consequences, to not assess responsibility. It went so badly for so many people (in particular millions of Cubans imprisoned to this day), because of his failure to use the jets that would have turned the tide and allowed the force to succeed, that he must be blamed.
"The anti-imperialist, socialist revolution could only be one single revolution, because there is only one revolution," Castro explained, confirming conservative suspicion and adding to the laundry list of things liberals are wrong about. "That is the great dialectic truth of humanity: Imperialism, and, standing against it, socialism. I am a Marxist-Leninist and I shall be a Marxist-Leninist until the last days of my life." Castro then thumped the table in front, imitating Kruschev, who took his shoe off to pound for emphasis when he told the U.S. (at the U.N.), "We will bury you."
Liberals look at the "mistake" of the Bay of Pigs and proffer the fiction that we "turned Castro into a Communist," as if he was not one until we ruffled his feathers. This is ridiculous, and is instructive towards the modern argument that militarists in the U.S. "brought on" terrorism. Just as Castro was a Communist all throughout the revolution, a fact confirmed by thousands of witnesses, terrorists were terrorists before and after 9/11.
It has never been successfully explained why Communists call the U.S. "imperialist," other than it sounds like a good put-down. This, of course, like 99 percent of things Communists ever say, is simply that with which is a lie. The fact that it is a lie is knowledge possessed by millions. They still use the term. Imperialism is another word for monarchism, which the U.S. fought against to become a country. Its framework, which rewards hard work with success regardless of title, name or ancestry, is a major reason why monarchism has all but disappeared as a political entity. England, influenced wholly by America, first abandoned its colonial ambitions and thus its Empire, while reducing its monarchy to a mere formality. The single greatest influence in this turn of events was the United States. Certainly the Mafia influence that so infuriated Castro was anything but imperialistic.
With the Bay of Pigs a failure, The Company then stepped its operations into higher gear. Plans for economic sabotage, bacteriological warfare, economic blockade and repeated attempts to assassinate Castro were put into place, some carried further than others. Backed by Russia, Cuba was able to stay solvent during the Cold War. There is no doubt that Castro proved to be a charismatic leader in the face of tremendous pressure. However, he remains an example of how difficult it is to find great men in politics. A study of Castro cannot help but increase the admiration of other leaders who overcame adversity; like Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Unfortunately for the beautiful island nation of Cuba, Castro is in the end just another tinpot dictator.
In 1999, about 1,000 of Cuba's ruling elite, foreign diplomats and cultural personalities gathered amid massive security to view Castro's return to the scene of the crime. The event was extremely telling. The Cuban Missile Crisis and the Bay of Pigs had saved Castro. Those two conflagrations between Communism and freedom, occurring in Kennedy's first two years in office, were the best things that could have happened to Fidel.
The invasion had failed, hurting American prestige and making Castro a sympathetic figure; the lonely beacon of "socialist humanity" fending off the imperialists. Regardless of the lack of truth behind this premise, it is a wildly intoxicating image, and many in and out of the U.S. are uncomfortable enough with American displays of power to buy into it.
The missile crisis was so grave in its consequence that both sides were willing to compromise. America's end of the bargain, along with removing Jupiter missiles from Turkey (which we planned to do anyway) was to promise not to invade again. This fact of history has been overlooked by too many.
America promised not to invade. It was accepted, then, that we would not, because America is a country that has a reputation for living up to its promises. In reality, especially in the past 15 years, there has existed no entity to stop the U.S. from invading and conquering Cuba. The only thing preventing this was the decision by America not to do it, based on the principle that they gave their word not to. Had the Communists made such a promise, it only would have been kept by the vigilance of the U.S. military seeing to it that breaking the promise would not be worthwhile. Otherwise, any promises they made were no more believable than Stalin's assurances that Eastern Europe would have free elections.
Res ipsa loquiter.
When the Berlin Wall came down, many thought Castro would go down with it. His survival in the intervening years is an accomplishment. Castro's "popularity" comes from that wing of liberalism identified earlier as "Emma Goldman anarchism." There remains in America and the world a strain of anti-establishment thought that chooses to protest everything.
When America went to war with Iraq in 2003, large demonstrations were organized. The mainstream press simply chose not to tell the public this, but the Workers' World Party, a Communist organization, organized the great majority of the protests. This organization is a relic of the old Communist Party USA. They no longer espouse the straight Communist line, which is simply been proven too false even for them. But the radicals who loved Communism, or thought it was just some kind of normal human grasp for freedom and quality that went too far, were driven not so much by an ideology but by hate for America. The hatred for America stems from simply feeling that America is just too strong, too powerful, and too successful. These kinds of accomplishments are glaring examples of why they were wrong and the right was right. They are not yet at the stage where they can freely admit they were wrong, so they search for things to get mad about.
In 1999, this sentiment manifested itself when protests were organized against globalization in Seattle, Washington. The patron saint of these people is Theodore Kaczynsky, the Unabomber, who protested progress and technology.
Some anti-war protesters are average citizens who wish to avoid war, and in this respect their opinion is worthwhile and even admirable, regardless of whether one agrees with them or not. But the majority of the protesters are of the "professional" variety, motivated solely by envy. To describe them succinctly is to identify people who are offended by success, because success makes their failures more obvious. There is nothing admirable about that.
These people are the ones who deify Castro and hang up posters of Che. If they lived in Cuba, their unorthodox lifestyles and desire to make their feelings loudly, publicly known, would make them the first to land in political jails. To this day, Castro imprisons anybody who attempts even the slightest criticism of him, or tries to achieve any political power. My attempt to outline why people still admire Castro is feeble, because in actuality the thinking behind it is so irrational that nobody can really explain it.
Talk show host Michael Savage goes so far as to say it is a mental defect, an actual sickness. This at first seems to be typical right wing bluster, but if one were to take away the names, personalities and politics, he might just have something. If a scenario were presented, in which a man leads a revolution and then becomes so corrupted by it that he becomes a mass murderer and prison warden, the average person would quickly identify his evil. Castro's Cuba was George Orwell's "Animal House" after the fact. People who admire him should be viewed as oddities, like women who pine for imprisoned serial killers. Yet some of these people include major figures of the art world, such as Nobel laureates Gabriel Garcia Marquez of Colombia and Jose Saramogo of Portugal. Recently, Oliver Stone went to visit Castro and make a documentary. He determined that Castro is one of the wisest men on Earth. His portrayal was so flattering that HBO refused to produce it, since it in essence glorified a mass murderer. There is obviously something hypnotic about Castro, a la Hitler, which makes one think that maybe the devil is involved in this whole thing. While Leni Reifenstahl has been reviled her whole life for making propaganda films for the Nazis, a guy like Stone goes right out and makes something far more blatantly political than her purely symbolic, quasi-innocent works of the mid-1930s.
Castro's 1999 celebration of the 40th anniversary of the revolution had the odd appearance of a rogue's gallery of Mafioso celebrating the Appalachia conference in prison, or a bunch of murderers celebrating their tradecraft. Wearing his olive-green military uniform, Castro described his victory on January 1, 1959.
"I felt for a moment a strange sense of emptiness," he said, to leave behind the "hard, pure and healthy" life of a guerrilla to take over Cuba.
"I am not interested in power nor do I envisage assuming it at any time," Castro had lied to the crowds in 1959. 40 years later, he held as firm a grip of power on his country as any despot on Earth. In the early 2000s, some private dissent was allowed in Cuba, but in 2003 Castro decided to end it. He rounded up political prisoners, and as those words were spoken they languished in jails, just as Stalin's prisoners did. There was no opposition.
For 38 years, the U.S. had imposed an economic embargo on Cuba. There are many demands to lift it. Every administration has wisely chosen not to. Castro is evil, his ideology is evil and defeated, and he deserves to fall, not be propped up by the United States. There is little evidence that his Communist economic policies would allow for foreign money to be used effectively for the benefit of his people anyway.
Castro's admirers point out that illiteracy has been wiped out in Cuba, health care is available, the country has "excellent physicians," and it is a sports power. These are all admirable things, but with all due respect this information should be taken with a grain of salt. Reports of literacy, health care and such have the potential of being lies. Maids in hotels that cater to wealthy foreigners make far more money than doctors, so how can it make any sense that the "health care system" is any good? Liberals want to believe that a shack with sign that reads "hospital" on it is available for all, meaning they have good health care. If the medicine is scarce, the tools archaic, the doctors poorly trained and the Hippocratic oath an empty promise, then it is not good health care. As for its sports powers, numerous great baseball players from Cuba have been willing to brave shark-infested waters to come to America and play there. The fact that the populace is close to perpetual starvation is a fact that even Castro's PR people have not hidden. Literacy and "national health care" in Cuba would be 800 percent better off under free market capitalism, as they have been throughout the world.
Right now, the country, despite excellent natural resources, produces little and relies on the tourist trade. Castro, who dressed women in fatigues and propped them up as symbols of Western exploitation, "saved" by his revolution, now oversees a country where tourists can get any kind of action they want at the drop of a hat. In certain hotels, gorgeous Cuban women (and this country is famous for them) dress in sexy outfits and, for the price of a beer and a hot dog, readily perform hardcore sex acts worthy of the most extreme porn movies for these men. The aforementioned "maids" at hotels all happen to be in their 20s and are mouth-watering. The "services" they provide go well beyond cleaning the bathroom. Those who have been there and done that describe it as being like a "kid in a candy store." Is this part of Castro's "success story?"
If Fidel Castro had any decency, he would step down and allow an economic system to take over in which an attractive woman could be educated and use her brains to succeed as an entrepreneur or valuable contributor to a company, instead of a Latina sex fantasy.
In 2000, a young child named Elian Gonzalez was with his mother, who wanted to escape the island, getting on a boat to come to America. The boat went down in the Atlantic, the mother died, but Elian was saved. Castro carted out his father and demanded the boy back, as if living in a Communist hovel was better than staying with successful relatives in Miami. Bill Clinton decided to do Fidel's bidding, and sent Federal forces in to retrieve Elian. The photo of the frightened boy staring into the barrel of a weapon pointed at his eyes remains a fitting symbol of Bill Clinton's legacy.
Cuban exile leaders in Florida have come to despise Castro with an intensity rarely seen this side of Shiite Muslim Mosques. Recognizing that the Democrats were Castro's toadies while the Republicans held the line, the Miami Cuban community is now one of the most solid Republican bases in the country. During the 1999 Castro "lovefest" in Havana, exiles scorned the anniversary of "blood and tears," while reminding the world to remember nearly 400 prisoners of conscience who were Cuban prisons at that time. Reportedly, Castro has greatly added to that number.
The Third World still supports Fidel, as do Russia, North Korea and China. He is a hero in France. The French apparently love dictators as long as they hold their boots to the necks of someone other than them. Portugal and the Vatican sent messages to the 40th anniversary.
In the early 1980s, Castro embarrassed Jimmy Carter, who was pleased when Castro agreed to release all his prisoners. After Carter agreed to take them Castro sent his worst drug dealers, rapists, child molesters and various other charmers in what was called the Mariel Boat Lift. It was not an example the Democrats like to use in their book, "Successful Hard Line Policies of the Liberal Left" (one-half page from Piss Poor Press). In 1994 tens of thousands of Cubans crossed shark-infested seas to Florida in flimsy boats. Four years later, Pope Paul II came to pay his respects, which in light of recent Catholic Church revelations should raise serious questions about that organization's leadership. Hollywood star Jack Nicholson and Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien arrived to kiss Castro's ring. The King of Spain, still smarting apparently from Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders, has given Castro whatever little credibility his throne bestows, along with other Spanish-speaking heads of state who think their nation's peasants will give them some points for it. Occasionally something like the Ibero-American Summit in Havana takes place and Castro is carted out to speak to people who have decided that the only reason there is pollution and disease in the world is because of America.
What is forgotten by many is that the people who backed Castro in the revolution wanted Democracy. Instead, they got the motto, "Socialism or death," which does not sound very Democratic. Many got their share of death. Castro actually was a believer in Truman's "Domino Theory." He thought Cuban Communism would influence the rest of Latin America.
A few years ago, a group of women and their young kids were attacked by the Cuban coast guard because they were against socialism. The women begged for the lives of their children. The coast guard took a high powered hose and washed the people off the deck of the boat and into the water to drown.
College, technical school and specialized education is all free in Cuba. The problem is that these skills cannot be used by citizens to make worthwhile careers for themselves under their system. Public libraries are available in Cuba, but thousands of great books by Western authors are unavailable because they promote ideas that do not square with the Communist ideal. Castro claims that nobody living in Cuba is living in poverty, and only five percent of Cubans are unemployed. However, since virtually everybody lives in poverty by Western standards, but the poverty is spread equally, he calls this "no poverty." "Employment" is a title, but there is no money and little future in most Cuban occupations.
Cubans do not have the right to travel in and out of the country, without special permission from the government. They do not have freedom of speech, freedom of expression, or the right to own electronic or print media. Industries are run or owned by the government. Outside of a few old school Leftists, they are an international pariah. The choice to make the United States an enemy has cost this country and its people beyond the stated value of money. Castro's horrid atheism, officially imposed on this once-Catholic country, has caused even more deprivation. Cuba is a nation almost without a soul, robbed of traditional family values. Its people live day-to-day, starving for food, opportunity, money, respect and freedom. They are told that because they can get a shot at some free clinic they live in paradise. Fidel Castro is everything that American has always stood against, and because of that the world, thankfully, has very few Fidel Castro's. But for the people of Cuba, this is an ironic joke played on them every day.
Bay of Pigs
Vice-President Nixon opposed Castro from the beginning, and in April of 1959 it was becomingly patently obvious that he was an enemy of the U.S.
“If he’s not a Communist,” Nixon told the American Society of Newspaper Editors, “he certainly acts like one.” Castro visited the U.S. as a guest, and was feted by Hollywood and Broadway celebrities and showgirls, surrounding him in Manhattan nightclubs, catering to his every need in one of the most disgusting displays this side of all their other disgusting displays. Castro's visit to America marks the real end of the McCarthy era and the beginning of a liberal backlash against it that continues to this day.
On March 17, 1960, President Eisenhower approved a CIA plan titled “A Program of Covert Action Against the Castro Regime.” Nine months later, official diplomatic relations were broken of.
The plan called for the creation of unified Cuban opposition to the regime; the development of a propaganda offensive for the Cuban people; the development of covert intelligence and action in country, in communication with the exile opposition; and a paramilitary of guerrilla fighters. The intent was to make all of it look like it was not part of a U.S. operation, which in retrospect seems to be the biggest mistake. Had the Eisenhower Administration identified him as a Communist, targeted him as an enemy, built support for an invasion, and gone in with a multi-national coalition, history would have been changed. Kennedy probably would not have been elected President, and there never would have been a Bay of Pigs or a Cuban Missile Crisis. But the CIA was golden in those days. "Covert Ops" was the new watchword. The feeling was that America could do whatever they wanted to in secret, without going through the process of creating Congressional or international support.
Eisenhower approved a $4,400,000 project; $950,000 for political action; $1,700,000 for propaganda; $1,500,000 for the paramilitary; and $250,000 for intelligence collection. The invasion would cost over $46 million.
On January 3, 1961, CIA Director of Plans Richard Bissell met with the President at the White House.
“The President seemed to be eager to take forceful action against Castro, and breaking off diplomatic relations appeared to be his best card," Bissell wrote in his memoirs. "He noted that he was prepared to ‘move against Castro’ before Kennedy’s inauguration on the 20th if a ‘really good excuse’ was provided by Castro. ‘Failing that,’ he said, ‘perhaps we could think of manufacturing something that would be generally acceptable.’ …This is but another example of his willingness to use covert action - specifically to fabricate events - to achieve his objectives in foreign policy.”
Although the plan was not carried out in the succeeding 17 days, by the time JFK took office on January 20, the plan was a fait accompli. Serious commitments were made to the Cuban exiles, and the issue promised to have major political repercussions. There is little doubt that the general consensus on both sides of the aisle was that Castro had to be removed.
Denials of any plans were made, even though on October 31, 1960, Cuban Foreign Minister Raúl Roa, in a session at the U.N. General Assembly, detailed the plan. The Communistas referred to the exiles as mercenaries and counterrevolutionaries because they were paid the princely sum of $400 a month to train, with $175 for their wives and children.
Trinidad, a city on the southern coast of Cuba near the Escambray Mountains, was the original landing point. Kennedy did not like the location, and also changed it from daytime to a nighttime operation in order to mask U.S. involvement. The Bay of Pig had an airstrip on the beach from which bombing raids could be conducted. The bay would be turned into a provisional command post by the exiles, followed by a new government. This new government would request military support from the U.S. immediately, which Kennedy wanted to justify lending U.S. troops to the fray.
“It is hard to believe in retrospect that the President and his advisers felt the plans for a large-scale, complicated military operation that had been ongoing for more than a year could be reworked in four days and still offer a high likelihood of success. It is equally amazing that we in the agency agreed so readily,” Bissell stated.
An amphibious nocturnal landing, as opposed to a widespread daytime operation, reduced the possibility of a mass uprising, which was counted on and is considered one of the big mistakes of the plan. The Bay of Pigs location made retreat into the Escambray Mountains difficult if not impossible.
“Castro’s fledgling air force was to be destroyed prior to the invasion,” Néstor T. Carbonell described in his book, "And the Russians Stayed: The Sovietization of Cuba". “Enemy troops, trucks, and tanks would not be able to reach the brigade; they would be blasted from the air. To allay any fears of a Castro counteroffensive, the CIA briefer asserted that ‘an umbrella’ above would at all times guard the entire operation against any Castro fighter planes that might remain operational.”
Various JFK-influenced memos and notes kept from meetings prior to the invasion warned of legal ramifications and subtly discouraged the plan. This would fall in line with the Kennedy M.O., which is to cover both ends of the argument. As President, such a policy can be disastrous. An op like the Bay of Pigs required full support in every way.
On January 28 the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said that Castro’s forces were too strong. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara questioned whether the plan would result in “the agreed national goal of overthrowing Castro.”
On March 29 Senator Fulbright memoed JFK.
“To give this activity even covert support is of a piece with the hypocrisy and cynicism for which the United States is constantly denouncing the Soviet Union in the United Nations and elsewhere," he wrote. "This point will not be lost on the rest of the world - nor on our own consciences.”
Fulbright's "conscience" never bothered him when he voted against civil rights and influenced his protégé, the "conscientious objector" Bill Clinton.
Under Secretary of State Chester A. Bowles wrote to Secretary of State Dean Rusk on March 31 citing moral and legal grounds in opposition to the plan. Arthur Schlesinger in "A Thousand Days" wrote, “Fulbright, speaking in an emphatic and incredulous way, denounced the whole idea. The operation, he said, was wildly out of proportion to the threat. It would compromise our moral position in the world and make it impossible for us to protest treaty violations by the Communists. He gave a brave, old-fashioned American speech, honorable, sensible and strong; and he left everyone in the room, except me and perhaps the President, wholly unmoved."
On April 12, Kennedy held a press conference, and in response to a question on Cuba said, “First, I want to say that there will not be, under any conditions, an intervention in Cuba by the United States Armed Forces. This government will do everything it possibly can, I think it can meet its responsibilities, to make sure that there are no Americans involved in any actions inside Cuba…The basic issue in Cuba is not one between the United States and Cuba. It is between the Cubans themselves.”
“One further factor no doubt influenced him," wrote Schlesinger, “the enormous confidence in his own luck. Everything had broken right for him since 1956. He had won the nomination and the election against all the odds in the book. Everyone around him thought he had the Midas touch and could not lose. Despite himself, even this dispassionate and skeptical man may have been affected by the soaring euphoria of the new day.”
In retrospect, both Bush Presidencies seem to have learned from JFK's mistakes. By making plans for foreign invasions well known ahead of time, they avoided the kind of secrecy that was said to discredit America during the Bay of Pigs operation. Perhaps because their idol Kennedy was such a profound liar, modern Democrats feel the need to inaccurately portray George W. Bush as one.
The counterrevolutionaries were known as Brigade 2506, assembled at Retalhuleu, on the west coast of Guatemala, where U.S. engineers fashioned a training base out of an airport. On April 14 six ships sailed from Nicaragua’s Puerto Cabezas. They were given a cheering send-off by Nicaraguan president Luis Somoza. He reportedly asked for some hairs from Castro’s beard.
Given the fact that the brigade departed from Nicaragua in a manner similar to Confederate troops leaving Charleston, it is not surprising that Castro knew an invasion was coming. The key in the planners' minds was not that he knew about it. The Germans knew about D-Day. The time and location were the operative factors in question.
U.S. B-26 bombers attacked four Cuban airfields at the same time on Saturday, April 15. The Cuban Air Force was dispersed and camouflaged, with unusable planes left out to draw the bombs.
The B-26s were disguised to look as if they were Cuban planes flown by defecting Cuban pilots. An exile Cuban pilot named Mario Zúñiga was photographed next to his plane, and the picture was distributed to the press. The "cover story" quickly unraveled. Many reporters had inside information and the truth was revealed.
CIA operatives had been sent to Cuba to prep for the operation ahead of time. They were supposed to aid the invaders, blowing up bridges and performing terrorist acts meant to spur the populace into supporting the exiles.
U.N. Ambassador Adlai Stevenson rejected Cuban Minister of Foreign Affairs Raúl Roa’s report of the attack. He presented a copy of the newspaper photo, but in the photo, the plane shown had an opaque nose, whereas the model of the B-26 planes used by the Cubans had a Plexiglas nose. Stevenson, apparently not in the loop, was to be Kennedy's "official liar.”
Just before midnight on Sunday, April 16, a team of frogmen went ashore and set up landing lights to guide the operation. The force consisted of 1,500 men divided into six battalions, with Manuel Artime as the political chief.
Two battalions came ashore at Playa Girón and one at Playa Larga, but the razor-sharp coral reefs, identified by U2 spy photos as seaweed, delayed the landing. The air attacks the following morning were then exposed. Two ships sank 80 yards from shore. Heavy equipment was lost.
Cuban militia commander José Ramón González Suco was stationed in Playa Larga and he reported the invasion. On Monday, Secretary of State Rusk gave a press conference.
“The American people are entitled to know whether we are intervening in Cuba or intend to do so in the future,” he said. “The answer to that question is no. What happens in Cuba is for the Cuban people to decide.”
Operatives in country, some posing as students home on vacation, were unsure when the invasion would take place and were surprised to hear news reports of its beginning. Lacking coordination, they failed to blow bridges or carry out other assignments. Some of them drove to Guantánamo, jumping the fence to the U.S. Naval Base for sanctuary.
By Monday morning Castro had ordered successful air responses. Cuban pilot Captain Enrique Carreras Rojas sank the command vessel Maropa and the supply ship Houston.
Ambassador Stevenson was so outraged at being duped that he publicly urged the attack be stopped.
“Cuba is not alone today," Soviet Ambassador Zorin said. "Among her most sincere friends the Soviet Union is to be found.”
Khruschev contacted JFK with a mid-day letter that read, “It is a secret to no one that the armed bands invading this country were trained, equipped and armed in the United States of America. The planes which are bombing Cuban cities belong to the United States of America; the bombs they are dropping are being supplied by the American Government.
“…It is still not late to avoid the irreparable. The government of the U.S.A. still has the possibility of not allowing the flame of war ignited by interventions in Cuba to grow into an incomparable conflagration.
“As far as the Soviet Union is concerned, there should be no mistake about our position: We will render the Cuban people and their government all necessary help to repel an armed attack on Cuba.”
Expected U.S. air cover never came. Amid all the confusion and "fog of war," Kennedy was utterly defenseless. When Rusk advised that additional strikes would tilt international opinion against the U.S., Kennedy agreed.
“At about 9:30 P.M. on April 16,” wrote L. Fletcher Prouty in "Bay of Pigs: The Pivotal Operation of the JFK Era", “Mr. McGeorge Bundy, Special Assistant to the President, telephoned the CIA’s General C.P. Cabell to inform him that the air strikes the following dawn should not be launched until they could be conducted from a strip within the beachhead.”
“From its inception the plan had been developed under the ground rule that it must retain a covert character, that is, it should include no action which, if revealed, could not be plausibly denied by the United States and should look to the world as an operation exclusively conducted by Cubans," wrote General Maxwell Taylor in his report. "This ground rule meant, among other things, that no U.S. military forces or individuals could take part in combat operations.”
JFK knew the hawks would have a field day judging his performance, so he decided to take some half measures. He authorized a limited air strike on April 19, but it resulted in the needless sacrifice of four American pilots. Most historians believe that the operation has been judged fairly, but it seems virtually impossible to believe that had Nixon been responsible for such a disaster, he would have avoided anything less than utter liberal piling-on. This is simply a fact of American life, identified and exposed to be what it is by those of us who have knowledge of it.
At 2:30 P.M., brigade commander “Pepe” Perez San Roman ordered radio operator Julio Monzon Santos to transmit a final message from brigade 2506.
“We have nothing left to fight with, “ San Roman said. He was heart-broken. “How can you people do this to us, our people, our country? Over and out.”
The survivors all felt the lack of air cover was the cause of their demise. 200 soldiers were killed and 1,197 were captured.
“There’s no question that the brigade members were competent, valiant, and committed in their efforts to salvage a rapidly deteriorating situation in a remote area,” wrote Bissell. “Most of them had no previous professional military training, yet they mounted an amphibious landing and conducted air operations in a manner that was a tribute to their bravery and dedication. They did not receive their due.”
“The reality,” wrote Schlesinger, “was that Fidel Castro turned out to be a far more formidable foe and in command of a far better organized regime than anyone had supposed. His patrols spotted the invasion at almost the first possible moment. His planes reacted with speed and vigor. His police eliminated any chance of sabotage or rebellion behind the lines. His soldiers stayed loyal and fought hard. He himself never panicked; and, if faults were chargeable to him, they were his overestimate of the strength of the invasion and undue caution in pressing the ground attack against the beachhead. His performance was impressive.”
On April 20 Castro went on Havana’s Union Radio and said, “the revolution has been victorious… destroying in less than 72 hours the army the U.S. imperialist government had organized for many months.”
“We have always been in danger of direct aggression,” said Castro in an April 23 speech, “we have been warning about this in the United Nations: That they would find a pretext, that they would organize some act of aggression so that they could intervene.
“The United States has no right to meddle in our domestic affairs. We do not speak English and we do not chew gum. We have a different tradition, a different culture, our own way of thinking. We have no borders with anybody. Our frontier is the sea, very clearly defined.
“How can the crooked politicians and the exploiters have more rights than the people? What right does a rich country have to impose its yoke on our people? Only because they have might and no scruples; they do not respect international rules. They should have been ashamed to be engaged in this battle of Goliath against David - and to lose it besides.”
The irony of the atheist Castro using a Biblical tale to describe his own story is just one of the humiliations that America suffered with this event. The Bay of Pigs operation goes to the very heart of America's role in the world. This book argues that throughout history, evil has run unchecked. Wars and struggles resulted in monumentally inhuman acts committed by man against man. The British Empire helped to modernize and Christianize indigenous populations, but one of the enduring questions is whether this is a good thing or not. This is the focus of questions that address America's Westward Expansion, Manifest Destiny, and eventually intervention in countries like Guatemala, Iran and Cuba.
Getting back to the British Empire and Kipling's "white man's burden," it breaks down, quite simply in the end, to whether there is greater benefit brought to the indigenous populations by whites than there is disadvantage. The disadvantages are well chronicled, and include disease, exploitation and racism. Only a fool would argue that these are not legitimate arguments. The benefits are Christianity, capitalism, trade, medicine, freedom, Democratic political structures as envisioned by Plato, roads, technology, communications, telephones, air travel, cars, irrigation, effective farming techniques, and about six million, five hundred thousand, sixty-three other things - too numerous to list here.
Some fools argue that these things are not benefits, but in so doing they identify their foolishness, therefore rendering their arguments nothing more than synapses in the air. The real question comes down to how these benefits could have been imparted on the native lands without the disadvantages (namely, the racism, exploitation and disease). This hypothetical was posed earlier in relation to America's Westward Expansion. The parameters were based on the "time travel" fantasy, which allows man to go back to other periods in history, knowing what we know now and able to apply it to what was happening then, so as to effect the better outcome. I put ex-President Clinton, the man who presided over the Politically Correct 1990s, in charge of this monumental venture. Remember, the group only has knowledge, not technology or later inventions, at their disposal. They have to make do with what is available at the time they venture to. My hypothesis is that even if Clinton entered the Indian Territories, or tried to resurrect some more peaceful resolution to the Mexican-American conflict than what actually happened, he would have found himself frustrated like modern politicians who cannot understand why they are unable to "talk sense" to Hamas, thus preventing their terrorism from disrupting the Palestinian peace process.
I could be wrong. Maybe Clinton is such a skilled negotiator that he could have established lasting frameworks of peace that would have prevented the U.S. from fighting a war with Mexico, brokering some kind of equitable deal over California, Arizona and Texas. Or he might have been able to prevent the Trail of Tears. Maybe he and Hillary could have created peace treaties that would have lasted. Perhaps the Americans and the tribes would have been able to co-exist without wars, battles like the Little Big Horn, and men like Chief George could have kept his Nez Pearce in his beloved Oregon instead of becoming a fugitive in Canada.
A hypothesis is a hypothethis; that is, an "educated guess." The "time machine" hypothesis can be applied to the British Empire just as easily. No doubt the Labor party could find some bleeding heart who could go back and broker English interaction in 19th Century India, the Orient and Africa, all done in such a way as to prevent violence, promoting understanding, and preventing the spread of disease.
The conclusion that the 19th Century Clinton, or his English counterpart, fails to successfully carry out these missions of understanding and inclusiveness, in the end becomes something that is some form of racism or bigotry. The hope here is that the realization that it would be called racism, and the desire for it not to be that, somehow fulfills that desire. That is as hopeless as Don Quixote's jousting at windmills. All that is left is an honest appraisal of history.
One cannot have the modern benefits brought by the white man without the problems brought by the white man. The expansion of empire and colonialism was an inevitable clash of cultures. The real question is whether the natives would be better off not having come in contact with whites. If Hawaiians, for instance, had never seen whites, would that island be better off today? Would native Africans, with no access to whites, ever have developed medicines, planes, cars and the like? Would they be in better shape without these things? This is a question that to many seem utterly stupid to even ask. I include myself among those who think there is not a question that the answer is "no!" However, there are those who think otherwise. They are free to think that, and we are free to identify the stupidity of that thinking.
Is it possible that delegations of whites could have been brought in to teach natives how to read, then left them books on curing cancer, building bridges, constructing phone lines, and then expected that if they came back 30 years later these things would have been accomplished? Again, there are some who might like to think that. The actual answer is, No, it is not possible. Not even Shakespeare's Horatio could have dreamt of such things in his philosophy. One story out of Africa concerns English engineers who constructed a dam and an irrigation channel to help the natives conserve drinking water and create fertile farmlands. They left, and years later came back. The Africans had torn down the wood planks, sharpened them, and used them as spears to kill each other.
Call it white arrogance and bigotry, but strip away all these notions and it becomes that with which is, as opposed to that with which some people hope would be. This by no means is to say that whites have the corner on morality. The more legitimate argument available to the Left is that the natives do less damage to themselves as simpletons than the whites do with all their technology. The Civil War, the Great War and the Holocaust seem to bear this out.
In the 20th Century, natives have gained access to "white" technology and done some terrible damage. The invention of gunpowder no doubt became a tool that allowed Orientals to kill lots of Orientals, Africans to kill lots of Africans, and so forth. The Left might say that left to their own devices, not introduced to machine guns, land mines and other weapons of (mass) destruction, native peoples never would have found their "inner killers," and simply existed as happy peaceniks.
The problem with that is several thousand years of evidence to the contrary. The Incas and Aztecs, for instance, are often cited as examples of enlightened native cultures. They created pyramids of great architectural achievement, and made breakthroughs in irrigation and water usage. They also enjoyed taking virgin girls and cutting their hearts out while the girl was still alive, as an offering to their "gods." The morally relativistic argument that breaking things and killing each other is okay because it is part of their "culture" is that with which is herein identified as a lie.
American Indians fought horrendous wars with each other for centuries before they heard of George Armstrong Custer. Ethnic, tribal and religious strife among native populations in Africa, the Middle East, the Orient and throughout the globe resulted in horrendous violence and cruelty. Many, many cases no doubt abound whereby nuclear weapons would have been used if available.
These are the facts. The Left likes to say that this is just their "culture." Fine, but if ones' culture includes breaking things and killing people, it deserves to be identified for what it is, and not excused under the guise of moral relativism. So, dear reader, by this time you must be wondering about the author, no doubt run amok still again. Off on a rant. A tangent. Not so fast. There is a point, and it goes back to the Bay of Pigs, which is as good a place to use the example as any. I am getting to it.
It all comes down to the idea that God sanctions America. If you are among those who believe that the natives would have been better off without those nasty white explorers, settlers and traders, then the argument will carry no weight. It survives only if the cost-benefit analysis of white intervention is weighed and modernity given the nod. Once this is established (and their really is no "question" about it), then the idea of America's place in this brave new world comes into view.
The premise is that after thousands of years, the world essentially consisted of Europe (with England being the dominant country), while the rest of the world was more or less a mess. Even England had so much baggage, after fighting various wars and dealing with tyrannical Kings, that they were not in the moral position to take the next big step.
In the humble opinion of Yours Truly, God in his wisdom decided that He needed a country that would be so big, so powerful, so good and so successful that it could help Him win the fight against evil. Call it a cartoon if you like, but events of the past 228 years make it difficult to totally dispute the premise. That country is America.
Such an undertaking is not something that happens smoothly. There are bumps in the road. The first was slavery. When America was finished fighting and writing laws, they banished that peculiar institution into oblivion, seen no more outside of some Russian whorehouses, Chinese massage parlors and a few Arab sheikdoms. The sex trade, however, is a heck of a lot different than blacks picking plantation cotton.
Then America, almost by force of divine will (or perhaps actually by force of divine will), rose from a few agrarian states into a transcontinental power, with a military that stopped the Kaiser. The first time had to be luck, or so it was thought in the Reichstag. After sending Hitler and Tojo to the Infernal Regions, the luck question was answered.
By 1950, something was driving U.S. foreign policy, and it was not mere diplomacy, "peace through strength," or containment. The emergence of atomic, hydrogen and eventually nuclear bombs changed the dynamic. Why, for instance, had America been the first country to successfully develop the A-bomb? Hitler had brilliant scientists working around the clock with the "heavy water" project at Pennemunde, Finland. If Germany, Japan, the Soviet Union or China had developed the weapon first, the world would be one big concentration camp. But America built it, and as a result, freedom reigned. But why? Is God not involved? Is it all just breaks? Believe that at your peril.
With all the responsibility of protecting the world during a time when Communism and hydrogen bombs hung over our Cold War heads, U.S. policymakers began to feel that they were ordained by a greater power. MacArthur had said he was called to "save the world for Christendom." The CIA adopted a Puritan stance, creating a church-like reverence for the work they were doing. Not everybody saw the seriousness of it all. The "useful idiots" who were proved wrong by history would have you believe that the Communism they wanted to "get along with" was not so bad anyway.
20 million dead in the Soviet Union. 65 million in China. Millions more in Eastern Europe, Vietnam, Cuba and Cambodia. Communism was no mystery to the policy-planners of the 1950s. McCarthyism had rent great destruction to its support base, but there were enough vigilant Americans around to open their eyes to this international atrocity.
Now, with Communism in our backyard, spreading through Latin America, the American government decided that Castro had to go. Adlai Stevenson and his ilk could not see the nobility in this. He only worried about the diplomatic ramifications, and made the morally relativistic argument that if we invaded Cuba, it made us no different than the Soviets taking over Eastern Europe. It would render future U.S. treaties invalid.
In reality, the Bay of Pigs was a part of America's ongoing Manifest Destiny. I use it to make this point not because it was a shining example of American success, but for precisely the opposite reason. The world was and is a dangerous place, and each step to the road of worldwide freedom forged by America is earned by blood and sacrifice.
Cuba remains a sore spot, but America survived it just as we survived and overcame Vietnam. It is beautiful irony, in fact, that the two countries that thought they got the better of America ended up impoverished because the ideology they put their money on died an ugly death. In so doing, not only was Communism defeated but the "victory" of the Left was denied them, as well. Satan is still out there, though, but like Middle Eastern terrorists, we have him on the run. He has dodged from Europe and Japan to the Soviet Union and China, but the U.S. has not allowed him to get a toehold. He put up a stand in the Middle East, but we have decided that enough is enough and are working on rooting him out of there, too. Now he roams freely in Africa, where AIDS and tribal wars have wrought the continent with some of the most awful horrors seen heretofore. When it is all said and done, it will be America who smokes him out of the Dark Continent. It was in this spirit that America was right to try to free Cuba, and for all the liberals who think Castro is a radically chic Robin Hood, put that in your pipes and smoke it.
What is left in Cuba is actually a parody, a joke. Free speech is a beautiful thing, but it works in odd ways. As Forrest Gump said, "Stupid is as stupid does." In this regard, America has reached the point where there is enough truthful information available. No longer do the biases of Walter Cronkite and Dan Blather influence the United States. Now, when liberals say unpatriotic or ignorant things, a large percentage of Americans have enough knowledge available to them to identify what they say as unpatriotic or ignorant. This beats heck out of being influenced by it.
The same thing applies to Castro. Whereby the Communist rulers of Vietnam and even China tend to keep their mouths shut on the international stage, knowing their Marxist slogans are the remnants of a defeated past, Castro has too much ego to go into his little corner. He and Kim Jong-Il do more to remind people of the stupidity of Communism by talking about it than by shutting it down. Both men are egomaniacs who are addicted to themselves
“Humble, honest blood was shed in the struggle against the mercenaries of imperialism," blurted Castro, still trying to identify a country that broke from imperialism in order to form themselves, as imperialists. "But what blood, what men did imperialism send here to establish that beachhead, to bleed our revolution dry, to destroy our achievements, to burn our cane? [In the account of the invasion published by Castro, it was estimated that the invaders and their families between them once owned a million acres of land, 10,000 houses, 70 factories, 10 sugar mills, five mines, and two banks.]
“We can tell the people right here that at the same instant that three of our airports were being bombed, the Yankee agencies were telling the world that our airports had been attacked by planes from our own air force. They cold-bloodedly bombed our nation and told the world that the bombing was done by Cuban pilots with Cuban planes. This was done with planes on which they painted our insignia.
“If nothing else, this deed should be enough to demonstrate how miserable are the actions of imperialism.
“No state or group of states has the right to intervene, directly or indirectly, for any reason whatsoever, in the internal or external affairs of any other state. The foregoing principle prohibits not only armed force but also any other form of interference or attempted threat against the personality of the state or against its political, economic and cultural elements.
“No state may use or encourage the use of coercive measures of an economic or political character in order to force the sovereign will of another state and obtain from it advantages of any kind.
“The territory of a state is inviolable; it may not be the object, even temporarily, of military occupation or of other measures of force taken by another state, directly or indirectly, on any grounds whatsoever…”
Castro apparently forgot his own words when he sent Guevara to other Latin American countries to foment revolutions. He did the same thing in Africa in the 1970s, and in Grenada in the 1980s.
As for the Americans, the CIA and the Brigade, they were honorable men, not mercenaries. Interviews with former Brigade members indicate a very strong Christian identification. They knew first hand that Castro was performing vile acts on their country, and their decision to fight him was one that came from deep down.
The Americans who trained with them came to respect them immensely.
“We had lived with the Cubans for three months, and we were so close to them that their cause became our cause,” recalled Joe Shannon, a colonel in the Alabama Air National Guard, and a colleague of the four dead U.S. pilots.
On April 20, 1961, President Kennedy went before the American Society of Newspaper Editors.
“…This was a struggle of Cuban patriots against a Cuban dictator," Kennedy lied. "While we could not be expected to hide our sympathies, we made it repeatedly clear that the armed forces of this country would not intervene in any way.
“But let the record show that our restraint is not inexhaustible…if the nations of this hemisphere should fail to meet their commitments against outside Communist penetration - then I want it clearly understood that this government will not hesitate in meeting its primary obligations which are to the security of our nation.”
In "Cold War and Counter-Revolution: The Foreign Policy of John F. Kennedy", Richard J. Walton wrote, “Kennedy did not apologize; rather he issued threats. And he reiterated his amendment to the Monroe Doctrine; that Latin American nations were free to choose their own governments, but only as long as they were not Communist."
Castro ordered show trials for the 1,189 prisoners, sentencing all of them to 30 years in prison. "Negotiations" ensued. Ransom was more like it. In exchange for $53 million in food and medicine they were let go, another ironic fact, since if Castro had simply chosen not be a Marxist he easily would have gotten $53 million in food and medicine from a generous America. Two men, Ramon Conte and Ricardo Montenero Duque, were actually held for 25 years.
President Kennedy fired long-time CIA Director Allen W. Dulles, Deputy Director Charles P. Cabell, and Deputy Director Bissell. He then assumed full responsibility, but made sure his press handlers leaked his "secret" blame of the CIA. He ordered a full inquiry, which was written by CIA inspector general Lyman Kirkpatrick. Dulles' successor, a conservative Republican from San Francisco (how about that!) named John McCone, thought it was despicable. He ordered all but one of the 20 copies produced to be trashed. The report was classified until 1998.
According to Kirkpatrick, ignorance, incompetence, and arrogance were the hallmarks of the operation. While it was a flawed plan, the report seems intent on making The Company look bad and cleansing JFK's image. It paints a picture of a misinformed Kennedy and administration officials, poor planning, unverified intelligence and agency overreach.
“The agency reduced the exile leaders to the status of puppets,” it read.
Whatever it was, it set the table for the next great Cold War confrontation, which would take place one and a half years later.
Recent Kennedy historians have "revealed" that JFK was willing to discuss a form of détente with Castro. Whether this is part of the Leftist attempt to paint Castro as less evil than he is, is not really known. What is known is that JFK and Bobby Kennedy engaged in plans that looked like anything but détente.
Code-named “Operation Mongoose,” spurred by Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, it was an attempt to eliminate Castro with "extreme prejudice." On the other hand, getting back to the Kennedy style of playing both ends, perhaps they were planning a "niceness" campaign in case the poisoned cigars and cyanide-laced liquor did not do the trick. It is also instructive to remember what and who the Kennedys were. The sons of Joseph P. Kennedy played to win. All the "moralism" that Bobby is credited with in advocating that the U.S. not invade Cuba to get the "missiles of October"; in helping Mexican farmworkers in California in 1968; or in giving peace a chance in Vietnam - all of this is strictly cold political calculation. The fact that they are is not a criticism of RFK. The fact is, being embarrassed by Fidel Castro made Castro an enemy of the first order, and in the Kennedy scheme of things they were going to see to it that the Cuban SOB got his. Castro knew this, and because he knows this, the argument that he was behind JFK's assassination is strengthened. Had Bobby been elected in 1968, the whole "get Castro" business would have started up again. Fidel blew a huge sigh of relief when Sirhan Sirhan killed Bobby, and he no doubt considers Mary Jo Kopechne to be a "hero of the Revolution." Politics works in strange ways.
“To understand the Kennedy Administration’s obsession with Cuba, it is important to understand the Kennedys, especially Robert," Dick Bissell wrote. "From their perspective, Castro won the first round at the Bay of Pigs. He had defeated the Kennedy team; they were bitter and they could not tolerate his getting away with it. The President and his brother were ready to avenge their personal embarrassment by overthrowing their enemy at any cost. I don’t believe there was any significant policy debate in the executive branch on the desirability of getting rid of Castro. Robert Kennedy’s involvement in organizing and directing Mongoose became so intense that he might as well have been deputy director for plans for the operation.”
An Army memorandum from March 1, 1962 titled, “Possible Actions to Provoke, Harass or Disrupt Cuba,” outlined Operation Bingo, a plan to fake an attack on the U.S. base at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba, provide cover for a military strike on Havana. Operation Dirty Trick was to blame Castro if the 1962 Mercury manned space flight carrying John Glenn crashed. Operation Good Times included faking photos of “an obese Castro” with two voluptuous women in a lavishly furnished room “and a table brimming over with the most delectable Cuban food.” The caption would read, “My ration is different.”
According to U.S. News & World Report (October 26, 1998), an estimated 10,000 pages of previously secret documents were quietly declassified. Other CIA plots included hiring Mafia hit men to present a poisoned scuba suit to Castro. “Remember the Maine incident” was an effort to stir up a military attack, blame it on Cuba, and use it as an excuse for military intervention. Maybe that plan was kept around for the Gulf of Tonkin incident.
Brigadier General Edward G. Lansdale, who asked the Joint Chiefs of Staff for their opinion on top-secret plans to eliminate Castro and concoct a military pretext, headed operation Mongoose. Records show that the Joint Chiefs of Staff endorsed the ideas as “suitable for planning purposes.” None of them were ever carried out.
Cuban Missile Crisis
"We're eyeball to eyeball, and I think the other fellow just blinked."
- Secretary of State Dean Rusk
The Cuban Missile Crisis was the most dangerous ultimatum of the Cold War. Most accounts of it describe two nuclear superpowers on the verge of almost-unavoidable nuclear combat. Robert Kennedy showed a very clear head in arguing that an alternative to war could be found, and in so doing he is rightfully seen as the hero of the crisis.
While those of us who were not there obviously are not more insightful as to what happened than those who were, certain deductions can be made. From here, the prospect of nuclear conflagration is not nearly as unavoidable as it has been painted. Various scenarios have depicted the crisis as an escalating one, starting with an invasion of Cuba, followed by the Soviets "moving" on Berlin, followed by an "August of 1914"-style beginning of the Third World War.
The Bay of Pigs had been an international incident, but there was never much indication that the Russians were ready to get involved. Is it impossible to conceive that military action could not have been confined to Cuba? Are missiles flying out of silos and headed for D.C. the only alternative? What, really, does Berlin have to do with Cuba?
After all, the Korean War was confined to Korea, even after China entered the fray. The Vietnam War was confined to Vietnam and a few hamlets in Cambodia and Laos. Naturally, the existence of nukes in Cuba ups the ante, but Cuba is still a small island with no borders other than the ocean.
This commentary is by no means an effort to downplay the seriousness of the occasion or the fact that the Kennedys demonstrated leadership above and beyond the call of duty. They are what they are. Some of what the Kennedys are is rather despicable. Some of the things they did were shining moments in Presidential history. This was one of them.
On Saturday, October 27, 1962, Soviet ships were turned away by the U.S Naval blockade of Cuba, but the missile bases were almost operational.
"We're eyeball to eyeball, and I think the other fellow just blinked," stated Secretary of State Dean Rusk.
A brief moment of "victory" was replaced by pressure on Kennedy to order an air strike or invasion. An American reconnaissance plane was shot down, the pilot killed.
A letter from Nikita Khruschev arrived on Saturday. He demanded that JFK remove Jupiter missiles from Turkey in exchange for removal of missiles from Cuba. The letter marked a downturn, since it represented a hardening from an earlier position. Khruschev had previously indicated a desire to resolve the dispute without removing the missiles in Turkey. The key, once negotiations began, was Washington's pledge not to invade Cuba. On Saturday evening, after much tenseness, President Kennedy decided to accept the terms of an earlier letter (the non-invasion pledge) along with further assurances not publicly formalized. Kennedy wanted to avoid the appearance of giving in to blackmail, which the "prisoners-for-medicine-and-food" exchange after the Bay of Pigs looked like. He tasked Robert Kennedy with transmitting the message and all "underlying meaning" to his "friend," Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin.
RFK handled his meeting well, but there is a question as to whether a quid pro quo on the Jupiter's was reached. Actually, Kennedy informed Dobrynin that the U.S. had planned to take out the missiles anyway. At this point, cooler heads appear to have begun prevailing. A realization that a lot of people could die, reinforced over many sleepless nights, no doubt was taking its toll. The events were not publicly disclosed until RFK's posthumous memoirs were published in 1969.
Khruschev's tape-recorded memoirs, smuggled to the West and published in 1970 after his death (further installments followed in 1974 and 1990), shed some doubt on Bobby's role in the process. Kruschev did not believe that Kennedy was facing a near-mutiny within his own military. This was the "dilemma" that has been painted more and more frequently by those who prefer to think the American military was a rogue outfit bent on overthrowing and assassinating the attractive young Democrat in the White House. The fact that this is a lie is knowledge possessed by millions. The "cabal" was supposed to be led by General Maxwell Taylor, who was apparently so willing to usurp the Democratic process through military takeover that Bobby later named one of his children after him.
"President Kennedy said that in exchange for the withdrawal of our missiles, he would remove American missiles from Turkey and Italy," Kruschev's posthumous memoirs recalled.
Secrecy was the key at the time. National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy and Secretary of State Dean Rusk publicly insist that RFK had simply made informal assurances, not specific promises regarding the American arsenal. After glasnost in 1989, Theodore Sorensen admitted that he had taken it upon himself to edit out a "very explicit" reference to the inclusion of the Jupiters in the final deal. The following are excerpts of recollections of the crisis by key participants:
Robert F. Kennedy
"I telephoned Ambassador Dobrynin about 7:15 P.M. and asked him to come to the Department of Justice. We met in my office at 7:45. I told him first that we knew that work was continuing on the missile bases in Cuba and that in the last few days it had been expedited. I said that in the last few hours we had learned that our reconnaissance planes flying over Cuba had been fired upon and that one of our U-2s had been shot down and the pilot killed. That for us was a most serious turn of events. President Kennedy did not want a military conflict. He had done everything possible to avoid a military engagement with Cuba and with the Soviet Union, but now they had forced our hand. Because of the deception of the Soviet Union, our photographic reconnaissance planes would have to continue to fly over Cuba, and if the Cubans or Soviets shot at these planes, then we would have to shoot back. This would inevitably lead to further incidents and to escalation of the conflict, the implications of which were very grave indeed.
He said the Cubans resented the fact that we were violating Cuban air space. I replied that if we had not violated Cuban air space, we would still be believing what Khruschev had said - that there would be no missiles placed in Cuba. In any case, I said, this matter was far more serious than the air space of Cuba - it involved the peoples of both of our countries and, in fact, people all over the globe.
"The Soviet Union had secretly established missile bases in Cuba while at the same time proclaiming privately and publicly that this would never be done. We had to have a commitment by tomorrow that those bases would be removed. I was not giving them an ultimatum but a statement of fact. He should understand that if they did not remove those bases, we would remove them. President Kennedy had great respect for the Ambassador's country and the courage of its people. Perhaps his country might feel it necessary to take retaliatory action; but before that was over, there would be not only dead Americans but dead Russians as well.
"He asked me what offer the United States was making, and I told him of the letter that President Kennedy had just transmitted to Khruschev. He raised the question of our removing the missiles from Turkey. I said that there could be no quid pro quo or any arrangement made under this kind of threat or pressure and that in the last analysis this was a decision that would have to be made by NATO. However, I said, President Kennedy had been anxious to remove those missiles from Italy and Turkey for a long period of time. He had ordered their removal some time ago, and it was our judgment that, within a short time after this crisis was over, those missiles would be gone.
I said President Kennedy wished to have peaceful relations between our two countries. He wished to resolve the problems that confronted us in Europe and Southeast Asia. He wished to move forward on the control of nuclear weapons. However, we could make progress on these matters only when the crisis was behind us. Time was running out. We had only a few more hours - we needed an answer immediately from the Soviet Union. I said we must have it the next day.
"I returned to the White House...."
(Robert F. Kennedy, "Thirteen Days: A Memoir of the Cuban Missile Crisis", New York: New American Library, 1969, 107-109.)
"The climax came after five or six days, when our Ambassador to Washington, Anatoly Dobrynin, reported that the President's brother, Robert Kennedy, had come to see him on an unofficial visit. Dobrynin's report went something like this:
"'Robert Kennedy looked exhausted. One could see from his eyes that he had not slept for days. He himself said that he had not been home for six days and nights.' 'The President is in a grave situation,' Robert Kennedy said, 'and does not know how to get out of it. We are under very severe stress. In fact we are under pressure from our military to use force against Cuba. Probably at this very moment the President is sitting down to write a message to Chairman Khruschev. We want to ask you, Mr. Dobrynin, to pass President Kennedy's message to Chairman Khruschev through unofficial channels. President Kennedy implores Chairman Khruschev to accept his offer and to take into consideration the peculiarities of the American system. Even though the President himself is very much against starting a war over Cuba, an irreversible chain of events could occur against his will. That is why the President is appealing directly to Chairman Khrushchev for his help in liquidating this conflict. If the situation continues much longer, the President is not sure that the military will not overthrow him and seize power. The American army could get out of control.'"
("Khruschev Remembers", introduction, commentary, and notes by Edward Crankshaw, translated and edited by Strobe Talbott; Boston: Little, Brown, 1970; citation from paperback edition, New York: Bantam, 1971, pages 551-52.)
"...The President [Kennedy] recognized that, for Chairman Khruschev to withdraw the missiles from Cuba, it would be undoubtedly helpful to him if he could say at the same time to his colleagues on the Presidium, 'And we have been assured that the missiles will be coming out of Turkey.' And so, after the ExComm meeting [on the evening of October 27, 1962], as I'm sure almost all of you know, a small group met in President Kennedy's office, and he instructed Robert Kennedy - at the suggestion of Secretary of State [Dean] Rusk - to deliver the letter to Ambassador Dobrynin for referral to Chairman Khrushchev, but to add orally what was not in the letter: That the missiles would come out of Turkey.
"Ambassador Dobrynin felt that Robert Kennedy's book did not adequately express that the 'deal' on the Turkish missiles was part of the resolution of the crisis. And here I have a confession to make to my colleagues on the American side, as well as to others who are present. I was the editor of Robert Kennedy's book. It was, in fact, a diary of those "Thirteen Days". And his diary was very explicit that this was part of the deal; but at that time it was still a secret even on the American side, except for the six of us who had been present at that meeting. So I took it upon myself to edit that out of his diaries, and that is why the Ambassador is somewhat justified in saying that the diaries are not as explicit as his conversation."
(Sorensen comments, in Bruce J. Allyn, James G. Blight, and David A. Welch, editors, "Back to the Brink: Proceedings of the Moscow Conference on the Cuban Missile Crisis", January 27-28, 1989; Lanham, Maryland: University Press of America, 1992, pages 92-93.)
"... Later [on Saturday], accepting a proposal from Dean Rusk, [John F.] Kennedy instructed his brother to tell Ambassador Dobrynin that while there could be no bargain over the missiles that had been supplied to Turkey, the President himself was determined to have them removed and would attend to the matter once the present crisis was resolved - as long as no one in Moscow called that action part of a bargain. [page 406]
"...The other part of the oral message [to Dobrynin] was proposed by Dean Rusk: That we should tell Khrushchev that while there could be no deal over the Turkish missiles, the President was determined to get them out and would do so once the Cuban crisis was resolved. The proposal was quickly supported by the rest of us [in addition to Bundy and Rusk, those present included President Kennedy, McNamara, RFK, George Ball, Roswell Gilpatrick, Llewellyn Thompson, and Theodore Sorensen]. Concerned as we all were by the cost of a public bargain struck under pressure at the apparent expense of the Turks, and aware as we were from the day's discussion that for some, even in our own closest councils, even this unilateral private assurance might appear to betray an ally, we agreed without hesitation that no one not in the room was to be informed of this additional message. Robert Kennedy was instructed to make it plain to Dobrynin that the same secrecy must be observed on the other side, and that any Soviet reference to our assurance would simply make it null and void. [pages 432-441>
"…There was no leak. As far as I know, none of the nine of us told anyone else what had happened. We denied in every forum that there was any deal, and in the narrowest sense what we said was usually true, as far as it went. When the orders were passed that the Jupiters must come out, we gave the plausible and accurate - if incomplete - explanation that the missile crisis had convinced the President once and for all that he did not want those missiles there.... [page 434]"
(From McGeorge Bundy, "Danger and Survival: Choices About the Bomb in the First Fifty Years", New York: Random House, 1988.)
"Even though Soviet ships had turned around, time was running out. We made this very clear to Khrushchev. Earlier in the week Bobby Kennedy told Ambassador Dobrynin that if the missiles were not withdrawn immediately, the crisis would move into a different and dangerous military phase. In his book 'Khrushchev Remembers', Khrushchev states that Robert Kennedy told Dobrynin that the military might take over. Khrushchev either genuinely misunderstood or deliberately misused Bobby's statement. Obviously there was never any threat of a military takeover in this country. We wondered about Khrushchev's situation, even whether some Soviet general or member of the Politburo would put a pistol to Khrushchev's head and say, 'Mr. Chairman, launch those missiles or we'll blow your head off!'
"...In framing a response [to Khrushchev's second letter of Saturday, October 27], the President, Bundy, McNamara, Bobby Kennedy, and I met in the Oval Office, where after some discussion I suggested that since the Jupiters in Turkey were coming out in any event, we should inform the Russians of this so that this irrelevant question would not complicate the solution of the missile sites in Cuba. We agreed that Bobby should inform Ambassador Dobrynin orally. Shortly after we returned to our offices, I telephoned Bobby to underline that he should pass this along to Dobrynin only as information, not a public pledge. Bobby told me that he was then sitting with Dobrynin and had already talked with him. Bobby later told me that Dobrynin called this message 'very important information.'"
(Dean Rusk as told to Richard Rusk, "As I Saw It", New York: Norton & Co., 1990, pages 238-240.)
Dobrynin's Cable to the Soviet Foreign Ministry, October 27, 1962
TOP SECRET Making Copies Prohibited Copy No. I
"Late tonight R. Kennedy invited me to come see him. We talked alone.
The Cuban crisis, R. Kennedy began, continues to quickly worsen. We have just received a report that an unarmed American plane was shot down while carrying out a reconnaissance flight over Cuba. The military is demanding that the President arm such planes and respond to fire with fire. The USA government will have to do this.
I interrupted R. Kennedy and asked him, what right American planes had to fly over Cuba at all, crudely violating its sovereignty and accepted international norms? How would the USA have reacted if foreign planes appeared over its territory?
"We have a resolution of the Organization of American states that gives us the right to such overflights," R. Kennedy quickly replied.
"I told him that the Soviet Union, like all peace-loving countries, resolutely rejects such a 'right' or, to be more exact, this kind of true lawlessness, when people who don't like the social-political situation in a country try to impose their will on it - a small state where the people themselves established and maintained [their system].
"'The OAS resolution is a direct violation of the UN Charter,' I added, 'and you, as the Attorney General of the USA, the highest American legal entity, should certainly know that.'
"R. Kennedy said that he realized that we had different approaches to these problems and it was not likely that we could convince each other. But now the matter is not in these differences, since time is of the essence. 'I want,' R. Kennedy stressed, 'to lay out the current alarming situation the way the president sees it. He wants N.S. Khrushchev to know this. This is the thrust of the situation now.'
"'Because of the plane that was shot down, there is now strong pressure on the president to give an order to respond with fire if fired upon when American reconnaissance planes are flying over Cuba. The USA can't stop these flights, because this is the only way we can quickly get information about the state of construction of the missile bases in Cuba, which we believe pose a very serious threat to our national security. But if we start to fire in response - a chain reaction will quickly start that will be very hard to stop. The same thing in regard to the essence of the issue of the missile bases in Cuba. The U.S.A. government is determined to get rid of those bases - up to. In the extreme case, of bombing them, since, I repeat, they pose a great threat to the security of the USA. But in response to the bombing of these bases, in the course of which Soviet specialists might suffer, the Soviet government will undoubtedly respond with the same against us, somewhere in Europe. A real war will begin, in which millions of Americans and Russians will die. We want to avoid that any way we can, I'm sure that the government of the USSR has the same wish. However, taking time to find a way out [of the situation] is very risky (here R. Kennedy mentioned as if in passing that there are many unreasonable heads among the generals, and not only among the generals, who are itching for a "fight"). The situation might get out of control, with irreversible consequences.
"'In this regard,' R. Kennedy said, ' the president considers that a suitable basis for regulating the entire Cuban conflict might be the letter N.S. Khrushchev sent on October.26 and the letter in response from the President which was sent off today to N.S. Khrushchev through the US Embassy in Moscow. The most important thing for us,' R. Kennedy stressed, 'is to get as soon as possible the agreement of the Soviet government to halt further work on the construction of the missile bases in Cuba and take measures under international control that would make it impossible to use these weapons. In exchange the government of the USA is ready, in addition to repealing all measures on the "quarantine," to give the assurances that there will not be any invasion of Cuba and that other countries of the Western Hemisphere are ready to give the same assurances - the US government is certain of this.'
"'And what about Turkey?' I asked R. Kennedy.
"'If that is the only obstacle to achieving the regulation I mentioned earlier, then the president doesn't see any unsurmountable difficulties in resolving this issue,' replied R. Kennedy. 'The greatest difficulty for the president is the public discussion of the issue of Turkey. Formally the deployment of missile bases in Turkey was done by a special decision of the NATO Council. To announce now a unilateral decision by the president of the USA to withdraw missile bases from Turkey - this would damage the entire structure of NATO and the US position as the leader of NATO, where, as the Soviet government knows very well, there are many arguments. In short. if such a decision were announced now it would seriously tear apart NATO.
"'However, President Kennedy is ready to come to agree on that question with N.S. Khrushchev, too. I think that in order to withdraw these bases from Turkey,' R. Kennedy said, 'we need 4-5 months. This is the minimal amount of time necessary for the US government to do this, taking into account the procedures that exist within the NATO framework. On the whole Turkey issue,' R. Kennedy added, if Premier N.S. Khrushchev agrees with what I've said, we can continue to exchange opinions between him and the president, using him, R. Kennedy and the Soviet ambassador. ''However, the president can't say anything public in this regard about Turkey,' R. Kennedy said again. R. Kennedy then warned that his comments about Turkey are extremely confidential; besides him and his brother, only 2-3 people know about it in Washington.
"'That's all that he asked me to pass on to N.S. Khrushchev,' R. Kennedy said in conclusion. 'The president also asked N.S. Khrushchev to give him an answer (through the Soviet ambassador and R. Kennedy) if possible within the next day (Sunday) on these thoughts in order to have a business-like, clear answer in principle. [He asked him] not to get into a wordy discussion, which might drag things out. The current serious situation, unfortunately, is such that there is very little time to resolve this whole issue.
"'Unfortunately, events are developing too quickly. The request for a reply tomorrow,' stressed R. Kennedy, 'is just that - a request, and not an ultimatum. The president hopes that the head of the Soviet government will understand him correctly.'
I noted that it went without saying that the Soviet government would not accept any ultimatums and it was good that the American government realized that. I also reminded him of N.S. Khrushchev's appeal in his last letter to the president to demonstrate state wisdom in resolving this question. Then I told R. Kennedy that the president's thoughts would be brought to the attention of the head of the Soviet government. I also said that I would contact him as soon as there was a reply. In this regard, R. Kennedy gave me a number of a direct telephone line to the White House.
"In the course of the conversation, R. Kennedy noted that he knew about the conversation that television commentator Scali had yesterday with an Embassy adviser on possible ways to regulate the Cuban conflict [one-and-a-half lines whited out]
I should say that during our meeting R. Kennedy was very upset; in any case, I've never seen him like this before. True, about twice he tried to return to the topic of 'deception,' (that he talked about so persistently during our previous meeting), but he did so in passing and without any edge to it. He didn't even try to get into fights on various subjects, as he usually does, and only persistently returned to one topic: time is of the essence and we shouldn't miss the chance.
"After meeting with me he immediately went to see the president, with whom, as R. Kennedy said, he spends almost all his time now."
27/X-62 A. DOBRYNIN
(Source: Russian Foreign Ministry archives, translation from copy provided by NHK, in Richard Ned Lebow and Janice Gross Stein, "We All Lost the Cold War", Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1994, appendix, pages 523-526, with minor revisions.)
Lebow and Stein comment
"We All Lost the Cold War" (excerpt):
"The cable testifies to the concern of John and Robert Kennedy that military action would trigger runaway escalation. Robert Kennedy told Dobrynin of his government's determination to ensure the removal of the Soviet missiles in Cuba, and his belief that the Soviet Union 'will undoubtedly respond with the same against us, somewhere in Europe.' Such an admission seems illogical if the administration was using the threat of force to compel the Soviet Union to withdraw its missiles from Cuba. It significantly raised the expected cost to the United States of an attack against the missiles, thereby weakening the credibility of the American threat. To maintain or enhance that credibility, Kennedy would have had to discount the probability of Soviet retaliation to Dobrynin. That nobody in the government was certain of Khrushchev's response makes Kennedy's statement all the more remarkable.
"It is possible that Dobrynin misquoted Robert Kennedy. However, the Soviet Ambassador was a careful and responsible diplomat. At the very least, Kennedy suggested that he thought that Soviet retaliation was likely. Such an admission was still damaging to compellence. It seems likely that Kennedy was trying to establish the basis for a more cooperative approach to crisis resolution. His brother, he made clear, was under enormous pressure from a coterie of generals and civilian officials who were 'itching for a fight.' This also was a remarkable admission for the Attorney General to make. The pressure on the President to attack Cuba, as Kennedy explained at the beginning of the meeting, had been greatly intensified by the destruction of an unarmed American reconnaissance plane. The President did not want to use force, in part because he recognized the terrible consequences of escalation, and was therefore requesting Soviet assistance to make it unnecessary.
"This interpretation is supported by the President's willingness to remove the Jupiter missiles as a quid pro quo for the withdrawal of missiles in Cuba, and his brother's frank confession that the only obstacle to dismantling the Jupiters were political. 'Public discussion' of a missile exchange would damage the United States' position in NATO. For this reason, Kennedy revealed, 'besides himself and his brother, only two-three people know about it in Washington.' Khrushchev would have to cooperate with the administration to keep the American concession a secret.
"Most extraordinary of all is the apparent agreement between Dobrynin and Kennedy to treat Kennedy's de facto ultimatum as 'a request, and not an ultimatum.' This was a deliberate attempt to defuse as much as possible the hostility that Kennedy's request for an answer by the next day was likely to provoke in Moscow. So too was Dobrynin's next sentence: 'I noted that it went without saying that the Soviet government would not accept any ultimatum and it was good that the American government realized that.'
"Prior meetings between Dobrynin and Kennedy had sometimes degenerated into shouting matches. On this occasion, Dobrynin indicates, the Attorney General kept his emotions in check and took the Ambassador into his confidence in an attempt to cooperate on the resolution of the crisis. This two-pronged strategy succeeded where compellence alone might have failed. It gave Khrushchev positive incentives to remove the Soviet missiles and reduced the emotional cost to him of the withdrawal. He responded as Kennedy and Dobrynin had hoped."
The Kennedy image was burnished in the 1980s by Robert McNamara and McGeorge Bundy, who felt President Ronald Reagan was embracing brinkmanship. They joined other former Kennedy aides warning that the Cuban Missile Crisis had not been resolved by America's nuclear superiority, but conventional superiority in the Caribbean, enabling restraint and quarantine to replace nuclear war.
Declassified U.S. government documents in the mid-1980s included notes and transcripts of Kennedy's top advisers, portraying a President devoted to peace in direct contradiction to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Led by Air Force General "Bombs Away With" Curt LeMay (who prosecuted the Dresden firebombings), the military was supposed to be itching to go to war. The chiefs could not guarantee the destruction through air strikes of all the Soviet missiles in Cuba. If JFK thought he could achieve through the crisis what he had failed to do at the Bay of Pigs, perhaps he would have endorsed a strike. But he faced, instead, the prospect of killing a lot of Russians and Cubans, creating a huge international imbroglio, and in the end not only failing to destroy the nukes but giving the Communists the excuse they wanted to keep them there.
In 1987 Dean Rusk revealed the proposal of a public Turkey-Cuba trade through the United Nations. Theodore Sorenson admitted that while editing "Thirteen Days" he cut references in RFK's diary to the Turkey-Cuba deal. JFK had dismissed such proposal as appeasement, attributing it to U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Adlai Stevenson (who JFK disliked and called a "swisher" because he felt he lacked manly sexuality). A declassified cable from Dobrynin (published in the Cold War International History Project Bulletin) showed that RFK made the deal explicit, commenting to Dobrynin that such a document "could cause irreparable harm to my political career in the future."
Held between 1987 and 1992, a series of conferences were organized by James Blight and Janet Lang of the Thomas J. Watson, Jr., Institute for International Studies at Brown University. Many introduced revelations of "critical oral history," and included Kennedy aides, Soviet participants, and Cuban veterans (among them Fidel Castro). Along with intermediate-range missiles, the Soviet arsenal in Cuba included tactical nuclear warheads that might have been used if the United States had invaded. Cuba was apparently more in control of their destiny than originally painted, although Castro's survival and the downfall of the Soviet Union and their leadership allows him to create this picture more easily. He is supposed to have said to Kruschev "use 'em or lose 'em."
Most Soviet recollection was uncorroborated, diluted by age, or came from children, like Khrushchev's son. "One Hell of a Gamble" by Russian scholar Alexandr A. Fursenko and Yale University historian Timothy Naftali, cited quotations from still-secret Moscow archives, and were compared with new U.S. documentation.
The crisis was the beginning of the end of Kruschev, who was ousted by hard-liners in an October, 1964 coup. A military intelligence officer named Georgi Bolshakov reportedly met with Bobby Kennedy on a backchannel basis 51 times in 1961 and '62. KGB intelligence failed the Politburo. KGB station chief Alexandr Feklisov reported in March, 1962 that he had at least three well-placed sources whose names "the Russian government continues to protect." Wanna bet their Democrats? Despite this, the KGB ended up relying on inaccurate invasion tips from a bartender at the National Press Club!
Khrushchev ended up believing nobody. He dealt with a non-KGB inner circle and did not delegate authority or consult with his intelligence agencies, probably out of fear from his own experiences moving up the Stalinist ladder during the Beria era. The Politburo was infuriated at his habit of inviting prominent American businessmen visiting Moscow to the Kremlin, as if the head of Westinghouse could enlighten him as to U.S. military intentions. While trying to decide whether to place tactical nuclear weapons in Cuba, Khrushchev was visited at his dacha by the poet Robert Frost!
The Kennedy version of the crisis is designed to make them appear particularly heroic, saving the world from Armageddon. The odds of nuclear war have been said to be one in three. McGeorge Bundy said one in 100. That is quite a differential.
"In this apocalyptic matter the risk can be very small indeed and still much too large for comfort," Bundy added.
Much of the history related to the crisis centers on the aftermath of it, not the causes. Cuban leaders were expecting another invasion, and there is little doubt that they were going to get something - an invasion, an attempted assassination, a CIA-organized coup, or a combination of the above. Notably, former Secretary of Defense McNamara acknowledged in 1989, meeting with former Soviet and Cuban officials, that "if I had been a Cuban leader, I think I might have expected a U.S. invasion. Why? Because the U.S. had carried out what I have referred to publicly as a debacle - the Bay of Pigs invasion...Secondly, there were covert operations. The Cubans knew that. There were covert operations extending over a long period of time."
Kennedy had ordered a huge expansion over the Eisenhower military. Ike, the military man, knew about waste and corruption in the Military Industrial Complex. He purposely kept his forces low. Deputy Secretary of Defense Roswell Gilpatric said that U.S. strategic forces far surpassed the Soviet military of that era, and nuclear first strike plans against the Soviet Union were considered viable. Throughout the '50s, military planners frequently used terms like "tactical nuclear weapons," "battlefield nuclear weapons," and other phraseology designed to give the impression that these bombs could be employed if necessary without the kind of "end of days" scenarios that were later attributed to their use.
The Soviets, products of a history of invasion and 19 years removed from Nazi attack, worried about worst-case scenarios. They saw in the U.S. a young country, inbued by the "cowboy" mentality handed down from Teddy Roosevelt; a nation almost untouched by war and misery, led by the swashbuckler Kennedy. The Russians and the Cubans were understandably nervous, which was the intent of U.S. diplomacy, but was a strategy that required a certain amount of delicacy.
Soviet placement of nukes 90 miles from Miami was risky and dangerous, but it did not foreshadow Communist intent to destroy the West. Make no mistake, if the Soviets thought they could have done it and gotten away with it (or incurred "acceptable" retaliatory damage), they would have bombed us to smithereens with as much glee as Hitler. But they did not have that capability. The missiles in Cuba were a clumsy diplomatic message, and despite the fact this episode cost Kruschev his job, it worked. Keeping the nukes there was not necessary to the message. The entire framework of Western thought regarding these weapons changed after October of 1962. No longer did people accept "battlefield nuclear" capability as anything but a lose-lose proposition. The American anti-war, anti-nuke, peacenik Left was thrust into action by the crisis. That was to the distinct advantage of the Communists. Once all the layers are stripped away, the world gained the in long-run advantage, too.
The "battle" between Kennedy and the J.C.S., the argument over use of these kinds of weapons, and the resulting split between hawks and doves, brings up some interesting points. Plato spoke about the "warrior spirit," and he appreciated the courage and heroism of soldiers. But he felt that government needed to be tempered by a civilian restraint. Stevenson has been depicted as the "coward" who counter-balanced LeMay in the struggle for Kennedy's soul. The Stevenson-LeMay points of view are emblematic of the larger struggle between conservatives and liberals in the West.
The Founding Fathers wanted this kind of argument to take place, figuring that the end result would be something in the middle, a moderate approach that might not satisfy everybody but would, after all the checks and balances, be the safest course. Occasionally, bold action is required. Kennedy himself wrote about this; politicians who "go against the grain," in "Profiles in Courage". The two-party system is meant to create advocates who occasionally venture towards extremism, but are tempered by a majority will in the end.
History has demonstrated that conservatives are in the right when it comes to the Cold War, the Great Society and most of the pressing issues of the second half of the 20th Century. There are members of the Left who have been shown to be outright traitors, like the Rosenberg's and Alger Hiss. Certain vitriolic haters, like Noam Chomsky and Gore Vidal, seem to be nothing more than histrionic carriers of the Emma Goldman strain. These people, left to their own devices, would do things so drastically bad to America that their exposure and discreditation is much more than mere sociological bragging rights.
However, liberalism and the Democratic party, when presented as the loyal opposition in the proper spirit, offer much for America. Democracy is a fragile thing. The Framers wanted a two-party system because they wanted argument. Liberals have provided the civilian side to counter-balance Plato's warrior spirit, and the Cuban Missile Crisis is as good an example of this as we have seen. When America goes to war, flag-waving conservatives advocate patriotism, "coming together," politics ending "at the water's edge," and support for the troops. All of this is fine. Some of the anarchists whose protests are simple appeasement and moral equivalency are rightly identified and marginalized. But the liberal point of view - intelligent, reasoned, passionate yet still respectful - is not only allowed, it is necessary. The right does need counter-balancing. When properly reigned in, it does the work of greatness, but it can not always be counted on reigning themselves in.
The true "useful idiots" who have dotted the landscape for 50 years are a joke, and the challenge the Left faces is in not letting them take over. While Republicans might secretly (or not so secretly) root for this, since it means electoral success for them, America is better off with a few Adlai Stevenson's willing to stand up and offer enough alternatives so the entire gamut of decision-making is available.
Politicians are human and subject to irrational thought. In retrospect, the crisis saw its share of irrationality from all sides. It also pointed out some extremely important lessons, learned mostly by Nixon. The Communists may have been evil incarnate, the architects of mass death and horror. But the battle between the forces of good and evil were not to be won in one fell swoop. The "great game" needed to be played out, and the devil had to be dealt with. Any reader of Sun Tsu's "Art of War" knew this. The Soviets and Cubans needed to be manipulated before they could be defeated. Nixon learned how to play them against each other. It required a deft touch.
The crisis was not won by brinkmanship. It was won when Khruschev understood that events had the potential of spiraling beyond his ability to manipulate them. Mortality turned out to be our greatest ally. While the Soviets were evil, they pursued an evil of worldly creation. They had no Osama bin Laden-type desire to create a maelstrom, won by nobody. They wanted to rule the world, but there had to be a world to rule.
The crisis also proved the importance of executive leadership. Eisenhower was a "consensus gatherer" most of the time, but the most important decisions of his career were his alone. Kennedy easily could have deferred to the "best and the brightest." His old man no doubt would have said that he could blame the generals later if things went wrong. But for the first time, JFK made the tough decision, instead of waiting passively for the group to manipulate him.
The other lesson that may or may not be important is the value of first impressions. Kennedy came off as an inexperienced playboy when Kruschev met him in Vienna, and the Communists decided to test his resolve. However, Kennedy's growth as a man under fire dispels the concept that the first impression is a true harbinger.
"Che was the most complete human being of our age."
- Jean-Paul Sartre
"And our special warm salute from deep down our hearts, from the friendship that was born during our fight for the revolution; a salute to Comandante Ernesto 'Che' Guevara and all of his comrades wherever they are.
"The imperialists have killed, as they say themselves, Che lots of times at different places, but what we hope is that one random day, there where imperialism expects it the least, commander 'Che' Guevara will rise from his ashes as a phoenix: Trained and combative and healthy. And that one day we’ll get much more concrete notes of Che."
- Fidel Castro, January 1, 1967
Conservatives have said often that liberals prefer "symbolism over substance." In the modern political arena, both American parties employ their fair share of symbolic imagery, but the liberals do seem to attach themselves to this concept more. There is a sense that a Democrat is doing "good work" by visiting a black school in the ghetto, while Republicans propose Empowerment Zones to build businesses that people can use to grow their communities.
Che Guevara is the ultimate symbol. He was handsome and charismatic. He wore a dashing beret, was resplendent in his bandoliers, and wearing his fatigues, with his long hair and moustache was the perfect man of Hispanic machismo. The fact that, in another time and place he would have happily joined forces with Osama bin Laden does not stop liberal sentimentalists from hanging his posters in college classrooms and drinking establishments.
Ernesto Guevara was killed in the jungles of Bolivia in October, 1967. He was a legend in Latin America and a hero to the kids protesting the Vietnam War. His heroic status was promoted by Left wing college professors, desperate for an anti-dote to John Wayne. All the wonderful things that America stood for threatened to ruin the liberal message. They needed a handsome radical to try and make people forget America's greatness and decency. It worked with some people. It did not work with conservatives.
Che was an obscure Argentine doctor who abandoned his profession and his native land to "emancipate" the poor. As it has been said, the "road to hell is paved with good intentions." While Castro was purely power-hungry, Guevara has been described as a "true believer" in the people. If this is so, his story is a tragic one. If Che really wanted to help people, he could not have become a terrorist. But he was. If he started out with good intentions, something very wrong happened to him along the way. That is something that did not happen to Gandhi and M.L. King. It did not happen to Malcolm X.
In 1956, after having crossed paths with Castro, Che decided that Fidel was the man he would attach himself to. Together and with just a few others, they crossed the Caribbean in the rickety yacht Granma on an impossible mission. They landed in a swamp, most of their men were lost, and the survivors fought their way to the Sierra Maestra. For over two years they waged what in retrospect does not look like much of a revolucion. The guerrilla campaign allowed Che to demonstrate bravery and skill. He was named commandante. Fighting in the mountains might have done something to him. Being the target of Batista's army might have inculcated in Che the idea that killing innocent men, women and children was justified. This sorry attempt at "understanding" Che is just more moral relativism. The bottom line is that he was an educated man who had access to enough information to know that what he was doing was wrong.
After the insurgents took over Havana, Castro attempted to export revolucion to the Americas. Che was his point man. The image of him standing up to the Yanquis is the one that propels his legend, not his Communism. Che was a moral guru, a Cuban Rasputin of sorts, proclaiming that a New Man had emerged. The New Man had no ego, only "ferocious love" for the other. Like Pol Pot 15 years later, Che felt the new society had to be created from scratch out of force. It had to be created out of the ruins of the old one. Che was sick with asthma himself, and he struggled against what he felt was oppression and tyranny until his execution in Vallegrande at the age of 39. This had the effect of martyring him. He was laid Christ-like on a bed of death with his eyes open. His last words are supposed to have been, "Shoot, coward, you're only going to kill a man," but this was invented. He was buried anonymously, his hands hacked off. Why this was done is not known, but the mythmakers said it was because he was feared more in death than in life. He is a symbol of the defiant 1960s. Among the poor Catholics of Latin America, it was believed he would resurrect. Latino Communism always had that odd Christian element to it, despite the fact that Castro held firmly to the atheist line. Many Nicaraguan Sandistas of the 1980s were Catholics, too.
"No lo vamos a olvidar!" was shouted throughout the region when news of Che's demise made the rounds ("We won't let him be forgotten"). Unlike Castro, who was born to murder, the redemptive quality of Che is one that even a conservative American is willing to acknowledge. Maybe, just maybe, had he lived he would have had a "conversion" like the one that Whittaker Chambers had gone through. This is not just a moot point. For instance, are there any Nazis who we acknowledge as having the potential for "conversion?" Of course. But before answering the "Could Che have changed?" question with a dismissive, "Naw," the international, social side of Communism is one that allows for differences. It was meant to appeal to the poor and the dispossessed. People understandably, at first, did not know any better. So, was Che really just a mythical figure, the hero of the only kind of cause worth fighting for, the lost ones?
Che did tend to wounded enemy soldiers. He had a vulnerable side to counter-balance his warrior tendencies. He did not allow himself to fall in love with the women who offered themselves to him because he did not want to risk his effectiveness as a combat leader. He also ordered the execution of prisoners without trial. Che himself envisioned his own death as hatching "two, three, many Vietnams." Thousands of young men in Latin America took to the hills, trying to live like Che, and ended up slaughtered, tortured or jailed. Guevara was uncompromising, and this was the most unrealistic style of his struggle. Revolutions in places he would have found solidarity with - South Africa, Iran, the Philippines, Nicaragua, Democracy in Latin America, East Asia and the fall of European Communism - came about because the idea sucked or negotiations with opponents was inevitable.
"Always be capable of feeling...any injustice committed against anyone anywhere in the world," Che wrote in a good-bye letter to his children. Clinton probably cynically had this in mind when he told people he "feels your pain."
Che disdained material comfort and desire. He was the ultimate hippie. The Black Panthers, the Symbionese Liberation Army, the Weathermen and other radical groups patterned themselves after him.
Time announced the 100 most important figures of the century, and only two Latin Americans made the list. Che was one of them. But like Emma Goldman, in the end he offers nothing. His medical care, his attempts to feed the hungry, were only offset by the violence and damage he did. The lesson of Che is the hard lesson of 1960s radicalism, which is that when all is said and done, it is the establishmentarian system they "despise" that offers the best place to accomplish their goals. There is a certain sense to this. The Founding Fathers are not so easily dismissed. The framework they established does indeed work. Every other idea has fallen by the wayside. Che can be a romantic figure who made some female hearts flutter, but chances are he is all style, no substance.
Che was a dangerous man who is no longer a threat, one of the better ways to achieve "sainthood." How would he have handled the realities of modern charity? American gas companies who do business in indigenous lands provide more benefits for food, housing, medicine and the like for the natives than Che ever could have. These companies do so simply because they are rich and they can. The fact that their wealth is a derivative of corporate "greed" is the conundrum that Che could never come to grips with, but more important, he could never defeat it. How frustrating would this have made him?
Some sociologists believe that more than 3 billion human beings live on less than $2 a day. 40,000 children, which is more than one each second, die of chronic hunger. These appalling conditions are what Che thought Communism could address, and yet Communism just made it worse. Anarchism and terrorism have proven to be almost as hurtful. A silent holocaust such as this is too horrid to comprehend. The human mind imagines a savior, a romantic figure, a Cause and an Answer. The fact that the Chevron Corporation, the United Way and the United States government do as much to address these conditions as anyone does not fit into that romantic notion, which of course does not change the fact that these are the facts! When corporations like Chevron run ads touting their charitable contributions, cynics say it is like putting lipstick on a pig. The children who have drinking water, schools and medicine resulting from this kind of corporate largesse do not care if it is a tax write-off or not. Win-win situations that involve profits are just not part of the Marxist vision.
The romantic Che, embodied by the posters, coffee mugs and other symbols of iconography, are very telling. The past 100 years, give or take, have answered a lot of questions, and not all the answers are satisfactory to everybody. Cynicism, pragmatism and realism have replaced idealism. Much of this has to do with the new Information Age. What we did not know about JFK during his Presidency, we knew about Bill Clinton while he was in office (not to mention now knowing all about Kennedy). The veneer has been stripped away from corporations, the Catholic Church and other long-time institutions. Watergate, the Internet, cable TV, talk radio and other forms of information have made this the "gotcha" era.
But the bigger reason idealism has suffered is the death of Communism, and with it the demise of socialism. America always did place itself in the storefront window, its beauty and its ugliness exposed for all to see. To many, the ugly side, which some saw as nascent racism, greedy capitalism, and exploitation, made it impossible to credit America as the "shining city on a hill," as Reagan called it. There had to be something else. Symbol over substance. Caring. Che. Marxist idealism. Anything else.
The death of Che and the new realizations simply do not fit into what many folks want the world to be. It is difficult for many to come to grips with the fact that Mother Theresa, a devout Catholic who had no use for Communism, did much more to alleviate suffering than Che. It is even more galling that Mother Theresa was funded, supported and could not have carried on without the support of capitalist Christians and corporate contributions. This is, at least right now, as good as it gets. The answer, after the entire search for answers and meaning, is America. It is far from perfect, but even when we look to the future and envision a world in which technology, science and innovation provide the final end to suffering, poverty, disease and starvation, what bothers a lot of people is that it will be Western (mostly American) money that fuels these inventions and discoveries. It will be the U.S. space program, U.S. corporations, scientists and researchers. It will be U.S. charity. For those who still hang up Che's posters, who prefer to think that the suffering on this planet is because of the U.S., this prospect is a sour one. As the kids like to say, Get over it.
Causes Steven Travers Supports
Conservative, Christian, USC, American patriotism