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Old 06-28-2020, 03:17 PM   #26
Mason Malmuth
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Re: Cuban Missile Crisis 1962

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Originally Posted by Former DJ View Post
A 1974 television docudrama, (i.e. "The Missiles of October" starring William Devane as JFK, a youngish Martin Sheen as RFK, and Howard DeSilva as Nikita Khrushchev), presented a fairly accurate portrayal of what went on during those 13 days. Compared to the actual events, the film was remarkably accurate in portraying the intense pressure both Kennedy and Khrushchev were under.

Ten years ago I had the opportunity to speak with the son of a military aide to President Kennedy, a naval commander, who had briefed EXCOMM on the capabilities of the Soviet missiles that were being installed in Cuba. (He had obviously discussed the crisis in some detail with his deceased father.) His father related to him that the pressure from "hawks" to proceed with a full out air strike and invasion was intense. The chief proponent of this "immediate air strike" option was Air Force Chief-of-Staff General Curtis Lemay.

In the 1974 "Missiles of October" television film, there is a vivid scene in which JFK and General LeMay get into an intense verbal confrontation over how the Russians will respond if we proceed with an air attack on Cuba? In the film General LeMay responds to the President: "They'll do nothing!" Remembering this exchange from the television movie, I asked the son of Kennedy's naval aide how accurate this portrayal [of General LeMay] actually was? Paraphrasing slightly, he responded, somewhat emphatically: "It was damn accurate! Curtis LeMay wanted to wipe Russia off the face of the earth!"

I read a book - "One Minute to Midnight" by Michael Dobbs - which is a sobering account of how the crisis played out. There were a number of events which occurred during the crisis which could easily have spiraled out of control. An example: Kennedy had ordered all routine reconnaissance flights flying near the Soviet Union be [temporarily] suspended for the duration of the crisis. (Kennedy did not want to risk one of the planes getting off course and straying into Soviet air space panicking the Russians into believing an attack was underway.) Despite this direct order from the Commander-in-Chief, an air force reconnaissance plane experienced a "navigational error" which resulted in the plane flying directly over Soviet airspace for a brief period. When Kennedy was informed of this, he made his famous comment: "There's always some SOB that doesn't get the word." (Khrushchev and the Russians must have experienced a similar panic when they were informed that Major Rudolph Anderson's U-2 reconnaissance plane had been shot down over Cuba.)

Considering incidents like these and several others that occurred during the crisis, we were lucky. Both Kennedy (and Khrushchev) remained calm and under control despite the incredible pressure both men were under. I shudder to think where we would be if something like the Cuban Missile Crisis happened today with Trump in charge

I have ordered a copy of Mason's "The History of the World from a Gambler's Perspective" book. As soon as I receive it, I'm going straight to the chapter on the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Hi DJ:'

I remember watching the show "Missiles of October" on PBS a number of years after 1974. I guess it was a rerun but if it's still around somewhere it's certainly worth watching.

The chapter on the Cuban Missile Crisis is in the poker section of the book. I think you'll find our analysis of it a little different than what you usually read since we take into account the poker concept of "the threat of future bets." Hope you enjoy it and if you have any questions, discussion, or disagreement, I'll be following this thread.

Best wishes,
Mason
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Old Today, 12:57 AM   #27
Former DJ
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Re: Cuban Missile Crisis 1962

I have read Mason and Antonio’s excellent “poker analysis” of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Before I give my opinion on their analysis, I wish to add a bit of context. (Warning: When I say “a bit of context” that usually means 10-15 paragraphs, but hey, that’s just me.)

Most of the “youngs” here on 2+2 weren’t alive in 1962. This crisis, this ”high noon” showdown, occurred at the height of what historians call the Cold War, a struggle waged between the United States and the Soviet Union. Despite the fact that the United States and Russia had been allies against Hitler and Germany during World War II, starting in the late 1940’s strong political and ideological differences between our two countries intensified. Militarily, the United States was superior to the Soviet Union – especially in terms of “strategic” (i.e. nuclear) weapons – but the threat of ideological and political differences erupting into a shooting war constantly percolated just beneath the surface. (The fear that a nuclear war might break out at any moment was constantly reinforced by “duck and cover” drills in schools. It sounds crazy now, but school children were actually instructed to get under their desks if they heard civil defense sirens going off. Fallout shelters, usually below ground in big cities, were common.)

Among the political class and our business and religious leaders, the fear that those “Godless” communists were out to take over the world and enslave us – that fear was palpable. In the 1950’s and in to the 1960’s, much of our military and foreign policy was designed to “contain” Russia’s expansion into other parts of the world – to limit the spread of Marxist-Leninist philosophy to other nations - especially free and “democratic” nations. There was a belief that if we didn’t stand up and defend these countries against Soviet aggression, eventually we might be the only “free” country still standing. This belief, that if the United States failed to defend a small country against communist aggression, (and that small country fell to the Russians), propelled the fear and conviction that many other small countries would also fall. This belief, that small democratic countries must be defended, was a key tenet of American foreign policy.

This belief came to be known as the Domino Theory. It was this “Domino Theory” that got us involved in Vietnam and Korea. In his inaugural address in January 1961, (paraphrasing slightly), President Kennedy said: "Let every country know, whether friend or foe, we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and success of liberty." That was the collective mind set prior to October 1962 – the Russians were the big bad bullies trying to spread Marxist-Leninist philosophy all around the world - and we were not going to allow it.

So how did Cuba become such a bone of contention between our two countries? In 1959 Fidel Castro and his band of revolutionaries swept down from the Sierra Maestra mountains, marched in to Havana and took over the country – after General Batista fled on a plane loaded with gold bars. (These events are depicted in one of the “Godfather” movies.) It didn’t take long for Castro and Nikita Khrushchev to become fast friends – especially after Khrushchev pledged economic support to Castro’s fledgling government. This development did not sit well with President Eisenhower. Before he left office, Eisenhower directed CIA boss Allen Dulles to come up with a plan to depose Castro – by force if necessary. The plan the CIA hatched was to use an army of Cuban exiles, storm a Cuban beach, and make it appear as if a popular uprising against Castro was underway. The Cuban people were supposed to realize they were being “liberated” and join in the effort to run Castro back into the mountains. Kennedy is sworn in to office right about the time the plan to invade Cuba is coming to fruition. Assured by Mr. Dulles that all will go well and Castro will be a goner, Kennedy approves the CIA plan. What follows is the calamity known as The Bay of Pigs.

Kennedy had hoped this invasion would appear [to the world] as a spontaneous counterrevolution by the Cuban people against a mad man – and that the United States was not directly involved. However, when U.S. insignia on some of the planes used by the invasion force were photographed and quickly reported, that put the lie to the fiction that this was a “popular uprising” and the United States was not directly involved.

Castro rushed to the Bay of Pigs to lead his troops in their defense against the invading hordes. As it became obvious that the operation was not going as planned, folks at the CIA, the State Department and the Department of Defense pleaded with Kennedy to send in air strikes and help the exiles who were trapped on the beach and being captured by Castro’s forces. President Kennedy, apparently angered and embittered out of a sense that he had been misled by the CIA, refused to authorize further military action. The result was a victory for Fidel Castro and a humiliating defeat for President Kennedy. (Kennedy probably feared the loss of American lives if he authorized further action and the invasion failed. Politically, that would have been an even greater disaster.) In the aftermath of the Bay of Pigs, Kennedy was subjected to great criticism – especially from Republicans. There were charges that Kennedy was “young and inexperienced” and not up to the job. The Bay of Pigs was both a military and a political disaster for the young President.

The view from the Kremlin was similar. Chairman Khrushchev observed that President Kennedy was the same age as his son. Khrushchev pointed out to his comrades in the Presidium that Kennedy was rash enough to order an invasion, but when the going got tough, he didn’t have the stomach to follow through. Khrushchev told his colleagues that Kennedy was inexperienced and weak, implying that the United States could be pushed around. After the Bay of Pigs, Khrushchev was quick to assure Castro that Russia would defend his country from the “Colossus of the North” meaning the United States. That defense would include weapons.

A summit meeting had been scheduled between Kennedy and Khrushchev in Vienna. Believing he had taken the measure of the man and found him lacking, Khrushchev – in his usual boisterous manner – berated Kennedy. Kennedy, for his part, was shaken and angered by the encounter. He had hoped to achieve a dialogue with the Russian leader. What he got instead was a tongue lashing which further contributed to the view back home that our new President was in over his head. Thus was set the stage for what was to follow …

Given the stark differences in ideology and the competing views as to how the world should be led, it was inevitable that – sooner or later - something like the Cuban Missile Crisis would occur. There were some within the American Government - referred to as “hawks”- who thought a war between the United States and Russia was inevitable. Sooner or later the cold war would turn hot. Air Force Chief-of-Staff General Curtis Lemay made no secret of his view that we would be at war with the Russians sooner or later so we might as well destroy them now – while we still had an overwhelming strategic advantage. (In the early 1960’s the CIA, based on U-2 over flights of the Soviet Union and other intelligence sources, believed the USSR had less than 100 missiles that might be capable of reaching the United States. The United States, by comparison, had thousands of deliverable nuclear warheads.)

Looking at the situation in poker terms, Khrushchev can’t be faulted for making the decision to place nuclear missiles in Cuba. After all, his Kremlin colleagues agreed with him that Cuba (and Castro) had to be defended. The Americans had already invaded Cuba once – at the Bay of Pigs. If we sit by and do nothing, what’s to stop the Americans from trying again? If the missiles had become operational before they were discovered, it would have been a big plus EV move for Khrushchev. As Khrushchev pointed out to his colleagues, “Kennedy may not like the smell [of our missiles in Cuba] but he’ll get used to them.” That's what Khrushchev was hoping, that by the time Kennedy and the Americans figured out what was going on, it would be too late. Kennedy would be presented with a fait accompli – and another propaganda victory for the Soviet Union.

Once Kennedy was confronted with the evidence of the missiles, it was pretty much as Mason describes. This was a bet that had to be called. Once Khrushchev realized that his bet had been called, the pressure ratcheted up immensely. Khrushchev’s gamble – that the missiles would not be discovered before they became operational and Kennedy would not call his bet if they were discovered – was suddenly turning into a big problem. The pressure on Kennedy was just as intense. He had “wise men” – older experienced men like Dean Acheson - telling him that an immediate air strike on Cuba to take out the missiles was fully justified. Over in Moscow, Khrushchev had his own problems with his more hawkish comrades. They were arguing that Russia could not back down. Amidst this pressure, on both sides, there was a clear realization that raising the ante – the fear of future bets – could result in a monumental disaster.

Kennedy was under political pressure too. He knew if he was seen (or perceived) as having “backed down” to Khrushchev (yet again) allowing the missiles to become operational; the political consequences would have been dire. (After the crisis was over, Kennedy told his brother: “If I had not acted, I would have been impeached.”)

In the end, Kennedy was the one who held the pocket Aces. America’s overwhelming nuclear superiority meant that Khrushchev really had no option. If Khrushchev ordered the ships to run the blockade, that would have been another bet. Kennedy knew stopping (or sinking) a Russian ship would be a further escalation. “What if we sink a Russian ship? What do the Russians do then? If they move on Berlin, then what?” (It was at this point during the EXCOMM discussions that Marine Corps General David Shoup said to President Kennedy: “You’re in a tight spot Mr. President” to which Kennedy quickly shot back: “You’re in it with me.”) The fear of future bets – that this thing could quickly escalate out of control – was palpable.

In the end, Nikita Khrushchev realized that he couldn’t make another bet. If he did so and it went all the way to a showdown, he knew the end result - the United States would suffer some casualties while his country, the Soviet Union, would be utterly destroyed. Both men – Kennedy and Khrushchev – realized that war, especially a nuclear war, is too important to leave to the Generals.

Winners and Losers

Historians, especially Western historians, tend to portray John Fitzgerald Kennedy as the big winner of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Russian leader Nikita Khrushchev is portrayed as the big loser. On a superficial level that is certainly the case as Kennedy’s stature grew after the crisis – especially in the United States and among our allies. Had he lived, Kennedy would surely have been re-elected to a second term in no small part due to the outcome of those thirteen days in October. Nikita Khrushchev did not fare so well. Inside the Soviet Union, and especially in the ruling Politburo, the outcome of the crisis was viewed as a humiliation and a deep setback for the Soviet Union. Leonid Brezhnev, who would rise to become General Secretary of the USSR, engineered a bloodless “coup” against Khrushchev. In exchange for agreeing to step down, Comrade Khrushchev was given a small pension and exiled to his dacha. Khrushchev remained in isolation and virtual house arrest until his death in 1971. When asked about his grandfather, Khrushchev’s grandson reportedly said of his grandfather: “He cries a lot.”

The crisis accelerated the arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union. After the crisis, a Russian diplomat was overheard saying to his American counterpart: “Never! Never again will this happen!” meaning that the USSR will not be at a strategic disadvantage in any future confrontation with the United States. That was a promise the Russians kept. By 1970, the Soviet Union had achieved rough strategic parity with the United States. Ever since, to this day, both nations maintain enough nuclear weapons to destroy the planet many times over.

Interestingly, Fidel Castro, the Cuban revolutionary who was willing to sacrifice his island nation for the advancement and glory of socialism – was a big winner. As Mason and Antonio note, as part of the deal struck between Kennedy and Khrushchev, the United States pledged never again to invade Cuba or try to remove Castro and his government by force. Fidel Castro, and later his brother Raul - after Fidel died - remained in power. To this day, Cuba continues to be a communist country a mere 90 miles off our shore. Cuban exiles living in Miami remain bitter over the continued enslavement of their country.

I recall taking a course in college where my professor let us all know that he had lived in Cuba before the revolution. One day after class, I mentioned to him that I had been reading a book about Cuba and the revolution. I was going to ask him if it was really true that General Batista was as corrupt as the book portrayed and if it was also true that the American mafia ran the casinos in Havana? Before I could get to any of this he put his hand on my shoulder and said to me: “Fidel will stab you in the back!” I knew at that point not to ask about General Batista. (Three of the burglars caught inside Democratic National Committee headquarters on the night of June 17, 1972 were Cuban exiles [from Miami] who had fought in the Bay of Pigs invasion. Their apparent motivation in participating in the burglary was a hope that what they were doing might one day result in a “free” Cuba to which they could return. We all know what Watergate produced: The resignation [in disgrace] of Richard Nixon.)

The biggest “winner” from this crisis was not JFK or Fidel Castro or any one individual. The biggest winner was all of us – humanity. If Kennedy and Khrushchev had not been acutely aware of the threat of bigger bets – the fear of the consequences if this spiraled out of control – many of us might not be here today. If the balloon had gone up, if there had been a “full retaliatory response,” millions would have died. Some of those millions could have included your mother and father. In the end Kennedy and Khrushchev both realized this was a hand that could not go to showdown.

I want to thank Mason and Antonio for writing this book – and especially their brief chapter on the Cuban Missile Crisis. I just got my copy of the book today. I’ll be spending the rest of the weekend reading all the other chapters. A book like this is long overdue. I’ll be recommending this book to all my friends.
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