A historian looks at the crisis-related problems remaining on President John F. Kennedy’s desk in the immediate wake of the Cold War’s most dangerous moment.
Coleman (History/Univ. of Virginia; co-author, Real-World Nuclear Deterrence: The Making of International Strategy, 2006) reminds us that for Kennedy and his advisors, the crisis played out for months afterward, really until February 1963. Drawing heavily from the secret White House tapes, the author reconstructs the debates within the administration on at least three issues of greatest concern. First, notwithstanding Krushchev’s agreement to withdraw “the weapons you call offensive” from Cuba, serious questions remained as to what exactly he meant. Long-range nuclear weapons, of course, but did the Soviet premier intend to include bombers, Russian combat troops and short-range missiles? Moreover, with Cuba vetoing any ground inspections, how would the United States verify that the missiles were gone? Second, satisfying the American public on this score was part of what drove JFK’s determination to channel and control the story, and to counter the inevitable Republican charges of mismanagement of and responsibility for the possible intelligence failure the nuclear showdown exposed. Third, this effort exacerbated an ongoing battle with the press about the administration’s tight hold over information, needless restrictions, critics charged, that enabled the government to “manage the news” for its own political ends. Coleman treats Kennedy well, calling his authorization of warrantless wiretaps on journalists merely “dubious,” skipping lightly over the administration’s willingness to appease public concern by exposing intelligence collection capabilities, and generally approving of the president’s unwillingness to press Krushchev too far on Russian concessions.
A briskly charted tale of the neglected denouement of the defining event of JFK’s presidency.