Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

July 5, 2005

Max Frankel And The Cuban Missile Crisis

Filed under: cuba,swans — louisproyect @ 2:24 pm

Swans Commentary » swans.com July 4, 2005

Who Needs Cold War Falsification?
Max Frankel And The Cuban Missile Crisis

by Louis Proyect

Book Review

Frankel, Max: High Noon in the Cold War: Kennedy, Khrushchev and the Cuban Missile Crisis, Random House, New York, 2004, ISBN 0-345-46505-9, 206 pages, $23.95

(Swans – July 4, 2005) In October of 1962, the United States and the Soviet Union appeared ready to fight World War Three over nuclear missiles in Cuba. Max Frankel, who was the Washington correspondent for the New York Times in 1962, provides some new insights about the role of the press in the crisis in an otherwise conventional interpretation. From his perspective, the Kennedy White House adroitness kept the world from being incinerated. The confrontation is a chess game that Kennedy wins through the sacrificing of a pawn: nuclear missiles in Turkey. Practically gloating, Frankel reveals that the missiles in Turkey were considered nearly obsolete in 1962. The bumbling Soviet leader had sacrificed a queen to gain a pawn.

For this analysis to make sense, the USSR must be seen as an interloper in the Western Hemisphere challenging the Monroe Doctrine and the “free world.” Cuba simply becomes a stepping stone to future Soviet ambitions. The idea of deploying missiles in Cuba comes to Khrushchev out of the blue:

Once he acquired dictatorial power in the mid-1950s, Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev proved to be an adventurous leader trying to rush his people out of a Stalinist hell toward a brighter future. As he remembered years later, dictating his memoir, the idea of sending his missiles to Cuba just popped into his head one day in April 1962, while he strolled on the banks of the Black Sea with his minister of defense, Marshal Rodion Malinovsky, a comrade since the great World War II battle of Stalingrad. The bulldog-faced marshal was growling again about the American Jupiter missiles aimed at Soviet bases from neighboring Turkey, just across the water. Well then, Khrushchev wondered, why couldn’t they do the same to the Americans — from Cuba? After sitting so long, so smugly behind their ocean moats, Americans should finally share the anxiety of living in the thermonuclear shadows that hung over all Europeans. (1)

For this portrait of Khrushchev as risk-taking global conspirator to work, Fidel Castro and the Cuban revolution must become incidental to the showdown. Cuba becomes an outpost of Soviet expansionism rather than a country with legitimate fears over another Bay of Pigs. Worries about United States power are dismissed by Frankel:

All the anti-Castro exertions have never been fully documented. The best records deal with “Operation Mongoose,” a plan hatched by a guerrilla fighter of mixed reputation, Brigadier General Edward Lansdale, a Kennedy favorite for a time. His plan envisioned widespread sabotage and the infiltration of agents and guerrilla fighters to inspire a rebellion that could become the pretext for American military intervention by October 1962. But the CIA and Pentagon dragged their feet; the plan produced a few pinpricks that only stiffened Castro’s defenses and buttressed his requests for more Soviet arms. (2)

Veteran New York Times reporter Tad Szulc’s view of this period is distinctly at odds with Frankel’s. In his biography of Fidel Castro titled Fidel, Szulc states that “things could have not been worse” for Castro in the spring of 1962. Armed rightist bands were active in the Oriente and Escambray mountains. Cuban casualties in the Escambray alone were nearly three times as great as at the Bay of Pigs. Economic losses were calculated around $1 billion in ruined crops, burned houses, and blown up rail lines, roads and bridges. (3) This is a rather sizable pinprick.

full: http://www.swans.com/library/art11/lproy26.html

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