CUBA:THE OMINOUS LEGACY
RALPH ALLEN’S REPORT ON HOW CRISIS WEEK CHANGED THE U.S.
WHATEVER MYTHS IT CREATED or dispelled, the last week of October — the week of the Cuban blockade, of the withdrawn missiles, the withheld invasion, the impressed button, the waiting mushroom cloud—brought home one forgotten truth.
The real command decisions
of this year do not rest alone with the two remote and lonely leaders in the White House and the Kremlin. They are governed equally by the mysterious force called public opinion, and in one of the two scats of power, the United States, public opinion has grown so hard and fixed that even a greatly admired president no longer leads it, but has chosen to follow.
The pretense that the president's handling of the ( uban crisis has been above and separate from United States domestic politics just does not stand up to scrutiny. Kennedy tried with all his heart and skill to keep Cuba out of the November elections. He was determined to avoid the take-it-or-leave-it ultimatum and the public confrontation that his political opponents anil much of the American press had been urging on him. But events put the task beyond him. A nation driven to black anger had been demanding for two months that he "do some-
thing" about Cuba and the president had been doggedly pursuing a policy of calm and moderation. But when he w-as presented with the evidence that the nation's fears and suspicions w-ere substantially warranted and the information he'd been getting was substantially wrong, he reacted wdth the swift, uncompromising firmness the nation had been demanding all along. He gave the Russians no chance to retrieve
their lies, the UN no time to vote on his country's action until it had been irretrievably taken.
The outcome was the best mid-term showing any presidential party had made since 1934. Kennedy’s youngest brother won a senatorship even more easily than had been expected. His most dangerous challenger for the White House in 1964, Richard Nixon, lost the race for governor in California and became politically extinct. Democrats won more seats than had been predicted in the House of Representatives and the Senate.
Were all these votes an endorsement of Kennedy’s sudden roughness, a warning and a mandate that from now' on his country will conduct its ow'n affairs and run its own risks in its own unilateral way? Were they an instinctive rebellion against the U.S.A.'s foreign alliances, a rejection of its commitments to NATO and the United Nations, a reluctant decision that collective security isn't working and it's time to bring out the marines again? The evidence is hard to ignore. A few' days before the war would have begun—if it had begun—a columnist for the New' York Post, ordinarily a liberal, leftist and antimilitarist paper, summed up the mood of the president's countrymen. "We, as a people, are exhausted," Murray Kempton wrote. "We have had it. We may even he ready to die to get the whole thing over with. We have been instructed in morals by Arabs, Indians and Ghanaians who shake us down whenever their incompetence gets their mortgages called, by sheiks w'ho own Cadillacs and slaves, by proprietors of police states w'ho arc reverent to Khrushchov because he owns property and who stuff their jails with Communists different from him only because they arc indigent. We have lost our judgment. If the Indians could only understand that part of us which is cheering Red China on tonight, they would, if they were not paranoid themselves, recognize paranoia when they see it."
I spent most of this desperate and nearly fatal autumn commuting among the five cities where the Western Hemisphere had been brought closest to its last demands, last hopes, last fears. I he cities w'ere Havana, Key West, Miami, New York and Washington. It s a bad confession for a supposedly experienced reporter to make, but the things I remember best from all five places are the trivial things, without any pattern to them. NEW YORK: In the square outside the United Nations girls in leotards and boys in beards were chanting:
One Two Three Four
We Don’t Want Another War
Five Six Seven Fight JFK Negotiate.
Inside, the affairs of the parliament of man went on. I he Russian delegate insulted the American delegate. The American delegate insulted the Russian delegate. The acting secretary-general came to the great chamber of the Security Council and explained once more that peace w'as preferable to war. The meeting adjourned. In the delegates’ lounge the brilliant robes and turbans swirled among the dark suits and pin-stripe ties and the three ladies on the microphones kept up their pleading: “Calling Mr. Szilagyi of Hungary. Mr. Szilagyi please report to the delegates’ lounge. Calling Mr. Akadiri ol Nigeria. Calling Mr. Ahoussi of the Ivory Coast.’’
HAVANA: One of the matters seldom understood about police states is that, quite often, they’re very badly run. If 1 were a spy or saboteur Cuba is the place I’d want to work in. For sheer clumsiness and naïveté their counterspies are among the w'orst in the world. 1 wo seconds after I entered my hotel room in Havana a littie militia girl in olive drill burst in behind the bellhop, stuck a gun in my ribs and said she wanted to search my luggage. She found nothing suspicious but spent the next five hours seated in the hallway between my room and the elevator, with the gun across her knees, watching my comings and goings. The last time 1 passed her. I saw she was getting tired. I thought of my own fifteen-year-old daughter and asked this faithful little sentry
"IF I WERE A SPY, CUBA IS WHERE I’D LIKE TO WORK”
why she didn't go home and get her proper sleep. I promised that I would not do a single thing to harm the republic during her absence. She shook her head sternly but by the time I came back up she w'as gone. So far as I know no one fol-
lowed me, but they had a weird listening device planted in my room that would not have deceived a child. It was a lime walnut radio with three receiving bands, none of which could be turned off. The sound could be reduced to a faint murmur but it could not be stopped. When I decided to pull the plug out 1 had to haul the bed away from the wall and then found the connection was permanently sealed with electric tape.
One day my interpreter took me to the top of the José Marti monument. This tall shrine is now closed to Cubans because the elevator, like so many other mechanical devices in Cuba, is on the verge of collapse. But tourists from outside — most of whom are automatically considered to be fellow travelers — are still admitted. We looked at the big command car Fidel Castro had ridden in from Oriente, the smaller car that carried his brother Raúl, and at the home-made cannon they'd used to help fight their way. As the elevator started up. the major who'd let me in shouted to a drowsing private, “Pedro! The elevator is going. Go. have a ride. This is your chance to see the view."
“I've seen it," Pedro said.
"No you haven't." the major assured him. "Go and see it with
Pedro unslung his gun and put down his cigar.
At the top we looked down on the lovely city: directly below, a Picasso dove was carved against the grass. Pedro looked at the dove and looked at his gun, which he'd been pointing aimlessly and to our mutual embarrassment in the general direction of my feet. "Fong live peace.'’ he said.
The next afternoon 1 dropped in for a frozen daiquiri at the famous drinking shop called Sloppy Joe's. This great cathedral of booze and tourism is one of the last survivors of the vanished times: photographs of American movie stars and boxers still lined the walls and glass display cases full of bottles towered to the ceiling like the arms of a
“ALL 3 GROUPS OF CUBAN REFUGEES INTEND TO FIGHT”
organ. One of the owners
came over to interrupt my inspection. "You've heen here before?” he asked. "No? Well, it's changed quite a bit.” He looked around to make sure no one was listening. “I'm not against these Socialists, mind you. They haven't done me much good, but maybe
they’ve been good for the country. The next time you come back" — he looked around again — “I guess this will be an ice-cream parlor." KEY WEST: This pleasant ramshackle island is closer to Cuba than any other settled place in the United States. It s an important submarine base and its naval airfield was jammed with supersonic fighter planes and fighter-bombers. The planes, some of them barely visible at speeds up to 1400 miles an hour, raced out day and night in ones, twos and threes across the green water of the Gulf of Mexico, feinting, practising, showing the llag, taking photographs for the strike mission eight minutes away.
One of the few people in Key West who didn't expect war was Pete Barton, a public relations man for the Florida Development Commission. The Key West Chamber of Commerce had phoned to say the talk had ruined the tourist business; Barton hurried down with Gloria Brodie, Miss Florida of 1962, and made her available for pictures and interviews against the missile launchers newly put in place on the Key West beaches. Gloria said as far as she could sec the danger of war was greatly exaggerated and the talk of over-crowding on the roads and in the motels was absolutely ridiculous.
MIAMI: The despair of the Cuban exiles was utter and universal. They’d built all their plans on a massive intervention by the United States, on a total military defeat of Fidel Castro. Nowsuddenly the Russian withdrawal and the American promise not to invade left them more homeless and hopeless than ever. But there is no sign that they intend to give up. I called on all three of the major Cuban refugee groups—the mainly political Revolutionary Council and the “activist," lct’s-shoot-it-out organizations, the Student Directorate and Alpha 66.
They all intend to fight and if they can. involve the rest of the world in the fighting. “Has the United States really agreed that the hundreds of thousands of Cubans who had to lice their country will not be given an honest effort to recover it?" This was a man from the relatively quiet Revolutionary Council. A girl from the Student Directorate and a young man from Alpha 66 were much more specific. "We’re planning more operations," the man from Alpha 66 said. WASHINGTON: Just before the president announced the blockade an official of the State Department spoke of the root of Mr. Kennedy's dilemma. “God.” he said, "if only he can act through the election. He's
a great man. But even a great man has trouble talking out of
both sides of his mouth. If he
says this isn't serious, Latin
America wonders what we're
worrying about. If he says it is serious, the Republicans ask why we’re not getting tougher."
Later, after Kennedy got as tough as possible, he stood on the
“KENNEDY 1$ NOW A MAN ON A HORSE. CAN HE CLIMB DOWN?”
porch of the White House, addressing a group of Brazilians and making his apologies for canceling a visit to their country. It was unbelievable that a man who’d just been through what he'd been through could smile as easily and look as healthy and relaxed as he did. “My wife and I will come and visit you some sunny day," he promised the Brazilians.
It was in Key West that they were telling the latest, labored antiKennedy joke. “Franklin Roosevelt proved anybody can be president forever. Truman proved anybody can be president. Eisenhower proved we don't need a president. Kennedy has proved it's dangerous to have a president."
For a long time, ever since the simple days ol Teddy Roosevelt and San Juan Hill, the American people have yearned for a man on a horse. He would bring them victory by storming one steep but straight incline. This time, quite clearly against his will, they put Kennedy on the horse. He seems to have made it to Havana, but what happens when the horse keeps charging, with or without the rider's consent, on to Berlin and the mountain passes of India and C hina? Is there any way for him to get off?
Kennedy never wanted to get on in the first place. The first of his two major speeches on Cuba, the one oí last September in which he said Cuba was not an offensive threat, was based in part on the apparently unalterable wrongness and worthlessness of the U. S. intelligence services. It was based on other convictions, too. Kennedy knew as well as any man in the world that the whole world had been staring down gun barrels ever since the Russians
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“You’ve got to get Castro out. It’s too late for talking now.”
duplicated the A-bomb. To risk the final war over a few small new weapons in Cuba made very little sense to him. But the president was surrounded by generals and statesmen and just plain voters who were bent on, in the words of Walter Eippmann, “not a settlement but a crusade."
Now the crusade had gathered strength. It's very hard for a Canadian to understand the depths of passion the tiny island of Cuba has aroused in the United States. Americans are not. ordinarily, good haters. They put Hirohito back on the throne of Japan. Until they went to war against them, they saw some good in Hitler and Mussolini. One of their presidents could say of Stalin, “I like old Joe.” Even George ill has gone down in their history books as at worst, a bumbling and ineffectual old fool. But Fidel Castro has earned a depth of enmity in the United States that Hirohito, Hitler. Mussolini. Stalin and George III could never match among them.
Before Castro the United States was, unquestionably, in control of Cuba. Someone called it an American footstool and someone else called it an American brothel. The United States supported its “bad” dictators — Machado and Batista — and then helped the “good” dictator Castro to come in and introduce democracy. The Americans allowed Castro to run arms in from Florida, and when he’d scared Batista out they bought all his sugar at bonus prices. He responded to these good offers by seizing everything the Americans owned, announcing himself a Communist and denouncing, through the First and Second Havana Declarations, everything the U.S.A. had ever done in Latin America. He so infuriated them that they launched and lost the Bay of Pigs invasion in April, 1961. one of the most humiliating enterprises in their country's history. They've never forgiven him or themselves.
Ever since then Castro's downfall has been one of the chief imperatives of United States political and military policy. It’s too early to say whether it's either going to succeed or going to be abandoned, but it certainly hasn't been forgotten and it’s ques-
tionable whether, even with his great and growing prestige, John F. Kennedy will be able to leave it indefinitely in the file of unfinished business. To millions of Americans Cuba remains a bitter affront to their national dignity and a real and present danger to the two continents they've proclaimed. through the Monroe Doctrine as indispensable to their security.
Along with the great wave of relief that swept across the U.S.A. when Khrushchov agreed to take his missiles out, there was still a sense of frustration, a suspicion that the country had settled for far too little. “The president did real well." a housewife in Marathon, the Florida Keys, had decided. “But he could have done better. He’s too trusting. Castro and the Russians will still try to trick him.”
In Key West, two hours after Khrushchov had made his seeming surrender, a section of U. S. artillerymen were on the way to mass at the Star of the Sea church. It was the first time in more than a w'eek they’d been further from their billets than the machine gun pits and anti-aircraft rockets they’d dug into the Atlantic beaches.
“I don’t think we’ve won a thing." one of the young soldiers said. “They let us go to church today and that’s always good But nothing’s settled at all.”
Another young artilleryman said: “Maybe this isn’t even the place. You keep hearing about Berlin and India. We’ll have to take a stand there too.”
“The only mistake,” a retired marine said, “w'as not going all the w'ay in. That’s how we handled Pancho Villa, just u'ent in and took care of him. This Castro’s the same; you’ve got to go in and get him out. It’s too late for talking any more. The way to handle the Communists is go in and get them out.”
A great number of Americans were in the same mood last October. Their victory — the backdown, the showdown, call it what you will — still left Castro on their doorstep and they won’t be satisfied until he’s gone. Many of them are seized with the notion that all the president has to do now', anywhere in the w'orld, is stanil up to the Communists and they’ll cave in. Time may soon prove that this growing American conviction that negotiation is a waste of time is the greatest of all dangers John F. Kennedy will have to face, not only in Cuba, hut in Berlin and Asia and all the other pressure points where deadly struggles still lie waiting. ★