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Cuban missile crisis beliefs endure after 50 years
CONVENTIONAL WISDOM: It was a high-seas showdown.
REALITY: It’s true the missile crisis was full of tense moments. On Oct. 27, a U.S. warship dropped depth charges over a nuclear-armed Soviet sub, and the Soviets shot down a U-2 spy plane over Cuba.
It was “the darkest, most dangerous day of the crisis,” Mr. Kornbluh said.
Yet after Kennedy on Oct. 22 announced a U.S. naval quarantine around the island to prevent more military equipment from arriving, Khrushchev recalled ships carrying nuclear equipment the following day, according to the 2008 book “One Minute to Midnight” by Michael Dobbs, which was based on newly examined Soviet documents.
That means that on Oct. 24, when Rusk made his “eyeball-to-eyeball” statement reacting to supposedly up-to-the-minute intelligence, the vessels already were hundreds of miles away, steaming home.
“This thing about ‘eyeball-to-eyeball,’ it never was. That confrontation never took place,” said Mr. Kornbluh, who is a Cuba analyst at the nongovernment National Security Archive, which has spent decades working to get missile-crisis documents declassified.
CONVENTIONAL WISDOM: It was an intelligence coup for the CIA.
The agency also was unaware of other, tactical nuclear missiles in Cuba that could have been deployed against a U.S. attack. The Soviets even had positioned nuclear-tipped missiles on a ridge above the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay in preparation for an invasion.
“They were going to obliterate the base,” Mr. Kornbluh said.
CONVENTIONAL WISDOM: The crisis lasted just 13 days.
REALITY: This myth has been perpetuated in part by the title of Robert F. Kennedy’s posthumous memoir, “Thirteen Days,” as well as the 2000 movie of the same name starring Kevin Costner.
Indeed, it was 13 days from Oct. 16, when Kennedy was first told about the missiles, to Oct. 28, when the Soviets announced their withdrawal.
But the “October Crisis,” as it is known in Cuba, dragged on for another tense month or so in what Mr. Kornbluh dubs the “November Extension,” as Washington and Moscow haggled over details of exactly what weapons would be removed.
By John R. Bolton
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