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One Hell of a Gamble: Khrushchev, Castro, and Kennedy, 1958-1964: The Secret History of the Cuban Missile Crisis Paperback – August 17, 1998
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The Berlin Wall has been rubble for a decade and the memories of the cold war are growing dim. And yet no one is ever likely to forget the Cuban Missile crisis of October 1962, when the world stood on the brink of full-scale nuclear war as the Soviet Union and America locked horns off the coast of Florida. The Soviet navy set sail for Cuba loaded with nuclear warheads for their newly constructed missile bases, precipitating the crisis. After 10 days of high tension, the Soviet Union backed down and the warheads were sent back home. War was averted, but up until now, no one has ever been too certain just how close the world came to catastrophe. Kennedy was assassinated long before he could write his memoirs, Castro's lips are sealed, and the Soviet archives were a closed book.
Aleksandr Fursenko and Timothy Naftali have taken advantage of recent unrestricted access to Soviet records and performed painstaking detective work to fill the gaps in the historical record. Some of the tension of the narrative is lost, because we know the outcome; even so, they give penetrating insights as they reconstruct the drama step by step. We learn that the Kremlin did seriously consider launching a nuclear attack on the U.S.: the appropriate orders were discussed and Khrushchev spent the night of October 22 in his office so he could be on hand to cable his authorization. Some of the most interesting facts to emerge, however, are those concerning John F. Kennedy and his brother Robert. JFK had always previously been portrayed as something of a parochial gung-ho type, but this, it emerges, was merely a public persona designed to appease the Pentagon hawks. At the same time JFK was talking about a Cuban invasion, he and his brother were engaging in a more secret policy of appeasement through the Soviet ambassador. Fortunately for all of us, diplomacy won the day. In recent years, JFK has been somewhat discredited as a leader for his unpleasant sexual carryings-on and corruption. It may just be that this view is as incomplete as his portrayal as the saintly "King of Camelot". If so, One Hell of a Gamble could be the first stage in his partial rehabilitation. --John Crace, Amazon.co.uk
From Library Journal
Those of a certain age well remember the fateful days in the fall of 1962 when the world stood on the brink of nuclear catastrophe. Since that time, scholars have struggled to discern how the United States and the Soviet Union could have come so close to disaster. Graham Allison's Essence of Decision (1971) set the standard for these queries, but his work has now been vastly improved upon by the investigations of Fursenko (history, Russian Academy of Sciences) and Naftali (history, Yale). Taking advantage of the opening of heretofore closed Soviet archives, the authors have produced a breathtaking view of the inner workings of the Soviet Politburo and its efforts to come to grips with a potentially disastrous international incident. Seldom have scholars plumbed the depths of Soviet-American relations as deeply or as effectively. The resulting tale proves once again that truth can indeed be stranger than fiction. This important work belongs in all libraries. Highly recommended.
-?Edward Goedeken, Iowa State Univ. Lib., Ames
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
Fursenko and Naftali have done an admirable and thorough job detailing the rise of Castro and Cuban-American-Soviet relations during that period. It was overdue, since classics such as Graham Allison's Essence of Decision did not have the benefit of access to Soviet archives. The one criticism I have is that the authors almost overwhelm you with facts at the expense of interpretation. I didn't, for example, get a good sense of exactly why Fidel threw his lot in with the Soviets back in '60 when it was clear Moscow intended to keep Cuba going as a sugar colony--only at less than world prices!
JFK, and Attorney General Kennedy, have always gotten well deserved great marks for the handling of the crisis, but the book shows us some errors on the U.S. side, as well as the Soviet side, in the run up towards crisis. For those looking for cheerleading this is not the book for you. The authors points to a conversation between JFK and Khrushchev son in law Aleksei Adzhubei that likely set off alarm bells in the Kremlin: JFK, in a record of the conversation in Kremlin archives, told Adzhubei a story.
"Kennedy: 'At the time I called Allen Dulles into my office and dressed him down. I told him: you should learn from the Russians. When they had difficulties in Hungary, they liquidated the conflict in three days. When they did not like things in Finland, the president of that country goes to visit the Soviet premier in Siberia and all is worked out. But you, Dulles, have never been capable of doing that.' ”
Giving the Soviets the idea that Cuba might be comparable to Hungary, and subject to U.S. invasion on the basis of "sphere of influence" politics might not have been the best idea in a conversation designed to impart the thoughts of the U.S. President in a "backchannel" conversation.
"Despite his keen interest in foreign affairs, in the spring of 1962, John Kennedy had no idea of the dangerous shifts taking place in the Kremlin’s understanding of the balance of power. He would have been surprised to learn that Khrushchev was as pessimistic about the Soviet Union’s international position as he was about that of the United States."
Khrushchev made multiple errors of his own, including buying into the concept that the United States would not detect the Cuban missile build up until it was too late to act. The book covers the fact that even back then intelligence bureaucracies would tell the powers that be what they wanted to hear.
"The Soviet Union’s chief military representative in Cuba, Major General A. A. Dementyev, raised this issue with Rodion Malinovsky before the Presidium conditionally approved the Anadyr plan. “It will be impossible to hide these missiles from American U-2s,” Dementyev warned the Soviet defense minister. The comment provoked an angry response from Malinovsky. According to Alekseev, who was sitting nearby, the defense minister kicked Dementyev under the table to register his disapproval. The defense minister, perhaps like his patron Khrushchev, clung to the thesis that U.S. intelligence would not detect the missiles until it was too late to do anything about them."
The Soviets also had to deal with an unruly Fidel Castro, who had to be pacified, politically, in the run up to the crisis, and during the crisis itself. Those interactions are covered, in some detail, in the book. They are of great interest historically, and certainly lend a greater understanding of the events leading up to the crisis, and the pressures Khrushchev faced on his side.
The movement of the U.S. Jupiters based in Turkey were in fact an integral part of the solution. The book shows us the acceptance, by JFK, of the functional equivalence of the Cuban deployment with the U.S. deployment in Turkey. The wink and nod given to the Soviet government on the ultimate removal of the U.S. Jupiters is covered, as JFK covered his political flank by not making that trade-off explicit.
A great book that brings a fuller historical understanding and wider context to the Cuban Missile crisis. It brings us all the way to Dallas, and to the removal of Khrushchev after the assassination of JFK. If this era is of interest it comes highly recommended.
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