Andrew Cockburn, 9 September 2021
Kennedy was perfectly aware that nuclear missiles in Cuba posed no real threat to national security, even if they slightly narrowed America’s enormous lead in weapons capable of reaching the other’s homeland. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff had told him that a US nuclear attack would obliterate Soviet society but the inevitable retaliation might still kill as many as fifteen million Americans. War with the USSR was therefore out of the question. ‘What difference does it make?’ Kennedy said on 16 October 1962, the day he was presented with photographic evidence of the Cuban rockets. ‘They’ve got enough to blow us up anyway.’ But the presence of an enemy nuclear base in America’s backyard nonetheless threatened him with political disaster. He dealt with the problem by making a deal with Khrushchev, behind the backs of most of his senior advisers, to withdraw US missiles from Turkey in return for a similar Soviet withdrawal from Cuba. The deal remained buried in secrecy long after Kennedy was dead.