Jim Douglass: Kennedy and Krushchev Ally Against Their Own Militaries (Part 4)

The most important book for any American to read is JFK and the Unspeakable: Who Killed Him and Why it Matters by James D. Douglass.

Douglass’ investigation into the secret papers finally released during the Clinton era begin to uncover a deadly “family pattern” of behavior in the highest levels of political power. Now, Douglass has written an important article for Tikkun magazine that looks at how the pattern is being repeated again between President Obama, Gen. Petraeus, and Afghanistan.

Below is Part 4: Kennedy and Krushchev Ally Against Their Own Militaries

In the Cuban Missile Crisis, President Kennedy had to confront the unspeakable in the form of total nuclear war. At the height of the terrifying conflict that his own anti-Castro policies had helped precipitate, he felt the situation spiraling out of control, especially because of pressures and provocations by the Pentagon led by General Curtis LeMay. At a moment when the world was falling into darkness, Kennedy did what his generals thought was unforgivable: he not only rejected their pressures for attacking Cuba and the Soviet Union, but even worse, the president also reached out to the enemy for help. That could be considered treason.

Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev saw it as hope. Robert Kennedy had met secretly with Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin in Washington, warning that the president was losing control to his generals and needed the Soviets’ help. When Khrushchev received Kennedy’s plea for help in Moscow, he turned to his foreign minister, Andrei Gromyko, and said, “We have to let Kennedy know that we want to help him.”

Khrushchev hesitated when he heard himself say “help.” Just when the U.S. president seemed to be at his wit’s end, did he, Khrushchev, really want to help his enemy? Yes, he did. He repeated the word “help” to his foreign minister: “Yes, help. We now have a common cause, to save the world from those pushing us toward war.”

How can we understand that moment? The two most heavily armed leaders in history, on the verge of total nuclear war, suddenly joined hands against those on both sides pressuring them to attack. Khrushchev ordered the immediate withdrawal of his missiles, in return for Kennedy’s public pledge never to invade Cuba and his secret promise to withdraw U.S. missiles from Turkey — as he would in fact do. The two Cold War enemies had turned, so that each now had more in common with his opponent than either had with his own generals.

Neither John Kennedy nor Nikita Khrushchev was a saint. Each was deeply complicit in policies that brought humankind to the brink of nuclear war. Yet, when they encountered the void, they turned to each other for help. In doing so, they turned humanity toward the hope of a peaceful planet.

Kennedy kept walking in that direction, as did Khrushchev.

JFK gave his greatest speech on June 10, 1963, at American University. In it he envisioned an end to the Cold War, saying he was stopping atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons and “we will not be the first to resume.” He said he wanted to negotiate a test ban treaty with the Soviets as soon as possible in Moscow (a less hostile context for negotiations with the enemy than the president’s own Washington). His long-range goal, he said, was “general and complete disarmament — designed to take place by stages, permitting parallel political developments to build the new institutions of peace which would take the place of arms.”

Khrushchev responded in the same spirit. In an astonishing six weeks, the two leaders agreed to the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. Kennedy said, however, that getting Senate ratification would be “almost in the nature of a miracle.” The president convened peace activists, business leaders, women’s magazine editors, union activists, scientists, and religious leaders in a White House council to organize massive citizen support for the treaty. Their grassroots campaign turned public opinion around. The Senate passed the Test Ban Treaty by a large majority in September 1963.–James Douglass, from JFK, Obama, and the Unspeakable

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