The Cuban Missile Crisis at 55 As Remembered by a Marine in the Blockade

The other day I ran across this article that reprinted by the “History News Network“, and having lived through the Cuban Blockade as a member of the 6th Marines aboard the USS Boxer I had to respond, which in return brought a response from Mariano Torrespico, to which I to rebut.

“James G. Blight and Janet M. Lang are the authors of six previous books on the Cuban missile crisis. Their new book, “Dark Beyond Darkness: The Cuban Missile Crisis as History, Warning and Catalyst” will be published in December 2017. They teach at the University of Waterloo.”

Picture this image in your mind’s eye: a thumb and forefinger brought so near to each other that they almost, but don’t quite, touch. As the thumb and forefinger nearly touch, a voice says, “We came that close to nuclear war in the Cuban missile crisis.”

In January 1992, top-level decision-makers of the Cuban missile crisis—former Cuban leader Fidel Castro and former US defense secretary Robert McNamara—used this image to convey how close the world had been to nuclear annihilation on October 26-27, 1962. As they spoke, the pupils in their eyes dilated, their voices cracked, heavy with barely managed emotion. That was their remembered reality of that moment: a world on the brink of Armageddon. Both would go to their graves haunted by what they learned from each other in the 1992 conference on the crisis that we organized in Havana, almost 30 years after the most dangerous moment in recorded history.

Are we being hyperbolic? Were they? We don’t think so. In the case of the Cuban missile crisis, what could in many other contexts be brushed aside as hyperbole is often just unvarnished fact. Consider what McNamara and Castro learned in the course of those epochal exchanges at the 1992 Havana conference.

McNamara had already believed in October 1962 that the crisis was dangerous. In military affairs, McNamara was President John F. Kennedy’s designated principal worrier. He worried about a panicky Russian second lieutenant who might launch a nuke at the United States without authorization. He worried about a Russian move against West Berlin. In these instances, a nuclear response would be required, and after that, probable escalation to all-out nuclear war. Subsequent research by us and by others has shown that he was right to worry about all these possibilities.

But what he learned in January 1992, 30 years later, was far more horrifying to him. He learned that the Russians on the island were ready and willing to nuke any invading US force with tactical nuclear weapons—something McNamara had never dreamed was possible. He also learned later that the Russians were ready and willing, with Cuban logistical assistance, to strike the US base at Guantánamo Bay with tactical nukes that, by October 27, had been moved into battle positions in eastern Cuba—another eventuality that had never appeared on his scope. If either of these scenarios had materialized, a nuclear US counterattack would have followed immediately, killing millions of Cubans and thousands of Russians on the island. Cuba would have been destroyed. And that would have been only the beginning—of the end of the world, as we know it. Again: fact, not hyperbole. Essentially, McNamara learned that he was monumentally wrong about the basic assumptions on which any US attack on Cuba would have been based. …

My first response:

I was a with the 6th Marine Regiment, a B.A.R. Man, aboard the USS Boxer, a helicopter landing platform (HPL), sailing around Cat Island during the Cuban Blockade. The W44 was a tactical nuke of the time which could fit in a 155mm howitzer, and had the explosive power of 72 tons of TNT, 32 2,000 pound bombs. Yes, they could have taken out Gitmo, but then the Phantom Jets in Homestead would have taken out the artillery as the 2nd Marine Division would have invaded both by sea and the air. The helicopter would have carried the 6th Marine far inland, and we would have fought our way back to the main forces coming from the sea. This maneuver was called an envelopment, and we practiced it the whole time I was in the 2nd Division. We would not have had to use nuclear weapons to take Cuba and loved doing it.

To which Mariano Torrespico had this to say:

Fortunately, you people did not have to re-take Cuba, a land that was not and is not yours; fortunately, you people did not have to re-enslave the “non-white nation” of the Cubans, because they fight back (like the Viet Cong); fortunately, Men were in charge, and they decided not to End the World over hillbilly racism. Fortunately, the Russians spared your life and those of us alive at that time, because their leaders were combat veterans, and not frat-boy fakes.

Which of course racked up my ire invoking this response:

Si vis pacem, para bellum, to each of your points in order given:

“Fortunately, you people did not have to re-take Cuba”

America has never taken Cuba to have to re-take it. Cuba was taken by the Spanish. The Spanish-American War in 1898, which lasted only a few months, and when it was over Spain signed a peace treaty giving the United States control of Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippine Islands, and Guam. Cuba, however, became an independent country rather than a U.S. territory. Earlier in the 1800s there was the Filibuster Movement which was attempts to take over Cuba, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Mexico from 1830 to 1860. Famous filibusters were larger than life characters such as Narciso Lopez, a Venezuelan-born soldier who, aided by sympathetic Southern money, liberated Venezuela from Spanish rule. He then attempted three times to free Cuba.…

“…you people did not have to re-enslave the ‘non-white nation’ of the Cubans, because they fight back (like the Viet Cong)”

The Cuba’s people are of a mixed race, not a “non-white nation”, the Spanish took the island and the first three centuries after the conquest, the island remained a neglected stopping point for the Spanish fleet, which visited the New World and returned to Spain with the mineral wealth of continental America. It was the growth of the U.S. as an independent nation, and the collapse of Haiti as a sugar-producing colony, Spanish protective policies, and the ingenuity of Cuba’s Creole business class all converged to produce a sugar revolution on the island. In a scant few years, Cuba was transformed from a sleepy, unimportant island into the major sugar producer in the world. Slaves arrived in increasing numbers; large estates squeezed out smaller ones; sugar supplanted tobacco, agriculture, and cattle as the main occupation; prosperity replaced poverty; and Spain’s attention replaced neglect. These factors, especially the latter two, delayed a move toward independence in the early nineteenth century. While most of Latin America was breaking with Spain, Cuba remained loyal.


For the other half of that sentence, “they fight back (like the Viet Cong)”:

America did not lose the Vietnam War on the ground in Vietnam, it was lost on the streets of America and the Halls of Congress. It was the Russian sponsored Peace Movement and the Liberal Press that led to our leaving the South Vietnamese to the purge that the Communists exacted upon them, not the fighting powers of the Viet Cong. They, the Vietcong, were pretty much destroyed after the 1968 Tet Offensive. Militarily, Tet was an utter failure. Upwards of 30,000 VC were killed or captured and their units destroyed. The NVA lost approx. another 20,000 men, however, they could replenish much, much faster then the VC. After Tet, the NVA became the primary enemy in South Vietnam and Laos. They controlled the Ho Chi Min trail and took politcal and military control for the rest of the war. The remaining VC became more delighted to support and intelligence operations than anything else. Some have pointed out that this destruction was done on purpose, as they knew they did not stand a chance against the Americas, to remove them as a political force after the war was over.

“…fortunately, Men were in charge, and they decided not to End the World over hillbilly racism. Fortunately, the Russians spared your life and those of us alive at that time, because their leaders were combat veterans, and not frat-boy fakes.”

We were not “frat-boy fakes” we were highly trained Marines, the Marines are the point of the spear; the Army  and other seraves are its shaft. The spear does not decide where it is thrown, but once released will do the destruction it is trained to do. However, both the Korean War, the Cubin Blockade, the Vietnam War did have this in common, and it was not to re-enslave “non-white nation”, the policy was an extension of the “Containment Policy” which was designed to stop the spread of Communism in the world. It was called the Cold War, and had nothing to do with enslaving people, quite the opposite in fact, to keep people free from the enslavement of Communism.

In Vietnam we failed to stop the Communist which lead to the rise of Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, which took control of the country in 1975. During its reign, which ended in 1979, Pol Pot oversaw the deaths of an estimated one to two million people from starvation, overwork or execution. The mass graves he commanded his people to dig were often referred to as “the killing fields.” Pol Pot was arrested in 1997 and died under house arrest on April 15, 1998.

You go ahead and live in your dream world where everything is seen thought the eyes of racism, “…the Russians spared your life and those of us alive at that time, because their leaders were combat veterans, and not frat-boy fakes.” While we were posed to hit the beaches in Cuba a deal was made to take our missiles out of Turkey in return for Russia taking theirs out of Cuba, had the deal not been reached we would have taken the missiles out, for we would not have allowed them to stay had they refused. And we would have taken them without the use of Nucks.

“…the president [Kennedy] recognized that, for Chairman Khrushchev to withdraw the missiles from Cuba, it would be undoubtedly helpful to him if he could say at the same time to his colleagues on the Presidium, “And we have been assured that the missiles will be coming out of Turkey.” And so, after the ExComm meeting [on the evening of 27 October 1962], as I’m sure almost all of you know, a small group met in President Kennedy’s office, and he instructed Robert Kennedy—at the suggestion of Secretary of State [Dean] Rusk—to deliver the letter to Ambassador Dobrynin for referral to Chairman Khrushchev, but to add orally what was not in the letter: that the missiles would come out of Turkey.”…


Published in: on November 6, 2017 at 07:11  Comments (7)  
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