In my office on Madison Avenue, we did hardly any work that day. We were mainly engaged in nonstop listening to the radio. Then, late in the day, came the news that Khrushchev had announced that the Soviet government had issued an order for dismantling its Cuba-based nuclear weapons. The missiles and their warheads were to be put back in their crates and returned to the Soviet Union.
Out of curiosity I checked my diary for that day. I remembered reading about it in the newspapers at the time, but it didn't make nearly as much of an impression on us in Soputh Africa as it appears to have done in America. It was just one more act of political brinkmanship (now there's a word I haven't seen for a long time, but it was quite common back then).
On that day I was too busy at work to worry about international politics. I was a bus conductor in Johannesburg, and it was a Saturday. Saturdays were mt busiest days. I was working on the Bellevue East Non-Europeans Only route, with clapped-out old AEC Mark III double-decker oil buses which could take about 70 passengers (the "white" buses on that route were big Sunbeam trolley buses, which could take 110 passengers, though they were rarely filled to capacity). We had a full load at the town terminus, and when we reached the station in Noord Street there was another full load waiting, so we couldn't clear the road, and that was the second-last bus that night. Eventually I wrote a memo to the boss asking for either bigger buses or extra buses on the route. So that night I was too busy trying to work my way through the crowded bus to collect the fares to worry about what politicians far away in the northern hemisphere were up to.
The earliest mention in my diary was two months later, when I referred to American hypocrisy in demanding that the USSR not have missiles in Cuba, so close to the USA, while the Americans had their own missiles in Turkey, on the border of the Soviet Union. When US President Kennedy was assassinated the following year, my main recollection of his presidency was his grandstanding on this, which threatened global thermonuiclear war, and my impression that Krushchev had been statesmanlike in defusing the situation, and in being more concerned with saving the world than saving face.
But another paragraph in Jim Forest's post challenged my assumptions on that too, when he mentioned a book of revisionist history On Pilgrimage: Memories of the (almost) end of the world:
(We didn’t yet know that Kennedy had made a pledge, overruling the advice of the CIA and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, not to invade Cuba, nor did anyone beyond Kennedy’s inner circle know of the promise made to Khrushchev to pull US missiles away from the Soviet border with Turkey. The more hidden side of the story is told in Jim Douglass’s book, JFK and the Unspeakable.)
I didn't know that until I read Jim Forest's blog, and it put Kennedy's (and Krushchev's) actions in a very different light. It seems that Krushchev got the kudos, while Kennedy was doing his good deeds in secret, and I might have to revise my harsh judgement on his brinkmanship.
And I was reminded of that again this morning when I came across another mention of this book by Jim Douglass -- America Magazine:
Last year Orbis Books published a book by Jim Douglass, a veteran Catholic peace activist and theologian, called JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters. It was reviewed very favorably in America here by George Anderson, SJ. Just when you might have thought everything that could be said about the death of JFK had been said, Douglass offered a new examination of the assassination. His own contribution was to attempt to establish the motive for Kennedy's killing, tracing the process of conversion that led him, over the course of three years, from his attitude as an ardent Cold Warrior to his commitment to lead the world away from the edge of apocalypse. A series of political steps caused him to be viewed as a virtual traitor by elements of the CIA and military establishment..
So perhaps Kennedy was a martyr for peace rather than one of the masters of war.