By Jeff Gammage, [Philadelphia] Inquirer Staff Writer
Everybody knows what happened during the Cuban Missile Crisis: Kennedy and Khrushchev went eyeball-to-eyeball and the Russians blinked, saving humanity from possible nuclear annihilation. Except that a national security scholar at Villanova University says that’s not all that occurred. That we have missed and misunderstood crucial events that took place in the weeks before the confrontation. And that, while John F. Kennedy performed admirably, infighting and distrust between his administration and the intelligence community helped propel a dangerous situation toward a global crisis.
In a new book, Blind Over Cuba, political science professor David Barrett offers a detailed, disquieting analysis of the “photo gap” – a five-week period in which American intelligence flights over western Cuba were suspended. That span proved to be exactly when the Soviets were deploying missiles. Look closer and “you discover there are all sorts of things that aren’t quite the same as the mythology,” Barrett said. “This isn’t the Hollywood movie.” His book is timed to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the crisis, which played out over 13 days in October 1962.
Coauthored with Max Holland, editor of the online monthly Washington Decoded, it’s based on declassified documents, archive materials, and interviews with several participants. Blind Over Cuba tells the story of an intelligence failure as compelling as any in a spy novel. To wit: The CIA director happened to be on a French Riviera honeymoon at a critical moment.
The crisis was the closest the world has come to nuclear war. Anniversary seminars and observances abound, from the Kennedy Library in Boston, to Greenville, S.C., where a wreath was placed at the grave of the incident’s only fatality, pilot Rudolf Anderson Jr.
Foreign Policy magazine is chronicling the crisis in real-time tweets, while the National Archives showcases Kennedy’s secret White House recordings and his doodles on a yellow pad: “Missile. Missile. Missile.” Probably no foreign-policy crisis generated more books, Barrett noted. But he sought to tell a largely unknown story, documenting how the administration’s response was not “wonderfully coordinated and error-free crisis management,” as then-national security adviser McGeorge Bundy asserted, but quite the opposite.
The crisis was months in the making.
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