Below is the introduction by Tomás Diez Acosta to his book, October 1962: The ‘Missile’ Crisis as Seen from Cuba, which will be released by Pathfinder Press October 15, on the 40th anniversary of the events it describes. The Spanish-language edition of the book, Octubre de 1962: A un paso del holocausto: Una mirada cubana a la Crisis de los Misiles (October 1962: One step from the holocaust: a Cuban look at the missile crisis), was published earlier this year by Editora Política in Havana. Copyright © 2002 by Tomás Diez, reprinted by permission.
Diez, then 16, participated in the mobilization of Cuba’s Revolutionary Armed Forces during October 1962. He retired from active duty in 1998 with the rank of lieutenant colonel. Since 1987 he has been a researcher at the Institute of Cuban History, where he headed its Department of Military History.
The preface by Mary-Alice Waters, president of Pathfinder, appears below the introduction. Copyright © 2002 by Pathfinder, reprinted by permission.
In the U.S. and western Europe, much has been written and published about the roles of the United States and the Soviet Union in this weighty and dangerous conflict, which brought humanity to the brink of nuclear war. But little has been said about the Cuban experience, perhaps due to the selective and discriminatory way that the powerful in today’s world deal with the problems of small countries. The purpose of this book is therefore to help make known Cuba’s position and the role it played, since Cuba was directly involved in the events and was the main scene of that confrontation between the two military superpowers in the era of the Cold War.
The immediate causes of the October Crisis are found in the political actions undertaken by the U.S. government after the defeat it suffered at the Bay of Pigs. It became clear to the Cuban government that after this failure the White House would consider, as its main military option, the use of its own armed forces in a direct intervention aimed at overthrowing the Cuban Revolution.
This estimate was confirmed in subsequent months by the increase in subversive actions within Cuba, organized and directed by Washington. The U.S. administration dedicated considerable financial, military, and technical resources to carrying out sabotage and terrorist acts in Cuba. This included preparing assassination attempts against key leaders of the Cuban Revolution; providing material support to armed counterrevolutionary bands that operated in various rural areas of the island; and unleashing intense ideological and psychological warfare against Cuba. In addition, Washington fully exercised its powerful influence to isolate Cuba diplomatically from the rest of Latin America and, among other actions, to implement a tightened economic blockade against the island.
This was the framework for developments over the second half of 1962, beginning with Cuba’s acceptance of the Soviet proposal to deploy medium- and intermediate-range missiles in Cuba, and leading to the transfer of a contingent of some 42,000 Soviet troops with all their combat gear during Operation Anadyr. Subsequently, owing to the political mishandling of the secret operation by the Soviet leaders of the time, this deployment became the pretext used by the United States to justify a naval blockade of the island and to provoke the outbreak of the crisis on October 22, 1962.
For Cubans, the crisis was a lesson that confirmed and strengthened their conceptions of how to defend the country. At the same time, it proved to the world the ideological strength of the principles upheld by the Cuban Revolution, because in face of the actions of the two superpowers, Cuba defended, with dignity and courage, its self-determination and sovereignty. Cuba firmly confronted the U.S. policy of arrogance and force. And, basing its stance on justice and reason, Cuba discussed the disagreements that emerged with the Soviet Union in the midst of the crisis, due to the unilateral manner in which the USSR negotiated to end the conflict. In those "brilliant yet sad days," as Ernesto Che Guevara described them, Cuba’s policy was distinguished by having the necessary flexibility to open the door to negotiations, without making any concessions of principle, despite the unceasing efforts of the U.S. government to exclude Cuba from the process.
This book thus aims to analyze and reflect on the origins, development, and outcome of this historic event, and the complex political decisions, the successes and mistakes, and the supreme confidence shown by the Cuban people at that time of great danger.
The author, Tomás Diez Acosta, joined the ranks of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Cuba in 1961 as a literacy worker, one of the three hundred thousand young Cubans who mobilized to the mountains, factories, fields, barrios, barracks, and fishing villages during Cuba’s Year of Education to teach every Cuban how to read and write. He was fourteen years old. In the midst of an exploding revolutionary struggle there was no "minimum age" for combatants, Diez says with a laugh. When he retired from active military service thirty-seven years later he held the rank of lieutenant colonel. For the last fifteen years, as a researcher at the Institute of Cuban History, he has been assembling the material to tell the story that appears here, much of it in print for the first time.
Presenting a wealth of new information from Cuban archives and from interviews with direct participants, Diez details:
Drawing on declassified White House, Central Intelligence Agency, and Pentagon files available largely to "specialists," the author makes the record of U.S. government policy accessible to the average reader. He documents Washington’s plans for a massive military assault on Cuba in 1962, exposing the protestations of defenders of the administration of John F. Kennedy who have claimed the U.S. government had no such intentions.
On April 19, 1961, after fewer than seventy-two hours of hard-fought combat, the Cuban armed forces, national militias, revolutionary police, and fledgling air force had dealt a stunning defeat to a U.S.-trained, -organized, and -financed mercenary invasion force of some 1,500 at Playa Girón close by the Bay of Pigs on Cuba’s southern coast. From that day on, as the pages that follow amply attest, U.S. policy makers at the highest levels acted on the conclusion that the revolutionary government of Cuba could be overthrown only by direct U.S. military action.
And they marshaled seemingly limitless resources to prepare for that moment. Under the personal guidance of the president’s brother, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, "Operation Mongoose," with its multifaceted plans for sabotage, subversion, and assassination of Cuba’s revolutionary leaders, was unleashed to pave the way.
In October 1962, when U.S. spy planes photographed Soviet missile launch sites under construction in Cuba, the U.S. rulers recognized that the military and political costs of such an invasion were being qualitatively transformed, and they initiated the adventure detailed in these pages.
Most U.S. commentators treat the events of October 1962 as a Cold War showdown between the two superpowers, in which Cuba was at best a pawn, at worst a raging mute offstage. In that scenario the people of Cuba do not exist, nor in fact do the tens of thousands of Americans across the country who acted to oppose imperialist Washington’s preparations for a military assault.
As Diez demonstrates in these pages, however, the roots of the crisis in the Caribbean lay not in Washington’s Cold War with the Soviet Union, but in the drive by the U.S. government to overthrow the "first free territory of the Americas." Kennedy’s acceptance of Khrushchev’s offer to withdraw the missiles--an offer broadcast worldwide over Radio Moscow without even informing the Cuban government--was how the stand-down of the two strategic nuclear powers was announced. But it was the armed mobilization and political clarity of the Cuban people, and the capacities of their revolutionary leadership, that stayed Washington’s hand, saving humanity from the consequences of a nuclear holocaust.
Divergent political courses pursued by the Cuban and Soviet governments marked each step. The Soviet leadership, seeking a way to enhance its strategic military position and to counter the Jupiter missiles the U.S. had recently installed in Turkey and Italy, insisted on secrecy and attempted deception. Cuba took the moral high ground, arguing from the beginning for the public announcement of the mutual assistance pact and the right of the Cuban people to defend themselves against U.S. aggression.
The defeat of the invasion force at the Bay of Pigs had bought precious time for Cuba to organize, train, and equip its Revolutionary Armed Forces. Even more decisive, the people of Cuba used that time to consolidate the agrarian reform; win the battle of the literacy campaign; build schools, homes, and hospitals; extend electrification; advance social equality among Cuba’s working people; and strengthen the worker-farmer alliance that was the bedrock of the revolution and of the respect Cuba had earned among the world’s toilers. As they navigated the contradictory dialectic of the greatly appreciated aid they received from the USSR, the Cuban people were not only defending themselves against the Yankee predator. They stood for the future of humanity, as they stood down the power of U.S. imperialism.
And despite all odds they prevailed.
On October 26, at a decisive moment in the unfolding crisis, John F. Kennedy asked the Pentagon for an estimate of the U.S. casualties that would be incurred during the invasion they were weighing. He was informed that the Joint Chiefs of Staff expected 18,500 casualties in the first ten days alone--greater than the casualties U.S. troops would suffer in the entire first five years of fighting in Vietnam. And knowledgeable Cuban military personnel say U.S. casualties would have been far greater. From that moment on, Kennedy turned White House strategists away from their well-advanced plans to use U.S. military forces in an attempt to overthrow the revolution. The political price such body counts would entail continues to this day to hold off any direct U.S. military attack against Cuba.
As Cuba has proven not once but multiple times over the last forty-some years, the empire, despite its pretensions to hegemony, is in fact a tethered monster when a determined people, with a leadership worthy of it, does not flinch.
Inside the United States, a widely promoted myth has it that ordinary Americans everywhere were so consumed by panic over the danger of nuclear attack that they, too, were not a factor during these historic events. Those of us who lived through those days of crisis as active political people, however, know the extent of that lie.
The news clips of grocery stores swamped by semi-hysterical middle-class housewives buying up canned goods and flashlight batteries to stock their basement bomb shelters misrepresent the broader mood that prevailed. Most working people, aware of the heightened tensions, nonetheless went about their normal lives of work and family responsibilities.
Thousands of young people, meanwhile, as well as other partisans of the Cuban Revolution, took to the streets, determined to repudiate the course taken by a government that did not speak in our name. As the photographs in October 1962 depict, some of these actions turned into violent confrontations when they were assaulted by ultraright-wing student organizations urged on by cops.
An October 24 demonstration on the steps of the student union on the Minneapolis campus of the University of Minnesota in which I took part came within a hairsbreadth of such an outcome. There were twenty of us perhaps, including members of the Student Peace Union, Fair Play for Cuba Committee, Socialist Workers Party, Communist Party, socialists and pacifists, and the chapters of the Young Socialist Alliance in Minneapolis and at nearby Carleton College where I was the newest member. With placards and bullhorns, we demanded an immediate lifting of the naval blockade and "U.S. Hands Off Cuba!" We held our ground as several thousand counterdemonstrators surrounded us, some hurling eggs and waving fraternity banners as they led a rhythmic chant of "War! War! War! War!"
Small though some of these protest actions were, we never felt isolated. To the contrary, we saw ourselves as part of the immense majority of humanity, starting with the workers, farmers, and young people of Cuba itself. We knew they would never go down on their knees before the nuclear blackmail of the Yankee colossus, and we were determined to stand with them. Justice and history were on our side. Far from any sense of panic or helplessness, we were conscious that our actions had weight, that minute by minute the men in the White House were calculating the political consequences of their potential moves. Each hour they postponed invading, each day they didn’t launch a nuclear missile, was a victory. And each day our actions grew larger, and spread to more cities and towns across the United States.
They were a harbinger of what was to explode a few short years later in response to the Vietnam War, as Washington desperately tried--and again failed--to vanquish another people who would not flinch.
October 1962: The ‘Missile’ Crisis as Seen from Cuba makes the real dynamic of the October Crisis available for the first time. Therein lies its lasting merit.
The Spanish-language original of this work was published in June 2002 in Havana by Editora Política, the publishing house of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba, under the title Octubre de 1962: A un paso del holocausto: una mirada Cubana a la crisis de los misiles [October 1962: One step from the holocaust: a Cuban look at the missile crisis]. Cuban editor Iraida Aguirrechu provided valuable assistance in preparing the English-language edition.
For the Pathfinder edition the author expanded and reorganized the structure of some chapters. Also included are translations of a number of major Cuban documents of the epoch, most of them never before published in English, or long unavailable. The September 29, 1962, declaration by Cuba’s Council of Ministers appears here in English for the first time. The transcript of the October 30–31, 1962, meetings between United Nations Secretary-General U Thant and a Cuban leadership delegation headed by Prime Minister Fidel Castro has not previously been published in full in any language.
The original translation of the manuscript and integration of the English-language sources was the work of Ornán Batista Peña of the Institute of Cuban History.
A team of volunteers organized by John Riddell and George Rose, including Paul Coltrin, Robert Dees, Dan Dickeson, Mirta Vidal, and Matilde Zimmermann, edited the translation. They were supervised in this work by Pathfinder editor Michael Taber. George Rose undertook the considerable task of checking the sources.
Help in assembling the photo pages designed came from the author, as well as Delfín Xiqués of Granma and Manuel Martínez of Bohemia.
Finally, Pathfinder would like to express special appreciation to the Institute of Cuban History and to Tomás Diez Acosta. With competence and good humor the author devoted many days of work to reviewing the English-language manuscript, clarifying questions of translation and factual accuracy, and assuring that this edition would be accessible and understandable to readers outside Cuba, whether or not they lived through those historic days of October.
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