This book is perhaps best described as a sparse, relatively short account of the situation during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. It’s obviously written by someone who was directly involved, as Mr. Kennedy is careful to explain that all heated debate and all actions were reasonable due to information at hand or which was lacking, natural human response, and so forth. He takes paints to be sure not to insult anyone or even remotely sound as if he is “pointing fingers.” Yet on the flip side, this book is often very vague and lacks detail about what happened during the meetings of the Ex Comm, probably because that information is either classified or so entirely full of dithering that it was less relevant than the outcome of each meeting. Many parts of the retelling also seem repetitious — yet the reader must recall that during those days of crisis, everything was hashed and rehashed endlessly and thus a lot of what was discussed was in fact repetitious to the point of being entirely maddening.
The account by Mr. Kennedy is, as previously stated, short. A large section of my copy is an afterword by another author; thereafter is a smaller yet still substantial “Documents” section. There is, furthermore, a foreword. Even so, Mr. Kennedy’s part is over before you hit triple-digit page numbers. I believe that this is a good thing as there isn’t much else for him to tell which is of lasting importance other than what he’d already written, however, a prospective reader should not go into the book anticipating that it is all Kennedy’s tale. The foreword and afterword are crucial in setting up the scene and thereafter discussing the impact thereof.
All in all, this was a quick, interesting read. The thing that I took away from it most strongly was the emphasis during the crisis on America’s moral obligations to the world, particularly in light of subsequent administrations’ decisions as regards the international political scene. During the crisis, JFK and others were very highly concerned about the example the US would set in its course of action, and how a secret invasion of Cuba to destroy the missiles would be the US “picking on” a smaller country, using brute force when diplomacy should have been the first course of action. At one point, some of the pro-invasion members of the Ex Comm had actually proposed to either a) send a letter to Khrushchev advising him that the US would invade in 24 hours or b) drop pamphlets over Cuba advising what sites would be bombed so that civilians could evacuate. These ideas, as history shows, were vetoed along with the whole notion of invasion, although there were a few “close calls” when it might have very well come about.
The interesting thing about the crisis is that JFK was so adamant about preventing the US and USSR’s slipping into war to “save face” or due to rashness, etc; was so adamant about preserving life of the people of all countries involved (and not involved); was so adamant about upholding the moral standard of the US that he very nearly faced impeachment over it. The timing of the Cuban Missile Crisis was also during the campaign season, yet that also did not cause him to alter his position.
Of course, this book is written by the former President’s brother and thus is of course biased to a certain degree. However, other reports by various members of his administration — and also his ultimate decisions to most frequently ignore the recommendations of his Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Ex Comm — back up this claim.
When I consider JFK’s strong stance and juxtapose that with what we have seen in the last ten or fifteen years in Washington, I can only shake my head and sigh. I think that Kyle put it very succinctly when he stated to me today that “we have become a nation of parties not politicians.”
On another note, reading this has made me want to read more about Oppenheimer.