Kin of Kennedy, Khrushchev discuss Cuban crisis, Iraq
By Ralph Ranalli, Globe Staff
The children of the superpower leaders who took the world to the
brink of nuclear conflagration
and back 40 years ago met for the first time yesterday at the John F. Kennedy Library to discuss
the lessons of the Cuban missile crisis at a time when the United States is again edging toward a
war over weapons of mass destruction, this time with Iraq.
Before participating in a forum on the crisis, Caroline Kennedy,
daughter of President Kennedy,
and Sergei Khrushchev, son of Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, had a private talk and viewed a
copy of the 1963 Soviet-American nuclear test ban treaty that was kept as a memento by
Kennedy's mother, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. The treaty was a byproduct of the tense 13-day
standoff in October 1962 over the USSR's decision to station nuclear-tipped missiles 90 miles from
the US coast.
In her introduction, Kennedy urged both the audience and the panelists
- who included
Khrushchev, a fellow at Brown University, two of her father's former advisers, and a Cuban
diplomat - to ''consider what together we can learn and apply to the problems that confront us
''When our fathers transformed the hours of danger into the beginnings
of a process for peace, they
did it for us and for all children threatened by a world at war,'' Kennedy said.
The panelists presented three distinct views of the crisis, those of three governments.
Khrushchev said his father believed he had no choice but to send
missiles to Cuba, after the failed
US-backed Bay of Pigs invasion and after Cuban leader Fidel Castro declared that the Caribbean
nation ''would be a member of the socialist family.''
''He felt he had an obligation as the head of that family to defend
all the members of the family,''
Josephina Vidal, a Cuban diplomat based in Washington who was
a key organizer of a recent
conference on the missile crisis in Havana, said Castro never wanted nuclear arms but instead
preferred a mutual defense treaty with the Soviet Union and a buildup of conventional arms.
Theodore Sorenson, a Kennedy adviser, said that in order to take
a measured approach to the
crisis, the president had to fight pressure from hawks in the CIA and the US military, who pressed
for a bombing campaign and a military invasion of Cuba.
Only later, Sorenson said, did US officials learn that only the
hesitation a single Soviet naval officer
- who insisted on seeking direct permission from Moscow - prevented a Soviet submarine from
launching a nuclear-tipped torpedo at a US destroyer on naval blockade duty, possibly triggering a
disasterous nuclear exchange.
''One unknown Soviet submariner kept the world from being blown to smithereens,'' he said.
Arthur Schlesinger Jr., the Pulitzer Prize-winning historian who
was also a Kennedy adviser,
agreed, saying that a full examination of the crisis shows that it was ''the most dangerous moment in
As for the Bush administration's hawkish approach toward ridding
Iraq of weapons of mass
destruction, the panelists agreed that the current president and his advisors hadn't learned the
lessons of history.
Sorenson said there are ''better options than a preemptive strike
against a madman with weapons of
mass destruction who may well decide to strike back against Israel and against us and against our
allies,'' he said.
Schlesinger called the Bush administration's desire to invade
Iraq a ''dangerous and ominous shift''
in US policy.
''There were people in favor of a preventative war during the
Cold War and they were regarded as
a bunch of loonies,'' Schlesinger said. '' Now the loonies have taken over our foreign policy.''
Khrushchev was even more blunt. If President Bush had been in
the White House in 1962, he said,
''we would have had no chance to discuss the Cuban missile crisis in 2002.''
Ralph Ranalli can be reached at email@example.com.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.