The Boston Globe (Boston U.S.A.)
Octubre 13, 2002


                                   By Marion Lloyd
                                   Globe Correspondent
                                   La Habana
                                   The Boston Globe
                                   La Nueva Cuba

                                   It was the most dangerous moment of the Cold War. At about 5 p.m. on Oct. 27,
                                   1962, a Soviet submarine armed with a nuclear warhead found itself trapped and
                                   being bombarded by a US warship patrolling off Cuba

                                   One of the Soviet captains gave the order to prepare to fire. But a cooler-headed
                                   officer persuaded him to wait for instructions from Moscow before unleashing a
                                   nuclear attack.

                                   ''We thought - that's it - the end,'' Vadim Orlov, a Soviet intelligence officer, was
                                   quoted as saying in recently declassified documents from the Cuban missile crisis.

                                   The details on just how close the United States and the Soviet Union came to
                                   nuclear war emerged during a three-day conference sponsored by the private
                                   National Security Archive, Brown University, and the Cuban government marking
                                   the 40th anniversary of the crisis. Although the discovery that Soviet submarines
                                   were armed with nuclear weapons was revealed about a year ago, this was the first
                                   time key players in the 13-day crisis had sat down to analyze the implications of
                                   the Oct. 27 incident.

                                   Participants in the meeting, which ends today with a tour of the missile site,
                                   include President Fidel Castro of Cuba and other top Cuban officials, former
                                   Kennedy administration officials, and former Soviet military officers, as well as
                                   scholars from all three countries.

                                   Until recently, scholars believed that the United States had come within days of
                                   nuclear war. Kennedy sent a letter to the Soviet premier, Nikita Khrushchev,
                                   promising not to invade Cuba if the Soviets removed missiles from Cuba. Kennedy
                                   believed that if Khrushchev refused he had no choice but to order a full-scale attack
                                   on Cuba.

                                   Only this weekend did many missile-crisis experts learn how much closer the
                                   world had come to nuclear war - and how Kennedy himself may not have been the
                                   most crucial figure in averting it.

                                   ''The lesson from this is that a guy called Vasili Arkhipov saved the world,'' said
                                   Thomas Blanton, director of the National Security Archive. He was referring to the
                                   Soviet captain who prevailed on his fellow officers not to fire the nuclear torpedo.

                                   US destroyers under orders to enforce a naval quarantine off Cuba did not know
                                   that the submarines the Soviets had sent to protect their ships were carrying
                                   nuclear weapons. So the Americans began firing depth charges to force the
                                   submarines to the surface, a move the Soviets interpreted as the start of World
                                   War III.

                                   ''We're going to blast them now! We will die, but we will sink them all. We will not
                                   disgrace our navy,'' the Soviet intelligence report quotes the first Soviet captain as
                                   saying before his co-officer calmed him down.

                                   Blanton said he became convinced of what went on in the submarine after he
                                   cross-referenced that version with newly released deck logs from the US
                                   destroyers. He confirmed Arkhipov's role after the former officer did not deny the
                                   version described in the intelligence report, which was declassified shortly before
                                   his death three years ago.

                                   Conference participants pored over thousands of documents declassified since
                                   1992, many of which shed new light on sensitive issues such as US efforts to
                                   remove Castro. Cuban officials used the documents in arguing that they had
                                   legitimate reasons to believe Washington intended to invade Cuba, and that Castro
                                   was justified in seeking Soviet protection.

                                   ''It's clear from all the documents that if subversive activity didn't work, the option
                                   was an armed invasion,'' said Esteban Morales, head of Cuba's Center for the
                                   Study of the United States.

                                   Among key documents was a declassified Defense Department memo from 1961
                                   describing a three-step plan for the ''US endeavor to cause the overthrow of the
                                   Castro government.'' The strategy was to stage intensive military exercises near
                                   Cuba to provoke a hostile reaction from Castro, which would give Washington the
                                   justification it needed to ''destroy Castro with speed, force and determination.''

                                   Robert McNamara, Kennedy's defense secretary and a key conference participant,
                                   conceded Friday night that Cuba was justified in fearing an attack. ''If I were in
                                   Cuban or Soviet shoes, I would have thought so, too,'' he said. ''We as a
                                   superpower did not look through to the ends of our actions. That was a real

                                   Participants emphasized that any new knowledge should be used to help avoid
                                   future conflict, in particular a potential US war with Iraq. ''God willing, someone will
                                   be sitting down in Baghdad and talking about this moment in 40 years'' if a war is
                                   averted, said Christopher Kennedy Lawford, President Kennedy's nephew. Lawford,
                                   who played a US pilot in a film about the crisis, ''13 Days,'' was among several
                                   members of the film's team attending the conference.

                                   The parallel between Kennedy's handling of the crisis and President Bush's
                                   deliberations over Iraq was a recurrent theme at the meeting, with many
                                   participants accusing Bush of ignoring history.

                                   ''There are lessons to be learned,'' said Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., a former Kennedy
                                   aide and a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian. ''This was not only the most dangerous
                                   moment of the Cold War. It was the most dangerous moment in human history.''

                                   Asked whether he thought the conference could play a role in influencing Bush
                                   against invading Iraq, Schlesinger said no.

                                   ''Kennedy chose quarantine as an alternative to military action,'' he said. ''Bush is
                                   committed to military action.''

                                   This story ran on page A20 of the Boston Globe on 10/13/2002. © Copyright 2002
                                   Globe Newspaper Company.