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How My Father And President Kennedy Saved The World
The Cuban Missile Crisis as seen from the Kremlin
October 2002 | Volume 53, Issue 5
“Comrade Gromyko, we have no right to take risks. If the President announces there will be an invasion, he won’t be able to reverse himself. We have to let Kennedy know that we want to help him.” After a moment’s pause he repeated firmly: “Yes, help. We now have a dommon cause, to save the world from those pushing us toward war. Send a message to Dobrynin. Ask him to meet with Robert Kennedy and advise him to wait for our answer to yesterday’s letter from the President. Emphasize that the answer is a positive one.”
“Right away, Nikita Sergeyevich.”
Dobrynin received the coded message as the day dawned in Washington. After reading Gromyko’s instructions, the ambassador at once called Robert Kennedy. They met only minutes later. Meanwhile, the conference in Novo-Ogarevo went on. Father broke a strained silence by turning to the stenographer with his usual phrase: “Let’s begin, Nadezhda Petrovna.”
He began to dictate. The stack of pages grew higher and higher. Finally he said: “That seems to cover everything.” He made no mention of the Turkish missiles, as Kennedy had not in his letter. It was as if they didn’t even exist.
At about 4:00 P.M. Moscow Radio’s announcer began to read Father’s letter to the President of the United States.
“Dear Mr. President, I have received your message of October 27, 1962.1 express satisfaction and my gratitude for the understanding and common sense you show in exercising your responsibility to maintain world peace.” The well-known announcer’s voice, which had sounded somewhat shaky as he said the first few words, regained its usual resonance. “In order to quickly resolve this conflict... the Soviet government has ordered that these weapons... which you have characterized as offensive, be dismantled. We supplied them to prevent an attack on Cuba, to prevent rash actions. I regard with respect and trust the statement you made in your message of October 27, 1962, that there will be no attack, no invasion.... In that case, the motives which induced us to render assistance of such a kind to Cuba disappear.”
The U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara has said that the first decision he took after reading the message that morning, even before consulting the President, was to cancel the surveillance flight over Cuba scheduled for 10:00 A.M. Naturally he didn’t know of Castro’s order to shoot down the planes, but his prudence saved everyone from harm.
Dean Rusk found Robert Kennedy at a riding stable with his children. The Attorney General listened to the news very calmly. The Secretary of State didn’t realize that it was not really news to his colleague. After sending the children home, Robert Kennedy hurried to his brother. I can’t say what they talked about, but the important thing is that the world survived and a process of recovery began. Relief would most accurately describe the mood in the White House that Sunday. Those in the Kremlin or, more precisely, in Novo-Ogarevo, felt the same way. John Kennedy decided to ignore diplomatic procedure, and he sent off his answering letter to Father before receiving the official text of the message from Moscow. It too went out over the radio. It seemed as if people in both capitals just wanted to escape from the mortal terror of the last two weeks. So the Cuban Missile Crisis was resolved. We survived, and I could write this article for the anniversary, and you can read it. But everything might have turned out differently. You, I, and all mankind might have disappeared from the face of the earth. The fact that this did not happen is the greatest achievement of those Cold War warriors President John F. Kennedy and my father, the premier of the Soviet Union, Nikita Khrushchev. Father said, more than once, “We differed from Kennedy in every respect. He defended his capitalist belief, his world, and we defended ours, our concept of justice. We had one thing in common: Both he and I did everything we could to preserve peace on earth.”