Happy New Year

Legacy is the Cold War Warrior lens. As the leaf of the calendar prepares to turn the oldHappyNewYear_col year new, what comes from our past? The tribes are vibrating in anticipation of a wild and woolly presidential election in the U.S.  Mongering fear is a rhetoric staple for the speechwriters. A new player in the political orchestra is playing discordant notes as if he is composing a new symphony in the middle of the presidential concert performance. The Cold War witnessed ten presidential elections, some more noteworthy than others.

The 1960s began with a bang when a young, attractive Democrat, John F. Kennedy, took Richard Nixon to task for the job of president. Richard Nixon was a known as a ‘red-baiter’, but Kennedy, a WWII veteran, was a hawk’s hawk. Both sides played the Cold War Soviet threat card, but Kennedy brought fear alive through words that painted a picture of thousands of Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles destroying freedom’s cities, lost children, and hope’s demise for humanity’s future. The number of missiles Kennedy was attributing to the Soviet arsenal, compared to the U.S.’s paltry few, was ridiculous. President Eisenhower could have made short work of Kennedy’s vision of the apocalypse by pointing out the young candidate’s lie, but did not.

Kennedy’s short time in office did make a difference. He and Nikita Khrushchev found some common ground in between shoe poundings. They banned atmospheric and underwater nuclear testing. Together they formed a treaty framework, still in use, to reduce the stockpiles of nuclear weapons. Instead of both empires having enough nukes to destroy the world many times over, we each only have enough left to destroy the world once. Continue reading

Kennedy’s Central Intelligence Agency

This is the third in a series of articles that explores the iconic CIA and its use as a tactical weapon by the presidents of the Cold War (1947-1991). The Central Intelligence Agency – In the Beginning and The Central Intelligence Agency – Eisenhower and Asia’s Back Door are the preceding posts.

Inauguration of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, January 20, 1961 *Source: http://www.archives.gov/exhibit_hall/american_originals_iv/images/jfk_inaugural_address/inauguration.html *Photographer/Painter: Record Group 111

Inauguration of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, January 20, 1961 *Source: http://www.archives.gov/exhibit_hall/american_originals_iv/images/jfk_inaugural_address/inauguration.html *Photographer/Painter: Record Group 111

A very tired John F. Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States, was sworn into office on a clear, windy, brutally cold January 20, 1961.[1]  It wasn’t an easy day. Eight inches of snow had fallen the night before causing a monumental traffic jam and the streets were littered with abandoned vehicles.  Former President Herbert Hoover missed the entire inauguration event because Washington National Airport was closed due to the weather.  An inauguration is an important national symbol that characterizes the Republic and the all-night effort to clear Pennsylvania Avenue greeted the sun with space to accommodate the large crowd that would gather to witness the duly elected president assume the helm of the ship-of-state.

The snowfall of the previous night and the windy, frigid temperatures of inauguration day are also apt codes for the sea change that had already gathered momentum around the relationship between the new president and his intelligence agency, the CIA.  The CIA, as authorized by The National Security Act of 1947, was still fairly young, but Allen Dulles, the Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) was an old hand and seemingly enjoyed the game.  By 1961, the CIA, in its short life, had tripped the light fantastic around the globe; Col. Lansdale was merrily fighting rebels in the Philippines following which he ported his obsession with asymmetric guerilla warfare to Vietnam where he spent two-years as a houseguest and confidant of President Diem, other CIA operatives overthrew governments in Iran and Guatemala, and raised general hell with Cuba and Chile.

During the latter Truman and Eisenhower administration there was a trend to combine the

Cover an an Iranian newspaper showing anti-Mossadegh demonstrators riding atop a tank on August 19, 1953

Cover an an Iranian newspaper showing anti-Mossadegh demonstrators riding atop a tank on August 19, 1953

Cold War (1947-1991) objective of fighting the creep of communism with business interests. Iran, for example, nationalized the British oil interests and Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh refused to budge in spite of punishing sanctions. According to the University of Virginia’s Miller Center, “Eisenhower worried about Mossadegh’s willingness to cooperate with Iranian Communists; he also feared that Mossadegh would eventually undermine the power of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, a staunch anti-Communist partner. In August 1953, the CIA helped overthrow Mossadegh’s government and restore the shah’s power. In the aftermath of this covert action, new arrangements gave U.S. corporations an equal share with the British in the Iranian oil industry.”[2]

In Guatemala, the Jacobo Arbenz Guzman initiated land

Arevalo passes presidency to Arbenz in 1951

Arevalo passes presidency to Arbenz in 1951

reforms that seriously impacted the holdings of the anti-communist, New Orleans-based United Fruit Company who controlled over forty percent of Guatemala’s arable land.  The Truman administration came to the support of the American business interests by arming the anti-Arbenz rebels.  Under Eisenhower, the CIA finished the job by overthrowing Arbenz regime and installing Carlos Castillo Armas.  Codenamed PBSUCCESS, the coup d’état was the first-ever clandestine military action in Latin America but it was certainly not the last.[3]

After fifty years the controversy surrounding Kennedy and the CIA obscures the landscape like the white-out conditions in a blizzard.   At one end of the opinion spectrum, Marquette University’s John McAdams’ The Kennedy Assassination site concludes that Kennedy and the CIA had some rough spots but got through them.[4]  At the other end of the spectrum is Dr. Jerome R. Corsi, who maintains that Kennedy and the CIA locked horns and never retreated.[5]  Excellent research and the documented citations for both perspectives leave the reader with many questions.  One corner of this argument does not appear to be disputed; Kennedy consistently refused to use the U.S. military to support private sector interests.  In this matter, President Kennedy was a traditionalist. The military, in his opinion, was to be used only in defense of national security interests.  If we can escape the white-out conditions of the never-ending controversy, the political landscape, once again, becomes hard and navigable.   Continue reading

The Cuban Missile Crisis: An October Miracle

October can be cold in Great Falls, Montana. The thermometer boasted a mercury level near freezing this Monday morning, October 22, 1962; not cold enough, however, to explain my mother’s irritability as she came upstairs to roll three kids out of bed to get ready for school. The family ran in a split shift mode six days a week. Father rose in the middle of the night for construction work on the Minuteman Missile sites and returned late at night to fall exhausted into bed. The rest of the family functioned around school schedules. It was a routine that rarely varied. This morning, however, mother was obviously jumpy and clearly irritable but she steadfastly refused to tell us why. A quick kid huddle resulted in a pact that we would be very quiet and get off to school as quickly as possible.

That evening, President Kennedy delivered a riveting address describing the unfolding Cuban Missile Crisis. I vividly remember the fear and chill I felt at the end of his address. It was the very first time I considered my own mortality:

…”My fellow citizens: let no one doubt that this is a difficult and dangerous effort on which we have set out. No one can foresee precisely what course it will take or what costs or casualties will be incurred. Many months in which both our patience and our will will be tested — months in which many threats and denunciations will keep us aware of our dangers. But the greatest danger of all would be to do nothing. …

Our goal is not the victory of might, but the vindication of right — not peace at the expense of freedom, but both peace and freedom, here in this hemisphere, and we hope, around the world. God willing, that goal will be achieved.”…[1]—President John F. Kennedy, October 22, 1962

Had I known or understood the true state of affairs with the Minuteman Missiles, I would have understood my mother’s reluctance to take any steps to protect the family. Being the family know-it-all, I pushed vocally and hard to prepare; to lay in a variety of canned foods and water in the basement of the little two story house we called home at the time. She finally conceded to take some minimal steps to shut me up while muttering placebo under her breath. It never occurred to us to head out for western Montana, the land she and dad called home. The family was the family, we lived or died together. Mother was right, as she most often was, there was little that could have been done. The indoctrination I received in school became a joke in later years.

Malmstrom Air Force Base is the home base of the 341st Missile Wing[2]. Today it is one of three U.S. Air Force Bases that maintains and operates the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile. Back in October 1962, Malmstrom Air Force Base had the first and only solid fueled rocket. The

Running giant extension cords. (Photographer Unknown)

Running giant extension cords. (Photographer Unknown)

341st became alert-ready on Oct. 26, 1962—rock ‘n roll time. On the down side, the missile wing lacked the ability to launch. Missileers[3] are a can-do, proud bunch and they did not let a little thing like lack of electricity get in the way of the mission. Minuteman missiles were in farm fields and on ranches so they just trenched the shortest distance, a straight line through the fields, and ran really big extension cords.  I love these guys! Of course in a real shooting war we, in Great Falls, were dead, irrespective of preparations.

President Kennedy knew there was going to be trouble in July, 1962, when Raul Castro, Fidel’s, brother visited Moscow. In August, Senator Kenneth B. Keating claimed that he had evidence that there were Russian troops in Cuba as well as “concave metal structures supported by tubing” that appeared to be the future site of a “rocket installation”. He called on President Kennedy to ask the Organization of American States, OAS, to send an investigating team to Cuba[4]. Politics got crazy when, on September 4th, a secret message went back and forth between the Soviet leader and the President of the United States. This message basically stated that the Soviet Union would not attack before the upcoming November elections in America. On September 4, Pierre Salinger, White House Press Secretary, read the following statement by the President to the media[5]:

There is no evidence of any organized combat force in Cuba from any Soviet bloc country; of military bases provided to Russia; of a violation of the 1934 treaty relating to Guantanamo; of the presence of offensive ground-to-ground missiles; or of other significant offensive capability either in Cuban hands or under Soviet direction and guidance. Were it to be otherwise, the gravest issues would arise.

The Cuban question must be considered as a part of the worldwide challenge posed by Communist threats to the peace. It must be dealt with as a part of that larger issue as well as in the context of the special relationships which have long characterized the inter-American System.

It continues to be the policy of the United States that the Castro regime will not be allowed to export its aggressive purposes by force or the threat of force. It will be prevented by whatever means may be necessary from taking action against any part of the Western Hemisphere. The United States, in conjunction with other Hemisphere countries, will make sure that while increased Cuban armaments will be a heavy burden to the unhappy people of Cuba themselves, they will be nothing more.”

And so it went until, on October 15, 1962, Richard Heyser flew his U-2 over Cuba and snapped photos of SS-4 Nuclear missiles that were clearly offensive in nature. President Kennedy was

An EXCOMM meeting (Courtesy of the Kennedy Library)

An EXCOMM meeting (Courtesy of the Kennedy Library)

notified the next day that the rumblings were, in fact, reality. The President gathered the fourteen members of his Executive Committee, EXCOMM, to look at alternatives including: 1) No Action; 2) Diplomacy; 3) Warning; 4) Blockade; 5) Air Strike; and 6) Invasion. During this period President Kennedy kept up his regular appearances.[6]

On October 17th, Khrushchev sent Kennedy a letter pledging that “under no circumstances would surface-to-surface missiles be sent to Cuba.” EXCOMM had narrowed the options to a blockade or an air strike and on October 18th, troops were moved south under the cover of training exercises. Gromyko, the Soviet foreign minister, met the President and reassured him that the Soviet aid to Cuba was “solely [for] the purpose of contributing to the defense capabilities of Cuba, and to the development of its peaceful democracy. Don’t forget, the President had the photos of the missiles on his desk. Kennedy responded by reading the part of the September 4th statement advising the Soviet Union that the “gravest of consequences would follow” if offensive missiles were placed in Cuba. Still, the President kept his schedule until October 20th, when he returned to Washington under the pretext of an upper respiratory infection.

On October 22, 1962 President Kennedy delivered the address, which I heard. In response to this speech, Castro mobilized Cuba’s military forces and Kennedy ordered Malmstrom officials to be prepared to launch the missiles at any time. What the president didn’t know was that Khrushchev had given the Soviet field commanders in Cuba permission to launch nuclear missiles if the United States invaded.

By the next day, events were unfolding at hyper-speed; fast and furious as they say. On October 23rd, a low level reconnaissance mission brought back clear pictures of missiles prepared for launch; the OAS agreed to support the quarantine of Cuba; McNamara and Kennedy reviewed and discussed options for confrontation; and, by the end of the day, U.S. ships at the quarantine line were prepared to destroy any ship that failed to stop. The game was definitely afoot.

By Wednesday, October 24th, Soviet ships approached the quarantine line and the Executive Committee fretted that Khrushchev hadn’t told them to turn back. It must have been a relief when EXCOMM was advised that the Soviet ships had stopped. Secretary of State Dean Rusk said, “We were eyeball to eyeball and the other guy just blinked”, but the crisis was not even close to being over.

By Thursday, October 25th the game of brinksmanship was in full-swing. The Soviets weren’t talking to the U.S.and American military forces went to DEFCON 2, the highest ever in U.S. history. Kennedy sent a letter to Khrushchev blaming the Soviets for the start of this crisis and the EXCOMM discussed a backdoor proposal in which the Soviets would withdraw their missiles from Cuba if the U.S. withdrew its missiles from Turkey.

On Friday, there were fruitless searches of the Soviet ships and Khrushchev was talking again. He said the Soviet Union would remove their missiles if President Kennedy promised he would not attack Cuba. Surprise, surprise, a later U-2 flight revealed that Soviets were camouflaging their missiles. You have to love the Bear!

On Saturday, October 26th, Khrushchev formalized the backdoor offer with a letter saying that, if the U.S. removed its missiles from Turkey, they would remove theirs in Cuba. Then, a U-2 airplane, piloted by Major Rudolf Anderson was shot down over Cuba. On Sunday, October 27th, President Kennedy agreed to give assurances that the U.S. would not invade Cuba and that he’d also eliminate the quarantine in exchange for the Soviets removing the missiles[7]. The President did not mention he’d also agreed to pull the U.S. ICBMs out of Turkey. The deals had been cut although the inking of the agreements would take some time, but tensions ramped down.

During this time and for the next seventeen years, the launch code remained the same eight digit number—00000000—it was even displayed on the launch check list. Thank goodness the missileers did not have an itchy launch finger.

The worst was over and people in Great Falls, including me, and on Malmstrom Air Force Base

Home of the 341st

Home of the 341st

were relieved to know the nuclear bullet had been dodged. I recall an impotent rage grabbing my being as the realization that there was nowhere to go and nowhere to hide dawned. I wanted to do something and could not. I don’t hate much but I hate the political brinkmanship game. I told my mother I felt as helpless as a Norwegian white rat being studied to see whether it would drown faster if it had hope or if it did not

. That rage grew me a bit toward the person I would become. I suspect that week in October grew many.



[1] President Kennedy’s Address to the Nation; http://usgovinfo.about.com/library/weekly/aa102100b.htm

[3] On the brink of war—and childbirth—in Idaho, is an excellent account by a missileer of the thirteen days in October and its aftermath. Of equal interest is the link to a Russian counterpart’s account. http://thebulletin.org/web-edition/features/the-brink-of-war-and-childbirth-idaho

[4] KENNETH BARNARD KEATING; http://www.courts.state.ny.us/history/legal-history-new-york/luminaries-court-appeals/keating-kenneth.html

[5] STATEMENT BY PRESIDENT JOHN F. KENNEDY ON CUBA, September 4, 1962; https://www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/intrel/jfkstate.htm

[7]  Kennedy Qualified Pledge Not to Invade Cuba; Don Oberdorfer; , January 7, 1992; http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/inatl/longterm/cuba/stories/history010792.htm

The Rise of the Minuteman

The year of 1962 found me sitting in a house in Great Falls, Montana; a teenager mulling

 Montana’s Rocky Mountain Front Range, Great Falls, MT

Montana’s Rocky Mountain Front Range, Great Falls, MT

over the transfer into yet another school and wondering if I could get credit for that Washington state history course I’d taken. Probably not. I would have to take a course on Montana’s history. That January in 1962, while the Cuban Missile crisis storm was rising, I was busy hating Great Falls’ sub-zero temperatures pushed farther down the Fahrenheit scale by a wild wind that blew in directly from the Artic. Great Falls was wheat lands country and there was nothing between the Artic and Great Falls; it was all flat. My family traveled a great deal. We had lived in Chile for a number of years and through most of the northern tier of states from Washington to Minnesota. We weren’t rich. Upon his return from WWII’s Pacific theater, my Dad gave up his dreams of college and settled into the business of making a living for his family by working construction as an electrical superintendent. We were in Great Falls because he had a job supporting the construction of the Minuteman missile sites.

My sister’s poodle is responsible for my first exposure to the Cold War (1947-1991) infrastructure. When the poodle had puppies, my dachshund was not supportive of the

Minuteman ICBM

Minuteman ICBM

poodle or the puppies and that got us both unceremoniously ejected from the house and into my father’s workplace. We would rise at 4:00 am, grab a bite to eat, make lunches, and head to the local general aviation airport where we boarded a plane and took off into the Montana farmland around Great Falls. The sites we visited were each in a slightly different stage of construction and all were being readied to accept the Minuteman ICBMs that were being manufactured elsewhere. I discovered that each silo was three stories deep and, in the event of a launch, a huge concrete slab that covered it would be blown clear. One of the sites we visited was a control site. The big cables I saw at the smaller sites ran to a series of manned control centers deep underground.  It was all very impressive other than it was out in the middle of nowhere. Later I learned so much more.

The rise of the 1960s Minuteman ICBMs was the logical outcome of three major technological developments in the 1950s. The advances combined with the realization that, while many countries wanted to be protected from the former Soviet Union, few were lining up to have a nuclear arsenal on their soil. Inertial guidance system developments provided for increased ICBM accuracy.  The former Soviet Union and the rest of the allies split the science baby at the end of the WWII hostilities. The WWII Nazi V-2 rocket guidance technology was a spoil of war. Werner Von Braun, a leader in the Nazi rocket program, and about 500 of his top rocket scientists, along with plans and test vehicles joined the U.S. science community. The other major inertial guidance system players were Caltech and NASA JPL. The inertial guidance system enabled a missile to hit its target and the first piece of the three piece puzzle was in place.

The second piece of the puzzle was the development of Edward Teller’s concept of thermonuclear weapons which gave much more bang for the nuclear buck. Ivy Mike,

Ivy Mike

Ivy Mike

detonated on Eniwetok Atoll in late 1952, was the first test of the concept. The view of the Operation Ivy’s beautiful turquoise blue, crystal clear water in the craters contrasting with the dark blue Pacific waters were the first thing I saw when I flew into Eniwetok  in the early 1990s. Thermonuclear weapons are staged weapons. A little fission device is detonated to add heat, compress and trigger the second stage hydrogen fusion device. This tactic provides for much more explosive power, or yield.

The final piece of the Minuteman puzzle was the development of powerful booster engines for multistage rockets, greatly increasing their size and range. Three missile workhorses were developed. The Titan and Atlas missiles had to be fueled just before launch, which

Atlas-5 rocket equipped with an RD-180 engine

Atlas-5 rocket equipped with an RD-180 engine

made them inconvenient for ICBM use and they went on to become stars in the NASA space programs. The Minuteman I and II, which went into the field in 1962, used solid fuels stored within the missile that could lift up to three warheads, each with the destructive power of a megaton or greater. At this point the U.S. could deliver big bombs with good accuracy anywhere in the northern hemisphere, or the world for that matter, in less time than it takes for a nice hot bath.

As the technology was advancing at breakneck speed, the political arena caught fire. In Smart Rocks, Brilliant Pebbles, and all that Political Jazz, we discussed Eisenhower’s fight to defend the country from bombers dropping bombs on the countryside and his aha moment when it was realized that the threat would come from the direction of missiles. Lack of much solid intelligence from the former Soviet Union left the door wide open to build disaster scenarios on what THEY might be doing. The lobby for missile manufacturers and other defense contractors went into overdrive and the Air force hammered the fear home.

As the 1960 election approached, Eisenhower’s adherence to tight fiscal policies came under attack.  Eisenhower was a proponent of little debt as was illustrated in his funding strategy for the Interstate Highway system, discussed in Ribbons: The Interstate Highway System. During the elections the ‘missile gap’ allegations between the Soviets and the U.S. reached fever pitch and the cause for the ‘gap’ was laid directly at the feet of the Eisenhower administration’s fiscal policies. In November 1958, Senator John F. Kennedy (D-Massachusetts), the future presidential candidate, initiated the ‘missile gap’ charge when he claimed that the Eisenhower administration placed fiscal policy ahead of national security. As a result, he said, the nation faced “a peril more deadly than any wartime danger we have ever known.”[1]

Eisenhower wasn’t worried about a ‘missile gap’. The veil of secrecy prevented President Eisenhower from disclosing the U-2 photographic evidence that confirmed the lack of a ‘gap’. The secrecy code sword cuts both ways and the well-earned lack of trust in the government allows fear games and manipulation. Shortly after the 1960 presidential election ‘missile gap’ discussions were muted. They flared again in February 1961 when Secretary of Defense McNamara stated that there was no missile gap during a press briefing. The next big surge of fear mongering arrived when the Cuban Missile Crisis erupted in April 1962. As a teenager, I will attest to the fact I was terrified along with millions of others.

Patriotic farmers from across America’s breadbasket gave up two or more acres of their land to the federal government for the deployment of 1,000 ICBMs to protect us from the Soviet menace. Thousands worked on the construction, thousands were employed to manufacture the missiles and their parts, and thousands more worked to support the installations. Many have tried but failed to tally the total cost of our ICBM defense but it runs to the trillions of dollars.

Did it work? Many say yes. We didn’t have a nuclear war, did we? Others say no and we placed millions of innocent civilians in harm’s way.  I am a proponent of military strength as a deterrent.  I also respectfully disagree that there is such a thing as ‘innocent civilians’ during a war. Historical cycles tend to support those positions. Weak countries are overrun and citizens, by virtue of their status, are responsible for their governments’ actions. How we got strong is another matter. Rather than a discussion with the American people coupled with disclosure of evidence, the federal government opts for lies, secrecy and manipulation.

Personally, I resented the fear I felt as a kid. I was manipulated and that makes me feel stupid. As soon as I gained a broader world view from within and without the U.S., I began to question, read, and apply the principles of skepticism to everything that emanates from the federal government and its minions. Whenever the government wants something-oil, resources, and so on-they drop a big rock in the population bathtub and, just before everyone drowns, they provide ‘the answer’. Predictably, the tactic is becoming more and more acute, the dropped rock is getting bigger and the bathtub more crowded. Now, the bathtub population is being assaulted with a mind-numbing economic strategy. Individuals within the bathtub population can hardly breathe, let alone think. The next rock dropped in the tub will drown many, I think.

The teenager I was in 1961 was definitely going to be a medical doctor. Instead, I became an engineer and the decades rocketed by at close to the speed of light. The twine of my life was bound around the core of the Cold War (1947-1991) and, although I am sliding into home all used up, I had a great ride. Ideas are the most powerful force in the universe so just keep thinking.