woody zimmermann 120In previous articles I have written about events surrounding the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. For readers who didn’t see those articles, or who might not have been alive when those dramatic events transpired, I furnish a brief summary.

In 1959, Fidel Castro – much lionized by the American media as a romantic “freedom fighter” – seized Cuba after routing the military forces of Dictator Fulgencio Batista. The overthrow of the corrupt Batista, who had reaped a vast fortune from gambling interests he brought into the country, was widely hailed as a wonderful step for freedom and democracy in the troubled island. Left-leaning American liberals – still recalling the halcyon days of the Spanish Civil War – eagerly awaited the glorious new “people’s” government that would emerge under Fidel and his dashing lieutenant, Ernesto “Che” Guevera.

che guevara

Che Guevara  

This enthusiasm soon turned to alarm in the USA, as the number of executions in Cuba rapidly rose into the thousands. (Each day I read the grim reports of the death-count as I delivered newspapers.) The photogenic Che – whose rakish, beret-capped image is still displayed on tee-shirts worn by rebellious college kids ignorant of his grisly history – was actually Fidel’s executioner. He was responsible for thousands of killings, including many by his own hand, before his own 1967 execution for rebel-activity in Bolivia.

Within months, Fidel Castro’s connection with the Soviet Union and his identity as a full-fledged communist became known. The Soviet connection was alarming, but with the economically damaging 1959 steel strike of 116 days going on, the Eisenhower administration took no overt action. The Cuba-problem was handed off to the next president.

John F. Kennedy became that president in 1961, by which time the Soviet Union was actively sending military and economic aid to Cuba. Soviet ships were arriving regularly in Havana, bringing soldiers, technicians and supplies. Cuba sent a new delegation to the United Nations in New York. Voila! A new Soviet puppet-state was parked just 90 miles from Miami. Not good.

In April, a cadre of Cuban refugees – financed, trained and armed by the CIA – landed at the Bay of Pigs in an attempt to overthrow Castro’s communist government. The invasion failed disastrously when President Kennedy – not wishing to provoke the Soviet Union by openly furnishing military aid – declined to provide air-support. But his non-involvement pose went for naught, as the Soviets still considered the invasion an American venture. Historians have argued, ever since, over whether the USA should have been either all-in or all-out on the BoP invasion. By going halfway, Mr. Kennedy got the worst possible results.

Those results became clearer during the ensuing year. On the domestic scene, Mr. Kennedy took a political hit. The Cuban community in the USA was angered by his failure to support the invasion. They never forgave him for hanging their exiled comrades out to dry.

nikita khrushchevPHOTO: Nikita Khrushchev

With respect to our relations with the Soviet Union, however, things were far worse. When Mr. Kennedy met Soviet Chairman Nikita Khrushchev in Vienna for a two-day June summit, he was unprepared for the Soviet leader’s brutish manner and open threats of “war” over Berlin. (The actual word “war” is rarely used by experienced diplomats.) The Soviets were enraged by the flood of East Germans who were coming to East Berlin and then easily passing into West Berlin, on their way to freedom in West Germany and beyond. Since 1949, over 2 million people had fled from East Germany to the West, via this route.

The Soviet-situation was very tense. Soon after the Vienna summit – on August 15th – the Russians began construction of the Berlin Wall, which effectively stopped emigration from East Berlin to the West until 1989. Few of us who lived through those events thought Germany would ever be reunited while a single Russian had breath in his body. The damage Germany did to their country was staggering. That Russia came back from it is even more staggering.

The Bay of Pigs fiasco also hung, cloud-like, over the Vienna meetings. In my August article, “Projection and the Nuclear Trigger” (http://www.ahherald.com/columns-list/at-large/22800-projection-and-the-nuclear-trigger ) I noted that many Americans at that time – especially those of us too young to recall World War II – didn’t realize that the roly-poly, somewhat comical-looking Comrade Nikita was a serious tough guy who had made his bones as political commissar of Stalingrad during the Nazis’ 1942 battle for the city. His brutal control of the population undoubtedly helped to defeat the German Sixth Army in 1943. I join other historians who believe that Chairman Khrushchev took the measure of our dashing young president at the Vienna summit and decided that he could be bested by intimidation and blackmail.

marilyn monroePHOTO: Marilyn Monroe

Some American reporters knew of Mr. Kennedy’s (ahem) “extra-curricular” adventures with the ladies – including movie star Marilyn Monroe and Judith Campbell Exner, the smashing brunette reputed to be the mistress of Mafia Don Sam Giancana. Reporters politically aligned with Mr. Kennedy kept these dalliances out of print, but the Soviet NKVD surely knew of them, too. That knowledge – which Chairman Khrushchev undoubtedly possessed – almost certainly played a role in the Cuban Missile Crisis, which developed quite suddenly in the fall of 1962.

judith campbell exnerPHOTO: Judith Campbell Exner

When photos taken by spy-planes showed Soviet technicians installing ICBM sites in Cuba, alarm-bells went off in Washington. President Kennedy announced an immediate naval blockade of Cuba. Soviet ships would be stopped on the high seas and searched to determine if they carried missiles or missile parts for Cuba. Ships containing such materiel would be turned back. In other eras this would have been considered an act of war. Millions of Americans, including my wife and I – newlyweds at the time – thought war was certain. We prayed for a miracle.

After a tense week, we all breathed a sigh of relief when the announcement came that Soviet ships bound for Cuba were turning around, and that the Soviets had agreed to dismantle the missile sites. The American media were delirious with praise for our valiant young president who had stared down the Russians. What a guy! What a happy day!

It was a happy day, all right – especially for those of us who might have been called up for military service just 9 years after the Korean War had ended. Thus, no one bothered to look behind the curtain to see what the crisis-ending deal really contained. This non-curiosity included most of those reporters who were shouting hosannas for Mr. Kennedy’s nerve.

Much later – well beyond Mr. Kennedy’s death – Americans learned that removal of the Soviet missiles from Cuba was merely their “quid,” in exchange for our “quo” – i.e., removal of our nuclear-armed missiles from Turkey. This was a key Soviet objective because of the proximity of those weapons to their country. Some historians believe that removal of the Turkey-based missiles was the USSR’s true aim, all along. In this theory, the Cuban missiles were simply a bargaining chip created to advance the Soviet Union’s post-war objective of establishing a safe, Soviet-controlled “buffer zone,” shielding them from Western Europe. Most of the small countries bordering the Soviet Union became part of that buffer-zone, but Turkey was an exception. In 1946, Winston Churchill called that zone the Iron Curtain.

The darker side of that crisis-resolution – the part about which we shall never know the truth – was the role played by blackmail. Did the Soviets threaten to disclose Mr. Kennedy’s affairs? Did those threats cause him to alter our strategic presence in Europe? And – darker still – did his involvement with Miss Exner actually play a part in his assassination in 1963? We’ll never know, but we can easily imagine that a hostile power might use such knowledge about a sitting president to achieve ends neither to our advantage, nor to his.

I furnish this description of the Cuban Missile Crisis as segue to a warning about a new “missile crisis” heading our way. It’s not on the front page yet, but it’s incoming (so to speak). It will probably hit our new president early in his/her term. In the hurly-burly of our current presidential campaign, the emerging threat of North Korean nuclear-armed ICBMs that can reach the USA has scarcely been noticed by reporters busily chasing the latest tabloid-stories on Mr. Trump’s coarse language or Mrs. Clinton’s fainting spells and leaked e-mails. Iran’s increasingly aggressive posture – in the wake of Mr. Obama’s “historic,” legacy-assuring nuclear deal with that country – has also been essentially ignored by a Democrat-aligned media willing to bury any story that might harm Mrs. Clinton’s campaign. Mr. Obama’s legacy-deal guarantees that Iran will get the bomb in a few years. When they do, it’s certain that Islamic terrorists will get it, too. The danger this poses to our country can hardly be overstated. Our media’s failure to make both campaigns address this vital issue is irresponsible to a degree seldom seen in American politics.

The great lesson of the Cuban Missile Crisis was not that missiles controlled by an unpredictable foreign power posed a danger to us. They did, of course, but the real danger was a president trying to hide his own corrupt behavior from discovery. Soviet Intelligence was far too able for that attempt to succeed, however. This opened JFK to blackmail and the country to great risk.

Our new missile crisis could again involve an individual with a locker full of secrets who hopes to be president. The public didn’t know of Mr. Kennedy’s peccadilloes when he ran in 1960, so we couldn’t be blamed for electing the dashing young senator. (Sound familiar?) But Mrs. Clinton is notoriously dishonest about her past conduct. Her lies to us and to the FBI have been revealed. Media acolytes keep many details of her corrupt behavior from going public, but foreign powers of hostile intent almost certainly have the full picture. Mrs. Clinton implicitly admits as much when she blames Russia for hacking her e-mails. (Mr. Putin probably knows more about her than Bill does.)

Like President Kennedy, Mrs. C is extremely vulnerable to blackmail – to an extent that few prospective presidents have ever been. If she gains the office, the danger to her, personally, as well as to the country, will be very great. What damaging secret deals – both foreign and domestic – will she be willing to make to protect her presidency? Will she place her interests ahead of the country’s? We’ll know sooner or later, but “later” may be too late.

Mrs. Clinton’s defenders might say that Mr. Trump is equally vulnerable to blackmail because of his many past “sins.” But this idea lacks credibility. Mr. Trump has been married three times, and it’s already known that his conduct has been spotty, at best. He makes no attempts to conceal his machismo. His business dealings have been sharp, but not illegal. This is why the best that Democrats could come up with was a claim by the former Miss Universe, Alicia Machado, that Mr. Trump called her “Miss Piggy,” merely because she had gained 60 pounds. (Oh the psychological damage! Do we really want a man like that in the Oval Office?)

I don’t defend Mr. Trump’s (possibly) unsavory actions – assuming they actually occurred – but we’re talking about blackmail here. He can hardly be blackmailed for things already known. His opponents have thrown everything at him that they could find. (The latest charge is from a woman who claims that he “groped” her on a plane, 30 years ago. Really?) What else could there be? Did he call some kid mean names and run his underwear up the flagpole at summer-camp? Did he make out in the back seat of his Edsel at age 18? Could I see the hands of all those who never did anything like this? (The Edsel was a 1950s car.)

Democrats have smeared every GOP candidate in recent years with some kind of sex-scandal. It’s all they’ve got. Voters should be wise to this by now, but Democrats believe that Republican voters are idiots. It’s why they keep running the same playbook at us. Will we fall for it again?

This is a time for people who care about America’s future to be wise and discerning. We’re grown people – at least, I hope so – not children who can be scared off by fantastic stories. Mr. Trump is no angel, but he’s a tough customer and a fighter. His followers admire this, and they believe he might actually do something to pull the country out of the Slough of Despond we’ve been wallowing in for eight years. God knows, we need somebody who can bring some changes.

Many conservatives – including Yours Truly – are also Christians. We respect moral values and we want right behavior. Some of my fellow-communicants prefer a Sunday school teacher as their ideal candidate. It’s understandable. But to be truly wise we need to play the hand that’s been dealt to us, not wish that we held different cards. (Relax, fellow evangelicals, it’s just a figure of speech.) Imagining that we’re “helping the country” by not voting, or by supporting a third-party candidate, or by choosing a flagrant liar with a history of very questionable “public service” is neither moral nor wise. As we saw with Mr. Kennedy, electing a president who has a past to hide can be very, very dangerous. We can do better than this. We must.

Final thought: it’s worth recalling that Jimmy Carter actually was a Sunday school teacher when he ran for president. How did that work out?