Castro: I Was Wrong During Cuban Missile Crisis

Jeffrey Goldberg's online account just now of his recent visit with Fidel Castro, in Havana, is fascinating in many ways. But the part that got my attention comes at the end, when Castro expresses his fear that an Iranian/Israeli/US showdown could get out of control. He tells Goldberg: 

"Men think they can control themselves but Obama could overreact and a gradual escalation could become a nuclear war." I asked him if this fear was informed by his own experiences during the 1962 missile crisis, when the Soviet Union and the U.S. nearly went to war other over the presence of nuclear-tipped missiles in Cuba (missiles installed at the invitation, of course, of Fidel Castro). I mentioned to Castro the letter he wrote to Khruschev, the Soviet premier, at the height of the crisis, in which he recommended that the Soviets consider launching a nuclear strike against the U.S. if the Americans attack Cuba. "That would be the time to think about liquidating such a danger forever through a legal right of self-defense," Castro wrote at the time.

I asked him, "At a certain point it seemed logical for you to recommend that the Soviets bomb the U.S. Does what you recommended still seem logical now?" He answered: "After I've seen what I've seen, and knowing what I know now, it wasn't worth it all."

I haven't followed the full literature of the Cuban Missile Crisis closely enough to know whether or how often Castro has expressed similar pentimenti before. But whenever he started revealing such a changed outlook, it is a significant complement to the views of the Kennedy Administration officials who were in charge at the time, many of whom looked back in relief and horror at how close the world had come to an uncontrolled nuclear exchange.

The full dispatch from Havana is very much worth reading, as presumably will be the second online installment; and the upcoming print magazine account; and Jeff Goldberg's promised omnibus reply to supporters and critics of his original article contending that Israel is planning to bomb Iran. Obvious point worth restating: the ripple effects of this article, which have ranged from Castro's inviting the author for a visit, to impassioned international debate about what the governments of Israel, Iran, and America "really" intend and what this article "really" signified, show the way a venerable print publication is enmeshed in the connected, international, real-time "world brain," creating a kind of discussion and feedback that simply was not possible before. More on that later. For now, click over to the Havana report.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.

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