On October 21, President Kennedy opted for a naval quarantine of Cuba and
demanded the removal of the missiles. The following day he announced the
presence of "offensive missile sites" to the American people, and on October
23, he won unanimous support from the Organization of American States to
implement his plan. The quarantine began that afternoon.
Tension mounted on October 27, when a U.S. U2 spy plane was shot
Cuba. But President Kennedy chose restraint by rescinding an earlier
decision authorizing retaliation if a U.S. plane were shot down. Instead
he waited for Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev's response to the
primary U.S. demand: removal of the missiles. When Khrushchev replied
that he would agree to withdraw the missiles if Kennedy would guarantee
invade Cuba, Kennedy accepted the condition, and Khrushchev announced
to pull the missiles out of Cuba. The crisis was over. (The deal to
remove U.S. missiles from
Turkey as a quid pro quo remained classified for several years.)
A few months later, "Cuba and the Nuclear Risk," the text of an address on the missile crisis given by the Pulitzer prize-winning journalist Water Lippmann, appeared in The Atlantic.
In his address, Lippmann applauded Kennedy's exemplary restraint and
skillful diplomacy, labeling the confrontation a national victory.
It would have been an incalculable risk to invade and occupy Cuba at the
risk of retaliatory military action against Berlin, action which could have
escalated into nuclear war. The President adopted limited objectives which
could be achieved by limited means. He demanded the removal of the Soviet
strategic missiles. He did not demand the removal of the Castro regime or
even of the Cuban defensive missiles.
Though Lippmann boasted that the United States had
"the power to reduce Soviet society to a smoldering ruin, leaving the
survivors shocked and starving and diseased," he emphasized that a
power and maintenance of the status quo were crucial to foreign policy
nuclear age. "The Cuban affair has much to teach us about the nature of
diplomacy," he asserted, citing Kennedy's decision to leave Khrushchev
elbow room, and maintaining that the "ultimate catastrophic mistake of
nuclear diplomacy" would be to surround the adversary and give him no
way to retreat.
There is a line of intolerable provocation and humiliation beyond which
popular and governmental reactions are likely to become uncontrollable. It
is the business of the governments to find out where that line is, and to
stay well back of it.
Those who do not understand the nature of war in the nuclear age, those who
think that war today is what war was in the past, regard these careful
attempts of statesmen not to carry provocation beyond the tolerable limits
as weakness and softness and appeasement.
Lippmann suggested that Kennedy's prudence--his decision to "react sharply,
but to react for a limited aim and with limited means"--allowed the
confrontation to end "peaceably," as Khrushchev accepted the naval quarantine in a
"rather elegant and nonchalant way." Still, Lippmann conceded that it was not only
diplomacy that had led to the removal of the weapons.
Soviet nuclear power was neutralized by American nuclear power, and in
Cuban area, the United States also had overwhelming land, sea, and air
forces which were quite capable of destroying or capturing the Soviet
missiles. The Soviet government had no conventional forces in the
Caribbean area, and once its nuclear power was neutralized, it had no
other force it could use.
At a time when critical documents about the Cuban missile crisis
classified, Lippmann, in this speech, deemed the clash a U.S. triumph
and hailed Kennedy's "wisdom" as well as the way the "two heads of
government kept channels of personal and official communication open."