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February 14, 2012


Knoxville, Tennessee (JFK+50) Today JFK+50 continues our report on Chapter 14 of Chris Matthews’ new book, Jack Kennedy, Elusive Hero, published by Simon & Schuster.

The title of Chapter 14 is ZENITH.

On September 10, 1961, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of James Meredith who was seeking admission to the University of Mississippi as its’ 1st African-American student.

Governor Ross Barnett not only provided Meredith no assistance, he refused to guarantee his safety.

JFK was forced to federalize the Mississippi National Guard & authorize a back-up U.S. Army unit in Memphis.

Chris writes that on October 1, “the situation was stabilized (&) James Meredith became the 1st black student at (Ole Miss).”

James Meredith, January 10, 1962, Library of Congress Photo

But then, with Khrushchev letting it be known that “We will not allow your troops to be in Berlin,” JFK was presented, on October 16, 1962, with U-2 reconnaissance photos showing the Soviets were building offensive nuclear weapons sites in Cuba.

Chris says they were SS-24 Scalpels, ballistic missiles with a range of 1000 miles.

JFK met with the EXCOMM on the same day.  

The consensus was that a surgical air strike be carried out ASAP to take out the missiles before they became operational.

But General Maxwell Taylor confided to JFK that there would be no way to take out 100% of the missiles.  In other words, some would be left to wreak havoc on the United States.

The Joint Chiefs were united in their support of an air strike & they were supported by McGeorge Bundy, John McCone & Douglas Dillon.

Reconnaissance Pilots, General Curtis Lemay & JFK, CIA Photo

But instead, JFK chose a naval blockade of Cuba.  When he announced it to the world on October 22, 1962, he said:

“(We shall) regard any nuclear missile launched from Cuba against any nation in the Western Hemisphere as an attack by the Soviet Union on the United States, requiring a full retaliatory response on the Soviet Union.”

Khrushchev sent JFK 2 letters on October 26 & 27.  In the 1st, the Soviets wanted a pledge the US would NOT invade Cuba & in the 2nd, they wanted our Jupiter missiles removed from Turkey.

JFK responded to the 1st in the affirmative, but had Bobby Kennedy tell the Soviets privately that the Turkish missiles would be removed later.

The crisis was over, nuclear war had been averted.

Chris concludes this part of Chapter 14 with the words of British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, “If Kennedy never did another thing, he assured his place in history by this single act.”*

*I have told this story in another post but will repeat it here.  On the 1st day of a new school year, one of my US History students, having heard of my devotion to JFK obviously, asked: ‘Mr. White, just what is so great about JFK.”

I said, “If nothing else, he saved the world from nuclear annihilation & in doing so made it possible for you to be here today to ask me such a stupid question.”

EXCOMM Meeting, October 29, 1962, Photo by Cecil Stoughton, JFK Library

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