Commentary: The Cuban Missile Crisis

Courtesy Reuters

In Washington, crucial facts are commonly observed disappearing down the historical "memory hole." Recollections of the Cuban missile crisis of 1962 are in fashion now. Naturally, dim recollections and diverse perceptions cloud the picture, but more than that there appears to be a genial wish on the part of many of the reminiscing original participants in the "Thirteen Days in October" to demonstrate fairness and balanced judgment about the Soviet Union, deferring politely to what Soviet officials are saying in this extraordinary age of selective glasnost.

One thing is clear to me, one of the aging participants who remembers the 1962 crisis pretty clearly. Mikhail Gorbachev's team of official intellectuals is engaged in a program of historical revisionism serving Moscow's interest. Some of the facts being laid out are misleading or simply not true, and the geopolitical thrust of the Soviet interpretation of history is false.

Political jokes in Moscow are very revealing, and one joke of some durability tells us something about this retrospective look at Cuba of 1962. The story goes that Marxist-Leninist states give a clear, simple picture of the future, bound to be bright for communism, but the past is unpredictable since it needs to be changed from time to time.

The past has certainly changed under Gorbachev, who is purging Brezhnev-era cohorts but energetically refurbishing the image of Lenin and that good old economic reformer Nikita Khrushchev, who presided over the Cuban crisis. As Gorbachev's policy interest changes, due to the urgent Soviet need for economic reform and détente, the past is being substantially revised. It is not necessary, however, for Americans to believe everything they are told or to forget what they thought they knew.


The thrust of the Soviet argument at a two-day U.S.-Soviet-Cuban symposium held in Moscow January 27-28, 1989, was that Khrushchev feared an American invasion of Cuba and made the extraordinary strategic move of attempting to place missiles on Cuban soil to defend his protégé, Fidel Castro. Many of the

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