Interviews:

Brugioni,
Dino

Walter,
Cronkite

Halpern,
Samuel

McNamara,
Robert

Smith,
William

Sorensen,
Theodore

Troyanovski,
Oleg


     
   


INTERVIEW WITH WALTER CRONKITE

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INT: There was a lot of debate within the Excom, the National Security Committee, about whether Cuba should be invaded or they should conduct air strikes, certainly, against Cuba. Do you think Kennedy would have had the support of the American people had he chosen to do that?

WC: The question of whether Kennedy would have had popular support if he had decided to invade Cuba, which was apparently one option in the early stages of the crisis - I think undoubtedly he would have had. I think that in times of such crises, with a known enemy, a known threat to our security, the American people rally around without much question. Oh, undoubtedly there would have been the occasional editorial, the occasional piece in the pap the occasional would-be statesman who would stand up and claim that this was the wrong route to take, but the people would basically be for it. It would not have been similar to the Vietnam War in which we did not understand in many cases what the fight was all about, and it therefore was vastly divisive among the American people. That wouldn't have happened in the case of Cuba, I don't believe at all.

INT: One question that's always slightly curious to me is that Russia had intercontinental ballistic missiles at that time, which America knew. Why did America seem to find it so much more frightening to have missiles in Cuba than Russia? It might seem like a na´ve question, but if you're going to be hit by an atomic bomb, it doesn't really matter where it's come from.

WC: Well, the assumption is that the missiles in Cuba would... they would have more of them and be able to throw more weight by the quantity than they would out of the Soviet Union. Presumably... I mean, I think it's kind of obvious that you would say, well, if you're shooting at me from across the room, I'd feel a lot more insecure than if you're shooting at me from down the block somewhere. Their aim's likely to be better. You might get off more shots before they get back to you, and that sort of thing. I think it was just the proximity of the enemy that created the serious alarm.

INT: What were your feeling...

WC: This was the same thing, by the way, that caused the Soviets to be so upset and send the missiles to Cuba. We're looking at the other side of this picture. We had ringed the Soviet Union with missiles; as close as we could get to Soviet territory, we were putting in missiles - Turkey being a case in point. The Soviet Union had every reason to be concerned about our putting in those missiles, and really they were simply retaliating in form by getting as close as they could to us with their missiles.

INT: That's a very good point. Was there no sense at that time within the public that, just as you say, Russia had a right to do this, given what America was doing across the world, really?

WC: Yeah, sure.

INT: Could you tell me what your feelings were when you heard that the missiles were being pulled out? On the 28th of October there was a radio message from Moscow, and Khrushchev said he would take the missiles out. What was the public feeling then?

WC: Well, when we learned that Khrushchev was pulling the missiles out, obviously there was a tremendous sense of relief. By then we were pretty darned aware of the real nature of the crisis, that atomic war could break out at any moment; and at the time when they announced that the missiles were being pulled out, the ships were turned back, there was a huge sigh of relief across America. At the same moment, however, I think that most of us believed, or worried, that this was not over with, that this was a tactical manoeuvre at the moment, and we were still very much concerned that the next step might be unleashing the long-range missiles from Moscow itself. This might be a little subterfuge to get us off guard at the moment, and we were so deeply suspicious at that time of what the Soviets were up to, that we weren't willing to laid down our arms, if you please, simply because he promised to take the missiles out of Cuba.

INT: Was there a large degree of mobilisation of forces in America at that time?

WC: As I recall, there was, yes, a rather sizeable mobilisation. I don't recall that we called back the National Guard, which would be the most noteworthy type of mobilisation; those are the civilian soldiers who practise in their spare time. I think that some reserve forces were called up; those are the forces that are actually in military reserve and practise every weekend and that kind of thing. I think some reserve forces were put on alert, anyway. I'm not too positive about that at this stage.

INT: How well do you think Kennedy handled the crisis?

WC: Since we succeeded and didn't have an atomic war, I think the assessment of Kennedy in handling the crisis has to be on the positive side. The question of what went before the crisis would be the one, I think, to lay out on the table to debate - that is, the Bay of Pigs, for instance, which already was underway in a planning stage when he came into office, so he doesn't take full blame for that, but he did give the "go" signal for it. Should we have done that? I would think a lot of Americans would say no. And if we hadn't done that, would Khrushchev have felt he had to take this next step and put the missiles into Cuba? Perhaps not. Everything is moot, of course, from that point - we don't really know what the answers to the play by play would have been. But to try to assess how Kennedy performed - I think that the performance in the actual confrontation over the missiles being there, the ships being intercepted at sea, and the embargo - I think that most people believe, and I would have to go along with them, that Kennedy performed exceedingly well, quite coolly, in the face of a great crisis.

INT: Was there a sense in America that Khrushchev too had handled the crisis well, that the Russians didn't in fact want nuclear war?

WC: I think you would have to put the same assessment on Khrushchev's handling of the affair. The same things would apply to Khrushchev as applied to Kennedy. The run-up to the real crisis was where the mistakes probably were made. Once that crisis was upon the two of them, they both performed in the best interests of humanity and of the nations, obviously, to cool it down.

INT: The last few questions. Is there a moment of that period that you remember particularly, whether it was a report that you gave or a real feeling of tension for you personally?

WC: I think that when we were told that the ships, that Russian ships were approaching the embargo line, and that our vessels were on the way to meet them, I think that was the moment that really was the heart-stopper. I recall being in the just waiting for that next bulletin, and just really almost literally trying to type with my fingers crossed.

INT: Excellent, sir, thank you. If I can beg another couple of minutes of your time, just to leap you wildly forward in history. Onof the other programmes that we'll be doing will be looking particularly at the expansionism of communist philosophies and states within the Third World; and also, another aspect will be to look at the Middle East wars, at the Yom Kippur war of 1973. And if I could just ask you if you have any feelings of that period - again, similar to what we were talking about in Cuba in terms of general feelings. When, in 1973, the Arab countries invaded Israel, what was the American reaction to that?

WC: Well, regarding the Yom Kippur war, the Egyptian invasion across the Canal of the Israeli territory which the Israelis had seized previously, of course it's well understood, I think, by everybody that there is a great sympathy in the United States for the Israeli cause. We have a very heavy Jewish population, and we have come to believe that... I think in this country, in the vast majority, that the Israelis were right about gaining a homeland through the Balfour Declaration, all the history of the attempt to settle and make a homeland out of Israel. I think it's pretty well accepted; I'm sure it's accepted by most of the American people. And as a consequence, any assault against that small country by these much larger surrounding Arab nations, is considered a(n) offence against humanity, and as such, clearly the Egyptian invasion was viewed the same way.