INT: Just leaping back slightly to the beginning of the crisis, one of the things we discussed prior to the interview was the deception involved and how important that became in the crisis.
RM: Well, Give me a moment to talk about this, because it's interesting. In the first place, the decision to move the missiles into Cuba was made by Khrushchev after consultation with only a handful of people, initially with only Mikoyan, and then subsequently with a small number of additional people. And it was kept secret within the Soviet hierarchy. By the time the missiles had been put there, and we had photographs of them which we obtained on October 14 1962, it was still a tightly kept secret. , and as a result, after we had the photographs, but before the Soviets knew we had them, two senior Soviet diplomats, the Soviet Ambassador to the UN and the Soviet Ambassador to the US, Anatoly Dobrynin, both experienced, seasoned diplomats, stated publicly and to the President that there were no missiles in Cuba and none would be placed there. In addition, Gromyko, their Foreign Minister, had an appointment scheduled some time before we received the photographs, as I recall it, the photographs were taken on the 12th of October, a Sunday; I think the appointment was for the 15th, a Wednesday, with President Kennedy. President Kennedy didn't announce to the world that we had the photographs until the following Monday. And when Gromyko met with the President, he stated there were no missiles in Cuba. So we had three senior Soviet officials stating publicly there were no missiles there. It was a clear intent to deceive, and this affected the way in which the President felt he should respond. If the US were not to respond to Soviet deception, how would this influence the attitude of our NATO allies, how would they view the US guarantee of their security, and how would it influence the future behaviour of the Soviet Union? If they got by with deception once, couldn't they do it again? And therefore, wasn't there a risk that if we did not respond to a clear attempt to deceive, the risk of future conflict would be increased? The answer to that was: yes, we thought there was that risk, and this influenced the way in which the Government responded.
INT: One of the things that interests me is that had Khrushchev taken the missiles in publicly, as Castro wanted him to do, would America have had a difficulty in advising...?
RM: I'm not going to answer that. I thought of it 100 times. It's a very difficult question to answer, and I'm happy we didn't have to answer it. (Laughs)
INT: Could I ask you, then - final question - I know we've discussed this before, but it's just fascinating to find out... In your own personal opinion - and I know there are others who disagree with you - how close did we come to nuclear war in October 1962?
RM: No, I'm not going to answer that. It's already answered...
INT: OK, fair enough. Could I ask you, then: was there a worst moment for you during that crisis, was there a moment where you really thought you were facing a hopeless situation?
RM: Well, at the time, the CIA reported that the best... to their judgement, there were no nuclear warheads on the island. But President Kennedy and I knew they might be wrong and there might be nuclear warheads there. Moreover, even if there weren't, if we engaged in military action against the Soviets in Cuba, we believe there was certainly a significant likelihood - and I would say a probability - of Soviet military action against NATO somewhere in the world and we were determined to try to avoid that if we possibly could. As of Saturday night, the Saturday before the Sunday, the 24th of October, when Khrushchev announced publicly he was withdrawing them, I was leaving the White House whatever, around dusk, to go back to my office in the Pentagon. It was a perfectly beautiful night, as fall nights are in Washington. I walked out of the President's Oval Office, and as I walked out I thought I might never live to see another Saturday night. Now I don't want to be melodramatic or exaggerated, or imply then that I knew there were nuclear warheads there - I didn't - but I knew that it was a very, very risky situation, and I felt, as I know President Kennedy did, that it was our job to try to minimise that risk, and I wasn't at all sure we'd succeed.
INT: A personal note, sir. When you heard Khrushchev's radio announcement on the 28th, what was your reaction?
RM: Of course, the reaction was immense relief.
INT: Mr McNamara, thank you very much indeed.
RM: Thank you.
INT: That was excellent - it was well worth the trip.