INT: Excellent answer. The missiles have been... This is prior to knowledge, but the...
INT: ...had been called in. What did you find out was the Joint Chiefs of Staff's immediate reaction to the threat of the missiles in Cuba? What did they advise Kennedy's government to do?
WS: The Joint Chiefs said, Mr. President, you have been telling us for a long time you wanted to get rid of Castro, you have had us as part of Operation Mongoose develop a plan to invade Cuba. You told us through the Secretary of Defense, as late as the first of October to be prepared to invade Cuba if we have to. Now the Russians are putting some missiles in there, they're not yet operational, they will be soon, we can within X number of days invade Cuba, we recommend that you invade Cuba. And so they were for taking military action against Cuba to get rid of those missiles, but also to get rid of Castro.
INT: And what was Kennedy's reaction to that? What was Kennedy and the, what later became known as Excom, what was their reaction?
WS: Well, the Excom's reaction at first was, yeah, that's a good idea. You know, that's right, we want to get rid of Castro, we're ready, we can invade, we're not worried about... the missiles being ready at this point, yes that, you know, we should invade. As they thought about that later, they said, OK, we may invade, but if we do invade there are not many Russians there - we under-estimated how many - but there are some Russians who would be killed, how would the Russians react and therefore the conversation at the Excom came around to what other than invasion can we do? Is there some way we can get those missiles removed without the direct use of military force? And they came up with the idea, they first called a blockade and they said, well look, you know, a blockade's an act of war, you can't have a blockade. And they said, OK, change the name and so say we'll have a quarantine of certain military supplies going into Cuba.
INT: And what was the Joint Chiefs' reaction to the quarantine?
WS: The Joint Chiefs' reaction to the quarantine was that the time would be better spent by invading Cuba sooner. They were certainly willing to... Once they were told to try to quarantine, they would try the quarantine, but that was not their first option.
INT: How did... just moving slightly backwards, what was the relationship like at that time between certainly the Secretary of Defense, MacNamara, and the Joint Chiefs and the Kennedy administration?
WS: Yeah, the relationship between the Secretary of Defense and the Joint Chiefs was not good. Secretary MacNamara, when he came in, brought in the whiz kids, who believed that everything could be determined by quantitative analysis and that if you could count something, you understood it. military judgement did not count for much and... therefore what the Joint Chiefs recommended, which was often military judgement, because at that time they were not very good military analysts, so they were the Joint Chiefs' relations with Secretary MacNamara were never good. The Joint Chiefs' relations with President Kennedy and the people close to him was damaged very seriously by the Bay of Pigs' invasion, because President Kennedy thought the Joint Chiefs of Staff did not give him direct enough advice on a CIA operation and he actually held the military more responsible than he did the CIA and therefore he did not have that much confidence in the Joint Chiefs going in to the... after the Bay of Pigs.
INT: Fascinating. So what was the Joint Chiefs' first reaction? If you think about the air strikes, what was their plan of attack so to speak?
WS: Yeah, the Joint Chiefs, in planning for the invasion of Cuba decided that it would begin with an air strike against all the air defenses of Cuba and all the major military installations that they knew, all of this of course with non-nuclear weapons and they would hope that that destruction of a large portion of Castro's military capability would induce him to say, OK, I give up and then surrender. That's what they hoped. But I don't think they really thought that was going to happen and therefore they planned to have an invasion of army and marine forces of Cuba that would follow, once it became clear that the air strikes had not succeeded in making Castro surrender.
INT: There's been quite a lot of discussion and certainly in your book, General Grimkov [?] talks about the fact that the Soviets had tactical nuclear weapons on Cuba. Was that known at the time?
WS: [Coughs] It was not known at the time. It was... But to their credit, the Joint Chiefs of Staff saw in Cuba nuclear capable weapons and they said, in their analyses, we don't see any nuclear weapons in Cuba, we have no evidence that there are any in there, but we must assume that if there are nuclear capable weapons, that the warheads might be there and therefore we should conduct this operation on the basis that the Soviets may respond with nuclear weapons. But I will tell you, there's a bit difference between assuming something and knowing something and we were looking... One of the things I did was kept trying to find out for General Taylor during the time of the crisis, what evidence do we have of nuclear warheads moving into Cuba? And I pressed the intelligence communities as far as I could to find out what evidence we had and we had none. So all the Joint Chiefs said, although they said you have to assume that nuclear weapons are there, everything we saw said they weren't and therefore we went through that whole crisis assuming that no nuclear warheads were in Cuba.
INT: But if I could ask you just to gaze into a crystal ball slightly, had there been an invasion and had the Russians responded with tactical nuclear weapons, what... would that have initiated World War Three?
WS: Not in my view, nor in the Joint Chiefs' view, nor in CIA's view at the time. Now that leaves out a lot of people, like MacNamara and Kennedy and Kennedy's advisers. in the first place, the Joint Chiefs says, if there are nuclear weapons in and the Soviets use them against us, Mr. President, don't worry about it, we can handle that, we have enough weapons, we can take care of that. But they said, we really do not believe that the Soviet Union would use nuclear weapons in the defense of Cuba, because Cuba is just not that important to the Soviet Union and so they said, you know, we really don't think that, you know, they're going to use nuclear weapons, but if they do, don't worry about it, we can take care of 'em, therefore they said, therefore, let's go ahead.
INT: Fascinating... Now going on to a few specifics, Kennedy on the twenty-second made the famous broadcast. Do you remember hearing that broadcast and what sort of emotions did it...
WS: Look there are a few moments in history people really remember and that's one that I remember, because I was still working at the Pentagon, I didn't realize how long I was going to be there, but I was there a long time after that too. We were all transfixed on that message and saw what the... Here we have the United States and the Soviet Union in an atmosphere which I had earlier which at that time the United States was in a very precarious position. It thought relative to the Soviet Union and therefore we saw this as a very great danger, because we had this Soviet Union which was exerting its influence and its power in the wars of national liberation, it was now showing it on the nuclear level and we just didn't know what to expect, what those people were thinking. Those people being Khrushchev and his advisers.
INT: What was the...
INT: So if we can take you back to the night of the twenty second of October, you were in the Pentagon. Did you have worries about your family at that point, did you tell your family anything?
WS: A couple of days later, after the twenty second, my brother, who lives in Arkansas called Maria, my wife, and said, you know, what's going on, what's happening, is there any danger? And she said, don't ask me, you probably know more about it than I do. So the answer is no, I didn't really talk about it at that time, because we didn't know, you know, what the danger was. At that point, we just knew there was a problem but we didn't really think it would necessarily lead to any use of military force and so I decided that why worry people unnecessarily. One thing we learned in the military, you just don't talk about those things and so I did not tell her anything at that point.
INT: So the speech went out, the world was informed that this was happening, and just prior to that had put the entire military force of the United States on to alert. Can you just describe... there were two different stages, weren't there, you went to Defcon 3 first, can you explain...?
WS: Defcon 3 is just when you are in a period which might turn into a crisis. The normal state of readiness, day to day for forces, is Defcon 5 and then you take a few measures at Defcon 4 to improve your readiness and then Defcon 3, then at least always felt that this meant, hey look, this is really getting serious and you're now something may happen which requires the use of military force. For the Strategic Air Command, the decision was made - the only time in history that I know of - to go to Defcon 2 and that really put you in a high state of readiness. At that time we had airborne alert aircraft, which were armed with nuclear weapons, in certain positions where they could proceed to attack the Soviet Union if directed. So we increased the airborne alert and we increased the ground alert of strategic forces, so that if nuclear weapons were used and the Soviet Union did launch an attack against the United States, we would be prepared to retaliate. At the same time, since there was the possibility of an the necessity to invade Cuba, even in the absence of a nuclear attack and most likely in the absence of a nuclear attack, the US military forces to conduct that invasion had to move into position and that meant they had to move from positions, I would say for the ground forces, primarily from the central United States - and I define central west to Texas - and they began to move to Florida. That's the armored forces, infantry, artillery, all those kind of forces began to move by rail, by road, to Florida. At the same time, since the air attack was going to come first, the air force and the navy sent hundreds of aircraft to Florida, to bases in Florida which had been pre-designated, and so they could get in position to launch their air attack when directed by the President. So what you had is conventional military forces in the United States moving to Florida - I'm surprised it didn't sink - moving to Florida, prepared to attack Cuba and the strategic nuclear forces, both offensive and defensive, getting to a higher state of readiness to be prepared to defend the United States and to retaliate if the Soviet Union did decide to launch nuclear weapons.