INT: Was there ever any thought that this might be a sort of decoy effort in a possible Soviet attack on Berlin?
RH: Yes. Rusk had that idea all along that that was the purpose of it and it's perfectly true that you know once they got 'em in place, they would have been free to do things in South America, in Berlin, all over the world that they weren't free to do when there wasn't a balance of power.
INT: Can you take us through the events of October fifteenth, the Monday, when there was evidence that the missiles were in place, getting the news to Secretary Rusk and so on, can you just take us through how that happened.
RH: Well, the way it happened, the U-2 flew on Sunday and by Monday... you got a vision of this, the kind of camera. If you took a piece of film, about fifty miles long, the distance between Baltimore and Washington DC and about fifty feet wide, that's what those photo-interpreters had to do and you know they had to crawl over that kind of photograph with a magnifying glass. Well, they found them on October fifteenth, the missiles were there. Now, what happens is that the photo-interpreters, it's a joint military CIA venture, they called the CIA and reported that there were missiles there and then, you know, the head of the CIA calls Mac Bundy and says, I'm prepared to brief the President and Mac says, he's going to need all the sleep he can get, there's nothing he can do about it this Monday afternoon, let him have a good night's sleep and we'll wake him up in the morning with the bad news. then the CIA calls me, I'm head of Intelligence at the State Department, and I tell Rusk. now in that case, Rusk was hosting a dinner for the (unintelligible) ambassador on the top floor of the State Department building, so I had his aide drop him a note and he went out to the kitchen and got on a pay phone and called me and I said, are you on a secure phone? And he said, no, I'm on a pay phone. So I said, well, remember that conversation we had last week about events down south? And he said, yes. And I said, well, they're there. And he said, are you sure? And I said, yes, I'm very sure. So that was the way he was told. McNamara was at a dinner party, I guess Bobby Kennedy was holding a dinner party for McNamara and some of the Joint Chiefs and the guy came out there and briefed them at the dinner party.
INT: On the next day, the sixteenth, Tuesday, there was an Excom meeting...
RH: (Interrupts) What became the Excom.
INT: What became Excom, yeah. What was the mood at the meeting, what did Kennedy say and do?
RH: Well, you know, mainly what you wanted to do was to find out you know how solid this information was and that's the kind of questions that were asked the first day. And then they met almost continuously from thereon and then questions like, how soon will they be operational, that becomes a very key question and you know what are we going to do about it. And they go around and around and around from the military and Curt Lemay who wanted a... well, what Bobby Kennedy said, you want a surprise first strike, without any warning. And you know, very... dramatic meeting on a Friday night, just... you see the... the disclosure was the following Monday, a week later from the discovery, but that Friday night, after four or five days of arguing, the NSC... the Excom met and Kennedy deliberately stayed away and said you know, let me be absent once... The presence of the President may be inhibiting. And so in this meeting, while the hawks and McNamara and... John McCone, head of CIA, argued again for a first strike without warning. And Bobby Kennedy with a very moving and emotional scene, which swayed a lot of people there, recalled Pearl Harbor and he said I do not want my brother to be the Tojo of American history, I do not want the American government to engage in a Pearl Harbor. And it moved everybody there and that swayed the meeting, so the point was that a blockade would prevent any more missiles getting in. The stickler was it wouldn't remove the missiles that were there, you see, and that's what was bothering the hawks. but it would keep them from putting more and more and more in there and we weren't even sure the warheads had arrived. It turned out they had arrived but we weren't sure of that at the time. But anyway, as Kennedy said, this is only a first step, we'll blockade it, we'll prevent any more build-up and then we can go on from there. I mean, if they won't remove the missiles, we can start about sanctions, we can put in, you know, add food and everything else and turn the screws and maybe at the end we'll have to invade, maybe we'll have to have an air strike. But the first step should be a blockade and that was all agreed upon.
INT: And Kennedy decided that very much in the beginning?
RH: Yeah. My own feeling, now this is speculation, but my own feeling was that from day one, Kennedy was not going to invade, he was going to blockade first, he was going to take it in slow bites, incremental steps. what he said was, he used an expression that was very vivid, you know, he said if we do something very dramatic, they're likely to have a spasm reaction, you know, a knee-jerk reaction, a spasm reaction, that's the phrase he used, and he said, we must avoid that, we must take it very steady. So what he did was, it was very carefully crafted, he made a speech and said, I will seek the permission of the Organization of American States for a blockade, you see. He didn't say, he waited twenty four hours, he sought the permission of the OAS, he got the permission of the OAS, he waited twenty four hours, he announced the blockade would be imposed another twenty four hours lathe waited another twenty four hours before stopping a ship. He stopped an oil tanker - you couldn't put a missile on an oil tanker you see - and let it go by. He then waited another twenty four hours and he stopped a Lebanese freighter on Soviet charter. The Soviets are not going to put missiles on a Lebanese freighter. He stopped that and boarded it. It was a step by step process, so that the other side would have time to think and not have a spasm reaction. That was his plan and that's what worked out.
INT: At the beginning, back on October the sixteenth, what was the decision about letting the public or preventing the public from knowing? What was it...
RH: Well, Kennedy first of all the very first thing... well, actually he did this long before we discovered missiles in Cuba, back after these enormous ship loads in the fall, he instituted a special security procedure called PSALM, P S A L M, PSLAM, was the code name, and this limited the number of people who could, if we discovered that there were missiles in Cuba, it limited the number of people who would be privy to that information to those who really needed to know and... 'cos he was afraid of a leak. And as he said, we'll need time to figure out what to do. So by PSALM and secrecy, he bought a week. But the Sunday night... I mean, the plane flew Sunday, October fourteenth, we learned about it Monday October fifteenth, he was going to make a speech the following Monday, it was decided, but on Sunday, the New York Times and the Washington Post by devious means, you know, calling up somebody and saying, well, I understand that we're going to blockade Berlin. Oh, no, no, nothinlike that, you know, so finally they get most of the story and Kennedy called the publisher of the Washington Post and the New York Times and said I'm going to make a speech tomorrow, iyou publish it in tomorrow morning's papers, the Soviets are liable to, you know, move ahead of me and so please don't. Well, the Post honored it, the Times fudged and said that there was some crisis in the air and so on. I do not respect the Times for that decision. But anyway, it held. Kennedy made his speech and we went on from there.
INT: There was obviously that week great fear that there would be a leak and people...
RH: Yeah. Well, one of the things that happened was that the reason the press got so alert was that you know, the sixth floor was where the Assistant Secretaries lived and the seventh floor was where the Secretary lived. Well, anybody driving by there at one o'clock in the morning, you know, would look up and there all the lights are on the sixth floor and all the lights are on the seventh floor, you see, they're bound to know something was up and the press were prowling the halls before the week was out. So on one occasion, one of the NSC meetings, all these black cars are driving up to the State Department, black limousines and so finally they put 'em in the basement, you see, instead of parking outside and took the Secretary's private elevator up to his office. In the White House, one day to avoid this sort of thing, they piled everybody concerned in one big limousine, sitting on each other's laps and drove to the Treasury Department, because it was discovered that there was a tunnel between the Treasury Department and the White House that everybody had forgotten about, but it was still there, so they went to the Treasury Department and went through the tunnel to the White House, all part of trying to keep the... you know, give him time, give us time to think.
INT: Was there any thought at the time that this was Khrushchev trying to test Kennedy?
RH: Well, all sorts of such hypotheses were put forward, you see. But the trouble was when somebody did put forward that hypothesis, but you know, you don't play around with nuclear missiles when... nobody does, when you're testing somebody and, by the way, you know, remember that the Berlin crisis had gone on, Kennedy had done a number of things that showed that he had seal and soul. they broke the cease-fire in Laos and we sent a division to Thailand, all before the Cuban mis... I think that's nonsense. I think that Khrushchev and the Soviets were afraid of being on the wrong end of a missile gap and here was an easy and quick solution, a very dangerous one, but it wasn't, to their point of view, it wasn't as dangerous as it might sound, because, you see, although it's missiles and it's nuclear war, they had their hand on the trigger. Now, I'll tell you one thing that since then I've written a book about this, about the Cuban Missile Crisis and before that time, we all thought, the Americans and the Soviets that nuclear war was so terrible that there was no risk of it, you see, and we called it the balance of terror, using Churchill's phrase, the balance of terror will guarantee peace. There were so many slips during that thing, the Soviets shot down a U-2, apparently the local anti-aircraft commander made the decision. They had warheads all over the place, they, you know, all sorts of crazy things were done and there were, you know, and our own navy put the blockade in close against Kennedy's orders. They used some target depth charges to bring up the Soviets... you know, they weren't enough to kill 'em, but they were enough to bring 'em to the surface. If Kennedy had known that, he'd have screamed bloody murder you see. There were all sorts of things on both sides. In the midst of the crisis, a U-2 had been flying up to the North Pole every month for several years not with photographic equipment, with air sampling equipment to see if the Soviets had tested the... atomic bomb, you see. And that's the way we kept monitoring their tests. We fly up over the (unintelligible). This pilot, a U-2 pilot, circles the North Pole, picks the wrong star and next the bloody Cuban Crisis is over the Soviet Union. The Soviet fighters are scrambling and everything else and he goes on the clear and, you know, what the hell. You know, as Khrushchev said later you know, in the midst of this crisis, when we're both on the verge of war, you send a U-2 over the Soviet Union. We thought it was a reconnaissance for a first strike. Well, it was an accident, you know, it was an accident, nobody knew about this. There were so many of those things that happened that I became convinced, and a number of others, that you know, we talk about abolishing nuclear weapons and this is this book, you know, that I've written, we talk about abolishing nuclear weapons, it became clear to me at that time that that was not enough, that we were really going to have find some way to abolish war, because if you start a war now between major powers, even though you've had nuclear disarmament, both sides will start building nuclear weapons just as a precaution. You know, after all we built the nuclear weapon before anybody knew how to do it in the midst of a war and in time to use in the war. Both sides will build 'em and sooner or later there'll be a war and they're used again. So the only thing to do is to find some mechanism for abolishing war, it seems to me.