INT: You were saying you went to California with him.
WR: We went... yes, I went to California with him and he said good-bye to these young men, who were often... I remember one young man said, well, my baby has just been born, I've just seen him and off I go. And he returned to that many times. But I think any President especially Kennedy and Johnson, who I knew well, who were small unit commanders, they didn't sit ten miles behind the front or twenty miles behind the front and see these divisional maps, which generals look at, but these were real people he was sending out there and he felt.
INT: And what are your memories immediately after he gave his speech when he said he wasn't going to run for President? You all went off...
WR: Well, he let me know beforehand that he was going to make that speech and I listened to it... well, we spent time up in his house and I walked with him to the office where he delivered this speech and I listened to it there and I felt he had every right to make that decision. He himself felt he could defeat Nixon. I think that his health really was the decisive factor. He had himself examined by an insurance company and the background of his family and his mother had a stroke and he said he never walked past a picture of Woodrow Wilson without thinking of that and in modern times with nuclear weapons, the President being immobilized and his wife having to take over. That frightened him. He had had confidence, of course, in Humphrey as his successor, but...
INT: (Interrupts) What happened immediately after that? What happened immediately after the speech?
WR: After the speech? Well, he went back to his house and I went back with him and there was a number of his friends there and he was in great form, he was delighted... this was a great load lifted off his shoulders to have made that speech. Finally, he had made a decision.
INT: Professor, thank you.
INT: This is a continuation of the interview with Walt Rostow, this is for program six, After Stalin. Can you tell me why Ike gave his April 1953 peace speech?
WR: I think it was a very simple desire to start over with the Russians, to say something which would be healing, which treated the Russians with dignity, but said we've come through a bad patch and I'd like to start again. And... behind it was a view of the experts that namely that it was most unlikely that the Russians would settle Germany, it was most unlikely that the Russians would buy into a system of serious arms control. But it was important that they would not have them a vicious speech, a Cold War speech, one which implied that because they would feel vulnerable they would rally round. And the most we hoped for out of that was abolition of secret police control. But just as in our later dealings with the Vietnamese, President Johnson's view it's sometimes the blind heart that finds the (unintelligible), that we didn't think we were so smart and we wanted to make that on behalf of American people and people of the world, the most peaceful forthcoming speech we could.
INT: OK. So a little bit of enlargement on that in that case. Do you think the peace speech was a genuine bid to interest Soviet leaders in a reduction of Cold War tension or was it... couyou describe the hat as a propaganda ploy?
WR: No, I think it was a good propaganda ploy, it was a good thing for the American President to say, it was a healing, but it was really aimed at the Soviet people, through... trying to end the Cold War, which by then had already gone on since '46, '47.
INT: OK, and the last question for this particular program is about how you actually regarded the Soviets. Did you regard the Kremlin's occupants as legitior criminals? Was it a...
WR: Well, I thought they were... when you got to the top, they ran themselves like a Mafia and they were no... the good Lord didn't make them any worse than the rest of the human race, but they were caught up in a system which had no orderly rules of succession, except what the Politburo decided and that that this was a rather anarchic arrangement. And they were led, therefore, into the politics of the Mafia. And I predicted they would not historically be viable and my wife and I worked in the Economic Commission for Europe in Geneva, East and West, on that assumption. But that didn't come from any fancy research of Russian history, that came from Thomas Mann-Goodenbrookes, where we predicted that in the third generation they would collapse. They did.
INT: Fine. I'm going to go right ahead and I'm going to ask you a number of questions for program nine...
INT: So the Vienna Summit in 1961. What did President Kennedy intend to achieve at the Vienna Summit in regard to Berlin?
WR: Well, what he intended to achieve at the summit on Berlin at Vienna, was that the Soviets should ease their policy on Berlin and form a dignified relationship with the West, which was not litigious. But at Vienna, Khrushchev had a very aggressive statement, which in effect was that he would give us until Christmas of 1961 to settle the Berlin thing, after which they would turn over all their rights derived from the Second World War to the East Berliners and you would have to, he said to Kennedy, you would have to strike the war. And this was not what Kennedy had thought... it was virtually an ultimatum and he came home and he called up the reserves and that started a tremendous flow out of Berlin and that led to his coming to the conclusion that Khrushchev would be forced to put up a wall or something like it. And it was an interesting argument. He said that he could barely keep NATO together in the face of a Soviet attack across Germany, but he could not keep NATO together on the proposition that we would keep Berlin open as an escape route from the East, and therefore he had to expect Khrushchev the proper wall or something like. He said this about ten days before Khrushchev acted.
INT: Right. So at that summit, Kennedy was very shaken by his encounter by Khrushchev. Can you tell me what perhaps you saw of that, if anything, what he said to you, and why he was so shaken?
WR: I don't know whether shaken's the right word. He thought that it was to be a get together meeting to go over the ground, a benign meeting and not one that was going to lead to a military ultimatum. What he heard was a military ultimatum, to make sure he understood Khrushchev, he went off alone with Khrushchev, Khrushchev's interpreter and his, so there was just four of them, and Khrushchev repeated this argument about he would have to start the war and East German would inherit Soviet rights and he ended up that by saying, well, it's going to be a cold winter. But it turned out to be a hot summer instead and didn't last until winter. But when he came home, it was quite familiar to me. He was not shaken, he just knew he was in a fight.
INT: He said to James Retson, it was the roughest thing in my life.
WR: Well, the new President and he took it awfully well. I gotten to know him very well, because I helped mop up the Bay of Pigs, that was the duty which I felt was most useful in the whole period that I was in government. And this was tough, and as a small unit commander, he felt strongly about the fellows who'd joined in this effort, but I don't think he was really shaken. I think he knew he was in a fight and he had been in a fight before.
INT: Can you describe to me how Khrushchev treated Kennedy in that case and how important Vienna was to Kennedy's understanding of Khrushchev?
WR: Well, it was peculiar. Kennedy read beforehand... Khrushchev was a great gambler, he gambled when he was Mayor of Moscow on the subway and so on and Kennedy remembered it, that the (unintelligible) which was very hot after he was scratched the hair on his chest and he's... had a blockade of Berlin and so on, he... like a little boy turning round the corner, he said, sir, you go (unintelligible) at Okinawa, didn't you? And Kennedy loud (unintelligible) well you did do and that's how we got the negotiation on Laos. And, he felt that Khrushchev was a gambler and that he couldn't afford to let him get away with that gamble, that he was not about to make that a cause of going to war with Eastern Europe, with Soviet troops in Eastern Europe, but he was redoubtable. And what Khrushchev kept saying was that we surround all those troops you have in West Berlin and we could take West Berlin any time we want to and Kennedy's reply to him was, well, that's as may be, but we fought the Second World War and they're there because of the Second World War, by right. And it was a dread confrontation and he had to see it through and he did.
INT: OK. Very, very briefly, how far do you think the Bay of Pigs disaster influenced Khrushchev's attitude towards Kennedy?
WR: I don't think it meant a lot. I think that people have mistaken that. Khrushchev's memoirs are very interesting on that point. When he was in retirement and wrote from memory, it's true, his account. He said, Kennedy made a great impression on him in Vienna, because unlike Eisenhower, he never turned to his Foreign Secretary, he had his own opinions, he expressed them well and he admired Kennedy. Now, that would be the place he should have said, you know, this fellow's a patsy but he didn't.
INT: OK. Just a couple of small things on the nuclear question. How serious in your opinion were Khrushchev's of a nuclear attack?
WR: Well, he was very careful to make his real threats coming out of Tass. He never got the Soviet government involved in that. The first one was on the Lebanon-Jordan crisis, in which he threatened a kind of a nuclear threat. But the major trouble with Khrushchev was that he lied and he lied for a very different reason, which was that he didn't have, in the first generation of ICBMs, he didn't have a viable weapon and they miniaturized it in the second generation, but there was an interval of time and he covered that by boasting about how many ICBMs he had and that's what led to the U-2. And the U-2 cut a very narrow suave through the Soviet Union, but very shortly thereafter, in fact the first decision that Kennedy had to make, was to send up a photographic satellite. Now that covered the whole of the Soviet Union and we looked at the pictures, which were very good and the truth was he didn't have any ICBMs. But he had lied about that and the picture we had of him was that he was a gambler, populist, and a liar.
INT: OK. How limited were the military options for America?
INT: How limited were they?
WR: Well,... it depends whether you think that the Russians wanted to go to nuclear war. If they didn't go to nuclear war, we had considerable force in Western Europe to protect it on the ground, but the continuing issue in American military policy was that we didn't have probably enough forces to contain the Soviet Union and we might be forced to use tactical nuclear weapons and we didn't rule that out. I never let this interfere with my formal viewing of the order of battle, but my own private view was, knowing Eastern Europe, that it would take as many soldiers to look after the Soviet soldiers to look after the Polish army and the Czech army and the Hungarian army and they wouldn't take over the West. So I wasn't terribly worried about the NATO thing.