Apr 21, 2018

Rehabilitating Khrushchev

Khrushchev comes out looking pretty good in Daniel Ellsberg's account of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Apparently he took a massive reputation hit for deciding to remove the Soviet missiles from Cuba without winning any US concessions, but this decision also probably prevented all-out nuclear war, so he deserves a bit of credit.

To that effect, a couple of Khrushchev quotes that highlight his sanity...

On p. 404-5 of my copy of The Doomsday Machine, an excerpt from Khrushchev's personal letter to Kennedy during the crisis:

Mr. President, we and you ought not now to pull on the ends of the rope in which you have tied the knot of war, because the more the two of us pull, the tighter that knot will be tied. And a moment may come when that knot will be tied so tight that even he who tied it will not have the strength to untie it, and then it will be necessary to cut that knot, and what that would mean is not for me to explain to you, because you yourself understand perfectly of what terrible forces our countries dispose.

Consequently, if there is no intention to tighten that knot and thereby to doom the world to the catastrophe of thermonuclear war, then let us not only relax the forces pulling on the ends of the rope, let us take measures to untie that knot. We are ready for this.

And from Khrushchev's reflections on the crisis, a few months after it (p. 408-9 of my copy):

When I asked the military advisors if they could assure me that holding fast would not result in the death of five hundred million human beings, they looked at me as though I was out of my mind, or what was worse, a traitor. The biggest tragedy, as they saw it, was not that our country might be devastated and everything lost, but that the Chinese or the Albanians might accuse us of appeasement or weakness.

So I said to myself, "To hell with these maniacs. If I can get the United States to assure me that it will not attempt to overthrow the Cuban government, I will remove the missiles.” That is what happened, and now I am reviled by the Chinese and the Albanians...

They say I was afraid to stand up to a paper tiger. It is all such nonsense. What good would it have done me in the last hour of my life to know that though our great nation and the United States were in complete ruins, the national honor of the Soviet Union was intact?

Thank god for people like this.