Return to Audio Page

 
By October 18, 1962, only three days into the Cuban missile crisis, Bobby Kennedy worried about what would happen if the United States made an unannounced preemptory strike against the missiles in Cuba. (p. 634)


Book Excerpt
Audio Clip 6, p. 634

As these men discussed the situation, they followed the steps that led from an air attack on Cuba to a Soviet reaction in Berlin, and from there to nuclear war. These were not hypothetical war games any longer. If that point needed to be emphasized even more strongly, the top White House officials all had preassigned places in Washington where they were to go with their families to be helicoptered to an immense, nuclear-proof cave burrowed into the mountains of West Virginia. Some of the mordantly imaginative of them pictured the scene as a helicopter setting down on streets full of bumper-to-bumper traffic to lift them to safety while panicking Washingtonians tried to climb aboard and flee certain death in the capital.

"We figured we would have fifteen minutes' warning of an approaching nuclear weapon to get out of Washington," recalled Feldman. "We didn't think we'd be able to carry out our evacuation plans. Thus, we had plans if all the government heads were killed. Each department had to have a list of who followed second, third, and fourth. That was something we developed during the crisis."

In the midst of this deadly discussion Bobby expressed himself in a way he had rarely spoken before. "I think it's the whole question of, you know, assuming that you do survive all this…" Bobby said, "what kind of country we are."

For his part, the secretary of State had up until now been silent when such moral questions came floating up in this extended discourse. "This business of carrying the mark of Cain on your brow for the rest of your life is something…" Rusk began in his ponderous fashion.

"We did this against Cuba," Bobby interrupted. "We've fought for fifteen years with Russia to prevent a first strike against us. Now, in the interest of time, we do that to a small country. I think it's a hell of a burden to carry."