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Once Kennedy and his other advisors left the policy leaders meeting on October 19, 1962, General LeMay and the other military leaders stayed behind. Not realizing they were being secretly recorded, they told what they truly thought about President Kennedy. (pp. 639-640)


Book Excerpt
Audio Clip 9, pp. 639-640

"I think that a blockade, and political talk, would be considered by a lot of our friends and neutrals as being a pretty weak response to this," LeMay said a few minutes later. "And I'm sure a lot of our own citizens would feel that way too." One of the great tenets of American democracy is that the military stays out of politics, but LeMay was lecturing the president about the supposed feelings of the American people.

"In other words, you're in a pretty bad fix at the present time," LeMay concluded.

"What did you say?" Kennedy asked, perhaps not quite believing what he was hearing.

"You're in a pretty bad fix."

"You're in with me," the president said, his words punctuated by an ironic laughter. There was no one in the room who understood as deeply as Kennedy did that he was indeed in a "pretty bad fix," part of which was military leaders like LeMay with their restless fingers on the nuclear button. When the meeting ended, several of the Joint Chiefs stayed behind to talk among themselves.

"You pulled the rug right out from under him," said General David Shoup, the Marine Corps commandant. "Goddamn."

"Jesus Christ!" LeMay laughed. "What the hell do you mean?"

"I agree with that answer, agree a hundred percent, a hundred percent," Shoup exclaimed. There was anger in his voice that suggested the wrathful vitriol that might greet the president if he did not proceed militarily. "Somebody's got to keep them from doing the goddamn thing piecemeal!"

"That's right," LeMay exclaimed. As he and his colleagues saw it, their planes, missiles, and ships were being held back, hostage to what they considered the compromising palaver of a mere politician.

"You're screwed, screwed, screwed," Shoup said. "Some goddamn thing, some way, that they either do the son of a bitch and do it right and quite friggin' around… You got to go in and take out the goddamn thing that's going to stop you from doing your job."