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Shortly before President Kennedy address the nation on October 22, 1962 to tell them about the immense dangers of the Cuban missile crisis, he met with the top Congressional leaders to tell them. Senator Richard Russell of Georgia advised the president that he should go ahead and go to war. Kennedy had a ready reply. (pp. 645-646)

Book Excerpt
Audio Clip 10, pp. 645-646

The president needed the support of Congress, and when he briefed eight senators and seven senior congressmen at 5:00 P.M., just before his television speech, there was in some of their shrill voices a harbinger of the jeers and shouts that would greet him if his policies failed. This afternoon the most esteemed and knowledgeable experts on foreign policy in Congress, Senators Richard Russell and J. William Fulbright, did little but beat feverishly on the drums of war.

"It's a very difficult choice that we're faced with together," Kennedy told Russell, "Now, the…"

"Oh, my God, I know that!" Russell interjected. "A war, our destiny, will hinge on it. But it's coming someday, Mr. President. Will it ever be under more auspicious circumstances?"

The Georgia senator was a thoughtful man, but today he sought only to push his nation off to war. Kennedy instructed his former colleagues on the vicissitudes of leadership. "The people who are the best off are the people whose advice is not taken because whatever we do is filled with hazards," Kennedy said, speaking an epigram of power. "Now, the reason we've embarked on the course we have…is because we don't know where we're going to end up on this matter…So we start here, we don't know where he's going to take us or where we're going to take ourselves… If we stop one Russian ship, it means war. If we invade Cuba, it means war. There's no telling-I know all the threats are going to be made."

"Wait, Mr. President." Russell said. "The nettle is going to sting anyway."

"That's correct. I just think at least we start here, then we go where we go. And I'll tell you that every opportunity is full."

Kennedy stopped a moment. The time for his nationally televised address was near. "I better go and make this speech," he said.