John F. Kennedy In the Context of His Times-The Cuban Missile Crisis

John F Kennedy Inaugural Ball Jan. 1961

John F Kennedy Inaugural Ball Jan. 1961

Before we go plunging any further down the rabbit hole, for those of you who didn’t have the good fortune of having him as your president, please permit me to tell you a little bit about JFK and his times (which were tumultuous).  General Dwight D. Eisenhower had been President immediately preceding  John Kennedy.  Eisenhower’s Vice President was Richard M. Nixon.  Nixon’s heart belonged to BeBe Rabozzo, but his career and his future belonged to Howard Hughes.

The young men of the fifties were the brave survivors of World War II.  They had done something awesome and now, they just wanted to find a girl, get married and raise some kids.   They were just thankful that they would have that chance.  These young men were the heroes of the free world.  They had prevailed against a string of truly evil dictators; Stalin, Mussolini, Hitler.

But in these times, oppressive prejudices paradoxically thrived.   African Americans rode at the back of the bus, and damn, they’d better not look at a white woman too long.  The Ku Klux Klan saw to it that certain rules got enforced in certain places.   Public drinking fountains were clearly labeled and the terms “African American” and “Black” did not yet exist.  Dark folks were called “Negroes” in those days and there was that other term, “Mulatto”, which seemed to convey something unfortunate.

Television was just starting to catch on and people struggled to save up to get one.  Well, credit cards didn’t exist yet.   That was back when you could only buy something with money you actually had.   All TV programs were broadcast in black and white.  The technology for color was yet to come.  Pretty much, all linens were white.  Pattern sheets also lay in the future along with the ballpoint pen.  We used fountain pens and messy bottles of ink.  If you left your pen in one spot too long, you’d leave a big blob of ink on your essay.  I don’t know how many school assignments I had to start over again.  The eventual introduction of the ballpoint pen made me delirious with joy, as did the invention of saran wrap.  Our moms wrapped our sandwiches in wax paper which wasn’t much good for keeping your sandwich from drying out.

In 1960, it seemed highly likely that Richard Nixon would be our next President.  But John Kennedy took the election by only 12,754 votes.  Illinois singlehandedly produced 75% of that thin margin (8,858).  The Mob was firmly entrenched in Chicago.  JFK’s dad, Joe, had made the family fortune running booze during the Prohibition and he had a few old pals up there who apparently could make dead people vote;  the ultimate in absentee balloting.  Keeping in mind that Hughes owned Nixon, that move was a big pie in the face to Howard, yes?  But don’t waste too much time feeling sorry for Howard.  Sooner or later, he always got what he wanted.

Oh, I almost forgot a very important thing about the fifties.  Communism was a very, very dirty word.  Just look up “McCarthy hearings” and you will see what I mean.  As far as Communism was concerned, you’d better not know one, you’d better not employ one and you’d damned well better not be one.

In Kennedy’s time, the American people had pretty much blind faith in their government which had successfully steered them through WWII.  FBI Director Herbert Hoover was the stalwart, bulldog protector of our domestic security.  Master of blackmail that he was, few at that time discussed his penchant for wearing ladies clothes and spending way too much time with his assistant, Clyde Tolson.  Ironically, little did Hoover suspect that the Mafia had photographs of Clyde and himself doing something special.  That’s what happens when you accept an invitation for a free getaway to a mob owned hotel.  In the fifties, that “something special” could make a man incredibly susceptible to blackmail, and often did.

Cuban revolutionaries Che Guevara and Fidel Castro

Cuban revolutionaries Che Guevara and Fidel Castro

Not long before the ’60 election, a fellow named Fidel took over Cuba, annexed all private property including Meyer Lansky’s casinos which was a very big surprise for Meyer.  He actually had given Castro some pretty hefty pre-revolution funding with the understanding that he was buying protection…but Castro turned out to be determined to create his idyllic Marxist wonderland …Fidel had a dream,  so Fidel kept the casinos.

Plans were rapidly put into motion by the Eisenhower administration to assassinate the lousy Soviet hugger. But they needed the cover of secrecy, so they sent the CIA off to do their thing.  The CIA had already developed a relatively cozy relationship with the Mob through drug smuggling missions which financially benefited both groups.  Now, the Mob wanted their casinos back and the government wanted their new commie neighbor dead.   Thus was born yet more delightful mutual interest.

The election was now looming before them and time was running out.  Maybe it was time pressure, maybe it was incompetence, or maybe Castro had a mole,  but every clandestine attempt on Castro’s life failed miserably.

And maybe the Mafia thought they had a shot at owning the Presidency instead of Howard Hughes.  Richard Nixon had been deeply involved in the planning of the Bay of Pigs invasion.  Nixon most certainly would have provided the necessary air cover for the ground invasion had he been elected, and probably would have started WWIII in the process.  The Russians were feeling very, very protective toward Fidel in those days.  To them, he was their puppet only 90 miles off the coast of Florida.

So imagine Kennedy’s shock when barely four months into his Presidency, he woke up to be told that in a few days, some CIA operatives and Cuban exiles were going to be needing some air cover for an invasion of Cuba…please sign this authorization, Mr. President.

Maybe Kennedy just couldn’t shake a vision of mushroom clouds erupting all over America.  He thought their plan unwise and thus the air cover never came.  Without the air cover, the invasion was a rout and a slaughter, leaving some of the nastiest and most vicious  people on the planet very, very pissed off.

Following the failed invasion, Russian missiles started arriving on Cuban shores.  The Cuban missile crisis had been born.  John Kennedy was left to stare down the volatile Soviet Premiere, Nikita Khrushchev.  As the very life of America hung in the balance,  we held our breath in collective terror as Kennedy sent our ships to form a blockade in the waters around Cuba.  It was quite an act of courage and eventually Nikita backed down and agreed to take his missiles back.

“On November 22, 1963, you lost the man who saved your life on October 17, 1962. At the height of the missile crisis, Kennedy’s generals and advisors were urging him to launch a first strike attack against Cuba. They assured Kennedy that the Russian missiles in Cuba were not nuclear and were not ready; but that he and they should quietly slip away to the safety of bomb shelters anyway, just to be safe; and then launch an attack, leaving the rest of us out to die. Kennedy thought about it. And then he told them that nobody was going anywhere. If anyone died, they would be the first to go, sitting as they were in the Whitehouse, the prime target of those Russian missiles. Together they then figured out a safer plan. Robert McNamara, Secretary of Defense at the time, recently learned from the Russians that the missiles were armed, were ready, were nuclear, and that their commanders were authorized to use them in case of an attack. If you live in the northern hemisphere, the lives of your parents, and your future, were certainly saved by John Kennedy on that day. It matters that his killers be exposed.”  (quote taken from

Kennedy did that.  He turned back a nuclear confrontation, one that had been fomented by his predecessors, including the man (men) that he had stolen the Presidency from.  This man, ladies and gentlemen, was the hero of a generation.

John F Kennedy Oct 1962-this is the photo known as "The Loneliest Job"

John F Kennedy Oct 1962-this is the photo known as “The Loneliest Job”

To be continued…