Early 1962: Cuba — To Invade, or Not To Invade?
The Situation at Year’s End, 1961
As revealed in the first three parts of this essay, when 1961 came to a close President Kennedy found himself seriously at odds with the entrenched, hard-core leadership within the CIA and the Pentagon. Allen Dulles and Richard Bissell of the CIA had persuaded the new President to support the CIA-sponsored Cuban exile invasion of our nearest neighbor, just 90 miles from Florida, in an attempt to topple the Castro regime and install a new Cuban government once again favorable to the United States and its geopolitical and business interests. President Kennedy was himself the victim of the ultimate CIA covert operation in the Bay of Pigs affair, for Dulles knew (even if Bissell did not) that the minimalist exile invasion had little chance of success, unless it were immediately to be bailed out by a quick infusion of U.S. troops. Kennedy, who had both privately and publicly stated that no U.S. troops would be used to invade Cuba, refused to rescue the ill-advised and hopeless operation with U.S. forces, and suffered an ignominious foreign policy defeat. While publicly assuming all of the blame, by year’s end a furious JFK had disposed of Allen Dulles, General Charles Cabell, and Richard Bissell, the top three men at the CIA. He no longer trusted the agency, had taken away its authority to conduct large-scale paramilitary operations on its own, and had transferred that authority to the Pentagon. Kennedy and most of his inner circle of national security advisors (the civilian hawks in government), as well as the career leadership within the CIA organization, viewed each other with mutual suspicion and distrust.
JFK’s relationship with the Joint Chiefs of Staff was, if anything, worse than his relationship with the CIA by year’s end. The Joint Chiefs of Staff had twice, in the spring of 1961, urged President Kennedy to deploy combat troops in Laos to help the Loyalist forces of the King defeat the Communist insurgents, the Pathet Lao, in the ongoing Laotian civil war. One of the Joint Chiefs, CNO Arleigh Burke, had enthusiastically recommended, during policy meetings in the spring of 1961, that the U.S. use nuclear weapons, if necessary, “to win” in Laos. President Kennedy rejected the Pentagon’s calls for the deployment of U.S. combat troops in Laos immediately before, and shortly following, the Bay of Pigs fiasco in April. Sensing that the civil war there between the Loyalists and the Pathet Lao could not be turned around with only piecemeal infusions of U.S. troops, and with a realistic acceptance that the U.S. could not logistically support a large combat force in that landlocked and remote nation, Kennedy opted to pursue a “neutralist” solution, through diplomacy, that would recognize Communist gains on the border of Vietnam and install a coalition government in Laos. This was eventually accomplished on July 23, 1962 by U.S. negotiator Averill Harriman.
Extremely upset with President Kennedy’s refusal to commit U.S. troops to combat in Laos, the Joint Chiefs insisted throughout most of the remainder of 1961, from mid-May through late November, that JFK deploy U.S. combat forces in South Vietnam. On three occasions in 1961, the Pentagon (including JFK’s own special military advisor, General Maxwell Taylor) strongly recommended that President Kennedy send U.S. combat troops to South Vietnam to help the regime of President Diem to defeat his Communist opponents in the Vietnamese civil war, the Viet Cong guerillas. Three times JFK refused to do so, finally opting in late November of 1961 to greatly increase the number of U.S. military advisors in South Vietnam, and to provide significant material assistance, but NOT to deploy any U.S. combat troops. In this respect he was wisely heeding the advice of both President DeGaulle of France, and the iconic, retired General Douglas MacArthur in the U.S., not to get U.S. troops bogged down in a war on the Asian mainland. Both men had told President Kennedy that the U.S. could not win such a war, and both were speaking from personal experience. (MacArthur had commanded the Southwest Pacific Theater in World War II; in this role he had directly supervised U.S. combat forces against the Japanese in New Guinea and the Philippines, and had monitored from afar the desultory U.S. combat efforts on the Asian mainland under General Stilwell in Burma; but most significantly, MacArthur’s forces had subsequently borne the brunt, during the Korean War, of the overwhelming might of the Red Chinese Army in the Korean conflict, where massive Chinese intervention late in 1950 had initially inflicted great losses, and resulted in a massive retreat by the American and Allied forces. DeGaulle was speaking of the recent French imbroglio in Vietnam itself, where their army was defeated by the Viet Minh at Dien Bien Phu in North Vietnam in 1954; following this key defeat, France subsequently exited all of Vietnam, under the figleaf of the International Control Commission established by negotiations at Geneva.) Kennedy heeded their advice, especially since Chinese intervention on the side of Communist North Korea had led to a costly American bloodletting, in which nothing was achieved after three years of bitter fighting except a tense stalemate, which satisfied no one. Furthermore, JFK was well aware of the determination and tenacity the Vietnamese people had displayed following the end of World War II, in order to expel their French colonial masters; the Vietnamese were impassioned fighters with considerable grit, who had defeated a Western power possessing superior technology.
Kennedy’s primary focus throughout 1961 had been on the USSR and the Berlin Crisis, and while standing fast in the robust defense of West Berlin and Allied access rights to that divided city, he had secretly welcomed the rather inelegant solution the Berlin Wall offered to the East German “brain drain.” With the construction of the wall, the massive population exodus from East Germany stopped and Soviet and East German threats to absorb all of Berlin into East Germany (and to cut off Allied access rights) evaporated. During the ongoing and accelerating Berlin Crisis throughout the summer and fall of 1961, President Kennedy clashed with U.S. military commanders whose mindset was that nuclear war (beginning with the use of tactical nuclear weapons in Germany) with the USSR over Berlin was inevitable; the prevailing opinion of many in the U.S. military leadership was that nuclear war with the USSR, in some form, would commence prior to year’s end. Foremost among those who predicted nuclear conflict between America and the Soviet Union, and who did not shrink from it (and who thought a nuclear war was “winnable”) — two men who JFK and his Secretary of Defense found particularly objectionable — were U.S. General Lauris Norstad, the military commander of NATO, and General Curtis LeMay, the new Air Force Chief of Staff.
By the end of 1961, the Joint Chiefs of Staff had become thoroughly frustrated with JFK’s management style. As a young President in the first year of his administration who was unsure about what courses of action to take regarding many of the world crises he was confronted with immediately upon assuming office — and unhappy with the repeated calls from his own military and civilian national security advisors for armed confrontation around the globe — JFK became a master at the employment of delaying tactics, which would allow him more time to make key policy decisions and, theoretically, help prevent him from being pressured into taking unwise courses of action without proper deliberation. (These delaying tactics, which were increasingly employed by the 35th President, were the direct result of the Bay of Pigs fiasco, and the bad advice he had received over what to do about Laos.)
In his book The United States Air Force in Southeast Asia, author Robert Futrell wrote:
Part of the difficulties in dealing with the possible use of force, LeMay believed, was due to President Kennedy’s procedural habits and tendencies. The President seemed to depend on ad hoc committees in lieu of the Joint Chiefs, leading to vetoes, stalling, lengthy discussions, and too many people “in the act and making decisions in areas where they weren’t competent….”
Historian John Newman (in JFK and Vietnam) wrote that Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Lyman Lemnitzer similarly “deplored the tendency of the U.S. government to waste time in ‘quibbling over policy.’“ Lemnitzer’s continuing complaints that Kennedy would not take military advice indicates how tone deaf the Pentagon’s leadership was to the Constitution, and to the realities of the Cold War in the nuclear age. Complex geopolitical problems were usually not amenable to simplistic military solutions; JFK appreciated this, but the Joint Chiefs didn’t get it.
The very reason why JFK resorted repeatedly to ad hoc committees, stalling, lengthy discussions, and vetoes, was because very early in his administration — certainly by early May of 1961 — he came not to trust the judgment, or even the competence, of his senior military commanders. This was the result of the Bay of Pigs fiasco (in which the military withheld its considerable private doubts about the CIA’s seriously flawed exile invasion plans from the President), and of the panicky, atrocious advice he received on Laos from the JCS. General Lemnitzer’s mounting frustration with JFK’s “quibbling over policy” is illustrative of the enormous gulf between President Kennedy and the Pentagon’s leadership. The Joint Chiefs of Staff were the products of total war on a worldwide stage — World War II — in which military solutions were the only solutions, and in which their side had been victorious. JFK, one generation removed from his military leadership, was acutely aware that this mindset at the Pentagon was born of a unique conflict in which military solutions had been paramount only because of a total war environment in which diplomacy had already failed.
But in 1961, in the midst of a tense Cold War in which the two adversaries in a largely bipolar world possessed nuclear arsenals, President John F. Kennedy was wary of making rash decisions to employ military force, which could then lead inexorably to the possibility of nuclear war by miscalculation. The Joint Chiefs serving him viewed nuclear weapons as “just a bigger bomb,” while JFK viewed this category of weapons as necessary for deterrence, but not to be used on one’s enemy, except as a true last resort. JFK’s creation of large ad hoc committees to deal with front burner issues on the world stage ensured that a wide variety of viewpoints would get considered, and not just the narrow perspective of general officers who were a little too eager to avenge the frustration of the Korean stalemate, and far too cavalier about the possible ramifications of using nuclear weapons on the battlefield. The Joint Chiefs believed the use of tactical nuclear weapons in Europe was inevitable, and that they could be employed in battle without inevitably leading to “general war,” which was the euphemism at the time for a full nuclear strategic exchange (i.e., Armageddon). During the internal policy debates on Laos in the Spring of 1961, General Curtis LeMay (who was Air Force Vice Chief of Staff at the time) had, by implication, advocated using strategic nuclear weapons against mainland China, saying: “We should go to work on China itself and let Chiang [Kai-Shek] take Hainan Island.” And it was LeMay who shocked all of Washington in July of 1961 by blithely predicting full nuclear war with the USSR — and the total destruction of key U.S. cities — by the end of the year.
As 1961 ended, then, JFK and his national security establishment already had an estranged, damaged relationship marked by a mutual lack of trust, and by an ever-increasing gulf in how the President, and his principal advisory bodies, viewed the world and its problems. The President viewed the CIA and the Pentagon as tone-deaf, bellicose, less than fully competent, and occasionally deceitful — and far too willing to engage in military actions without proper consideration of worldwide geopolitical ramifications, and of long-range consequences. The vast majority of the national security establishment now viewed much of President Kennedy’s inaugural rhetoric as suspect; doubted that he was strong enough to “stand up to the Communists” in moments of crisis; and resented his refusal to take “military advice.”
As 1962 dawned, the Berlin Crisis had been resolved at a practical level, and with this resolution the status quo had been reinforced in Europe; and a firm no-combat-troops-in-Vietnam decision had been made by JFK late in the previous November, after considerable delay and internal debate. Cuba was to dominate the stage once again in the coming year, in ways beyond almost anyone’s ability to imagine.
General Lansdale (Operations Officer for “Mongoose”) Conspires with the Joint Chiefs of Staff to Invent Pretexts for a U.S. Invasion of Cuba
The Joint Chiefs of Staff and JFK’s key civilian national security advisors had failed to persuade the President to commit U.S. combat troops to South Vietnam in 1961. With this failure behind them, and the Berlin Crisis apparently resolved, the hawks in the government (the majority) once again focused on Cuba. Our own Jihadists in our “holy war” against what the hawks perceived as “monolithic Communism” were itching to defeat “the Communists” somewhere on the battlefield, in a decisive way, and Cuba seemed like the perfect location. Not only would an overthrow of the Castro regime avenge the dishonor of the Bay of Pigs, but it would help compensate for the frustration of the Korean stalemate ten years previously.
As 1962 began, the Special Group, Augmented (the special subcommittee of the National Security Council dedicated to bringing down the Castro regime) was headed by General Maxwell Taylor (who had been recalled from retirement to active duty to help JFK investigate the Bay of Pigs fiasco); included the President’s brother, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy; and its Operations Officer was General Lansdale, the very person to whom President Kennedy had once informally promised the ambassadorship to Vietnam. JFK’s offer to Lansdale was reportedly withdrawn early in 1961 (in favor of a career Foreign Service Officer, instead of a U.S. general with strong CIA affiliations) after Secretary of State Rusk threatened to resign over the prospective appointment; and by the end of 1961 Lansdale had been completely removed from the Vietnam policymaking arena. He was now allowed to play in a new sandbox: he was placed in charge of subversion and sabotage against the Castro regime in Cuba — propaganda and covert operations. He was now Operations Officer for “Operation Mongoose,” which was supervised by the Special Group, Augmented of the National Security Council.
The record now makes clear that Lansdale was concerned with much more than the generation of anti-Castro propaganda, and with much more than the formulation of covert action (sabotage raids) against Cuban industry and agriculture. What he had in mind was nothing less than helping to justify a full-scale U.S. military invasion of Cuba, and he knew that he had major players in the Pentagon willing to help him do so. The Joint Staff at the Pentagon helped gin up pretexts for a U.S. invasion at Lansdale’s request, and their masters, the Joint Chiefs of Staff themselves, heartily endorsed the Joint Staff’s recommendations. All of this enthusiastic activity was stimulated by Major General Edwin G. Lansdale, Operations Officer for Mongoose. That tale unfolds below.
The “Northwoods” File Is Discovered and Released by the ARRB’s Military Records Team
I began my personal liaison with the Joint Staff Secretariat in the Pentagon in 1996 while a Senior Analyst on the ARRB’s Military Records Team; throughout that year I established a close and cordial working relationship with the dedicated civil servants in that recordkeeping organization, and the close liaison paid off when they revealed to us their discovery of the “Northwoods” file — a treasure trove of JCS documents about the formulation of U.S. military policy toward Fidel Castro’s Cuba in 1962 and 1963. Initially classified at the Top Secret, Special Handling, NOFORN [no foreign dissemination] level, more than 99% of these papers (related to the Pentagon’s plans for Cuba in the final two years of JFK’s administration) were released as a result of the work performed by the ARRB staff. In 1997, after I was promoted to a Supervisory Analyst position, and became the new head of the Military Records Team, I set about getting these vital Cuba records (and others, notably the Army’s “Califano papers” on Cuba from 1963) declassified by hosting several joint declassification sessions at the ARRB’s offices, at which representatives of the NSC, JCS, USIA, U.S. Army, and the State Department would assemble on a regular basis to review these vital Cuba records and determine whether they could be declassified. [The CIA refused to sit with us at these collegial sessions and insisted on reviewing the records separately, at their own site.] The Cuba portion of the Pentagon’s “Northwoods” file, discovered by the Joint Staff Secretariat in response to the ARRB’s search criteria, was declassified by the end of 1997. It was, and remains, an eye-opening file, for the Pentagon, working in tandem with General Lansdale at “Mongoose,” was not passively and dutifully responding to the civilian direction of the Kennedy administration (i.e., the President or his Secretary of Defense), as we are taught in civics class in high school — it was actively promoting an overt U.S. military invasion of Cuba. The Pentagon, frustrated by the Bay of Pigs fiasco, was attempting to make policy — to stimulate a full-scale invasion of Cuba with the U.S. military, through its own aggressive promotion and salesmanship, with both the Special Group, Augmented; and with the Secretary of Defense.
Timeline of Key “Northwoods” Activity
On January 17, 1962 General Lansdale requested in writing that the Joint Staff at the Pentagon prepare an overall policy statement on Cuba [remember, this is post Bay of Pigs and post Berlin Crisis].
On February 5, 1962 Lansdale requested in writing that the Joint Staff prepare pretexts for an invasion of Cuba. (Thus, before receiving a formal reply to his first request, he signaled the desired policy position by telegraphing that the intention was to invade Cuba, and that false excuses — pretexts — would be required to justify this invasion to the American public and to the world.)
On February 7, 1962 the Joint Staff’s policy statement was provided to Lansdale at Mongoose. It didn’t pull any punches. Among its key opinions and recommendations were these:
a. The Soviets could establish land, sea and/or air bases in Cuba.
b. The Soviets could provide Castro with a number of ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads; or they could furnish the missiles and maintain joint control of the nuclear warheads.
The memo continued:
In view of the factors set forth above, the Department of Defense holds that the Communist regime in Cuba is incompatible with the minimum security requirements of the Western Hemisphere. The Department of Defense is prepared to overtly support any popular movement inside Cuba to the extent of ousting the Communist regime and installing a government acceptable to the United States. While the possibility of Communist Bloc reactions in areas other than Cuba is recognized, it is believed that this can be accomplished without precipitating general war, and without serious effect on world public opinion if the following conditions prevail: [Note (emphasis added): “general war” was the established bureaucratic euphemism of the time for total nuclear war between the U.S. and the USSR.]
a. If the impression is created that there is an urgent, humanitarian requirement to restore order in Cuba and/or the United States is responding to an appeal for assistance from a government representative of the Cuban people.
b. If it is announced incident to the overt military action that the United States and/or members of the OAS are moving into Cuba for the purpose of restoring order and holding free elections, and that they will immediately withdraw as soon as the new government advises that they have the capability to maintain order without further assistance from OAS nations.
c. If the military operation is conducted as quickly as possible and with sufficient force so that the Communist Bloc’s ability to take effective countermeasures in support of the Castro regime is reduced to a minimum.
d. Or, if the Cuban regime commits hostile acts against U.S. forces or property which would serve as an incident upon which to base an overt U.S. intervention. [emphasis added]
The reader will note that item “d” above is sending back to Lansdale, as policy, the possible use of a casus belli which he had telegraphed to the Joint Staff two days earlier — namely, the plan to employ pretexts as a justification for invading Cuba. (The Joint Staff has just written Lansdale’s actual intentions into its policy statement.)
On March 9, 1962 the Joint Staff at the Pentagon sent recommendations to the Joint Chiefs of Staff for pretexts for the invasion of Cuba, in response to the tasking from Lansdale dated February 5, 1962. I will quote from the preamble to this document, in part:
…the Joint Chiefs of Staff are to indicate brief but precise description of pretexts which they consider would provide justification for U.S. military intervention in Cuba … it is recognized that any action that becomes a pretext for U.S. military intervention in Cuba will lead to a political decision which then would lead to military action … the suggested courses of action appended … are based on the premise that U.S. military intervention will result from a period of heightened U.S.-Cuban tensions which place the United States in the position of suffering justifiable grievances. World opinion, and the United Nations forum should be favorably affected by developing the international image of the Cuban government as rash and irresponsible, and as an alarming and unpredictable threat to the peace of the Western Hemisphere. While the foregoing premise can be utilized at the present time it will continue to hold good only as long as there can be reasonable certainty that U.S. military intervention in Cuba would not directly involve the Soviet Union….
The proposed pretexts for a Cuban invasion invented by the deep thinkers on the Joint Staff are summarized below:
a. Fake a Cuban attack on the Guantanamo Bay base by various means. [The U.S. naval base in eastern Cuba was established by the U.S. during the Spanish American War in 1898; was leased to the U.S. under the terms of the Platt Amendment in 1903; and the lease was ratified by treaty in 1934 — essentially, in perpetuity — since both parties would have to agree in order to terminate the arrangement.]
b. A fake “Remember the Maine” incident could be engineered in which the United States could blow up a U.S. ship in Guantanamo Bay and blame Cuba.
c. A fake “Communist Cuban Terror Campaign” could be developed in Miami, elsewhere in Florida, or in Washington D.C. in which the targets would be Cuban exile refugees fleeing Cuba. The exploding of real bombs and attempts on the lives of Cuban refugees could be engineered, even to the extent of wounding (if necessary), and false documents could be planted implicating the Castro government.
d. A U.S. jet such as an F-86 could be painted like a Cuban MiG and simulate an attack on a U.S. airliner.
e. A simulated U.S. airliner could be piloted by drone over Cuba and blown up by remote control to simulate the shooting down of a plane full of passengers by Cuban aircraft; realism could be simulated by the broadcast of a tape recording from onboard the aircraft in which the “pilots” are heard describing the “attack” by Cuban MiG fighters.
f. A U.S. submarine could deposit at sea parts from a “destroyed” U.S. fighter plane which had supposedly been “shot down” by Cuban MiGs; this hoax would be supported by an actual aircraft flying at low altitude and transmitting false radio messages simulating an attack, just before the submarine deposited the debris at sea.
This remarkable memo of March 9th concludes as follows, in an enclosure titled “Facts Bearing Upon the Problem:”
- The Joint Chiefs of Staff have previously stated that the U.S. unilateral military intervention in Cuba can be undertaken in the event that the Cuban regime commits hostile acts against U.S. forces or property which would serve as an incident upon which to base overt intervention.
- The need for positive action in the event that current covert efforts to foster an internal Cuban rebellion are unsuccessful was indicated by the Joint Chiefs of Staff on March 7, 1962, as follows:
“…determination that a creditable internal revolt is impossible of attainment during the next 9-10 months will require a decision by the United States to develop a Cuban ‘provocation’ as justification for positive U.S. military action.” [emphasis added]
On March 13, 1962 the whole kit and caboodle was approved and signed by Joint Chiefs Chairman Lyman Lemnitzer, and was forwarded to Secretary of Defense McNamara on that date.
In 1997, when the documents were declassified — in accordance with the terms of the JFK Records Act — by the representatives of the various agencies in the Executive Branch of our government, I still did not know what McNamara’s (or President Kennedy’s) reaction was to these outrageous proposals.
Fortunately, author David Talbot revealed the answer to this question in his excellent 2007 book, Brothers. Talbot wrote, on page 107:
There is no record of how McNamara responded to this cynical proposal by his top military officers … but the sinister plan, which was codenamed Operation Northwoods, did not receive higher approval. When I asked him about Northwoods, McNamara said, “I have absolutely zero recollection of it. But I sure as hell would have rejected it…. I really can’t believe that anyone was proposing such provocative acts in Miami. How stupid!”
Talbot got his hands on some vital meeting notes written by General Lansdale himself when they were finally declassified (in accordance with the JFK Records Act!) on March 28, 2005. From these meeting notes he reconstructed the following events (see pages 107-108 of Brothers):
On March 16 … Lemnitzer was summoned by President Kennedy to the Oval Office for a discussion of Cuba strategy that was attended by McCone, Bundy, Lansdale, and Taylor. At one point the irrepressible Lansdale began holding forth, as usual, on the improving conditions for popular revolt inside Cuba, adding that once the glorious anti-Castro revolution began, “we must be ready to intervene with U.S. forces, if necessary.” This brought an immediate reaction from Kennedy, ever alert after the Bay of Pigs about being sandbagged into a military response in Cuba. The group was not proposing that he authorize U.S. military intervention, was it? “No,” Taylor and the others immediately assured him.
But Lemnitzer could not restrain himself. He jumped in at that moment to run Operation Northwoods up the flagpole. The general spared the President the operation’s more gruesome brainstorms, such as blowing people up on the streets of Miami and the nation’s capital and blaming it on Castro. But he informed Kennedy that the Joint Chiefs “had plans for creating plausible pretexts to use force [against Cuba], with the pretexts either attacks on U.S. aircraft or a Cuban action in Latin America for which we would retaliate.”
Kennedy was not amused. He fixed Lemnitzer with a hard look and “said bluntly that we were not discussing the use of military force,” according to Lansdale’s notes on the meeting. The President icily added that Lemnitzer might find he did not have enough divisions to fight in Cuba, if the Soviets responded to the Caribbean gambit by going to war in Berlin or elsewhere.
But the Joint Chief’s insistence that the U.S. invade Cuba did not die at this meeting, as it should have. Only the use of pretexts for the invasion died at this meeting, in the minds of the Joint Chiefs. Undeterred by President Kennedy’s rejection of the use of pretexts for a Cuban invasion, the Joint Chiefs upped the ante. They next advocated directly to the Secretary of Defense, in the strongest possible language — in what amounted to both a scolding and an ultimatum — that the United States invade Cuba anyway, and that we do so without resorting to excuses or pretexts.
On April 10, 1962 Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Lyman Lemnitzer submitted to Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara a formal MEMORANDUM FOR THE SECRETARY OF DEFENSE, titled simply: “Cuba.” The document is of such historical importance, in view of the subsequent placement of nuclear strategic weapons in Cuba by the USSR (and in view of the subsequent assassination of John F. Kennedy), that I am compelled to quote it in its entirety [all emphasis added by me for the most important phrases and concepts]:
- The Joint Chiefs of Staff believe that the Cuban problem must be solved in the near future. Further, they see no prospect of early success in overthrowing the present Communist regime either as a result of internal uprisings or external political, economic, or psychological pressures. [In other words, “Mongoose” is a complete waste of time.] Accordingly, they believe that military intervention by the United States will be required to overthrow the present Communist regime.
- The United States cannot tolerate permanent existence of a Communist government in the Western Hemisphere. The present regime in Cuba provides Communism with a base of operations for espionage, sabotage, and subversion against Latin America. The stability of some governments in Latin America is already threatened by the overt and covert actions of the Cuban government. Continued existence of this Communist government increases the probability that one or more other nations in Latin America will become Communist or Communist dominated. This will greatly increase the problems currently facing the United States and the Organization of American States. While considered unlikely, it is possible for the Sino-Soviet Bloc to establish military bases in Cuba similar to U.S. bases around the Bloc periphery. Establishment of such bases would increase U.S. defense costs as forces were developed or shifted to meet this threat.
- Time favors the Cuban regime and the Communist Bloc. They are provided with the opportunity to continue with their subversive efforts in Latin America. Increasing internal security measures by police state methods decrease the possibility of internal uprisings within Cuba. The steady improvement in military defenses strengthens the resistance which must be overcome in the event of a U.S. military intervention and could lengthen the time required to secure control of the government and the island. The continuing indoctrination of Cuban youth creates a growing nucleus for a Communist underground after the elimination of the present government. This creates a problem for the future which is steadily increasing in magnitude.
- The Joint Chiefs of Staff believe that the United States can undertake military intervention in Cuba without risk of general war. They also believe that the intervention can be accomplished rapidly enough to minimize Communist opportunities for solicitation of UN action. Forces available would assure rapid essential military control of Cuba. Continued police action would be required.
- In view of the increasing military and subversive threat to the United States and the nations of the Western Hemisphere posed by the Communist regime in Cuba, the Joint Chiefs of Staff recommend that a national policy of early military intervention be adopted by the United States. They also recommend that such intervention be undertaken as soon as possible and preferably before the release of National Guard and Reserve forces presently on active duty.
I am not aware of any written response that might have come from the Secretary of Defense to this strident demand that the U.S. invade Cuba. The reader will note that the demand was an unapologetic request for a massive use of force against another nation based upon realpolitik, i.e., the strategic situation, not upon any pretexts for war. As history shows, the Joint Chiefs of Staff recommendation for an immediate Cuban invasion was not adopted by the U.S. government.
So, What Is the Significance of the Northwoods Documents?
Now, as it so happens, this is the same month, unbeknown to the Joint Chiefs of Staff or to President Kennedy — April of 1962 — when Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, fearing a U.S. invasion of his Cuban ally and client state, personally concocted his scheme to place nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles in Cuba. That course of events, and the Cuban Missile Crisis itself, will be covered in the second half of this essay about 1962.
What I would like the reader to keep in mind, throughout the next installment of this essay, is the likely reaction, by year’s end, of the Joint Chiefs and the rest of the national security establishment to: (1) the fact that the worst nightmare of the JCS, the placement of Soviet ICBMs with nuclear warheads in Cuba — predicted by them in February of 1962 — actually transpired in the second half of 1962; and (2) the fact that President Kennedy, who in October of 1962 was presented with the ultimate casus belli, opted NOT to invade Cuba and take down the Communist regime by force, but rather to resolve the crisis through diplomacy, without an invasion. The point here is not to debate the wisdom of President Kennedy’s resolution of the Missile Crisis — this will be covered in the next installment of this essay — but to place one’s self in the shoes of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the other hawks in government, and imagine their likely mindset in December of 1962, after the Cuban Missile Crisis was resolved through a diplomatic settlement which left the Castro regime in power, and not by the use of force, which would have defeated a Communist adversary on the battlefield, and removed the only Communist regime in the Western Hemisphere.
As will be revealed in the next installment, the attitude of the Joint Chiefs after the Missile Crisis was precisely what one might imagine, given the above events: “We told you so; you failed to follow our advice and allowed this catastrophe to happen; you then failed in your duty to cleanse Cuba of Communist influence and an undeniable military threat to the United States by force, when presented with the perfect justification for war; and in doing so, you have proven yourself unfit to be President.”
In my view, the foregoing events — revealed by the Northwoods documents — are the Rosetta Stone to the Kennedy assassination. It is my opinion that the great disfavor with which the hawks (i.e., the overwhelming majority) in his own national security establishment viewed his eventual resolution to the coming Cuban Missile Crisis was the proximate cause of JFK’s assassination, one year later in Dallas. There were many national security developments in 1963 which no doubt exacerbated the hawks’ extreme displeasure with President Kennedy — the Peace Speech, the Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, his Vietnam withdrawal plans, and his secret attempt for a rapprochement with Cuba — but I truly believe that his decision to resolve the Cuban Missile Crisis by diplomacy, and not by force, was the immediate cause of the veto that was taken on his life. It simply took about a year to bring the plot to fruition; and the subsequent foreign policy decisions he made in 1963 only hardened the resolve, and increased the sense of urgency, for those who planned for his removal.