In honor of Mother’s Day, here’s an entertaining letter from JFK’s mother, Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy, to President Kennedy.
In 1962, Rose Kennedy wrote to Soviet Premier Khrushchev asking for an autographed photo. Learning that his mother had reached out to the Soviet Premier, JFK wrote her this letter asking her to please check with him before she took it upon herself to correspond with heads of state as requests like hers are “subject to interpretations.” The timing is interesting, considering JFK wrote back to Rose almost immediately after the Cuban Missile Crisis.
In response to this letter, Rose Kennedy wrote back, saying: “I understand very well your letter, although I had not thought of it before. …When I ask for Castro’s autograph, I will let you know in advance!”
From the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Papers/JFK Library
This morning, our new exhibit opens to the public. “To the Brink: JFK and the Cuban Missile Crisis” covers the 13 days when the world teetered on the brink of thermonuclear war.
Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev ordered a secret deployment of a nuclear strike force in Cuba, just 90 miles from the United States—with missiles that could reach most major U.S. cities in less than five minutes. President Kennedy stated that the missiles would not be tolerated, and insisted on their removal. Khrushchev refused.
Now, 50 years later, curators at the Kennedy Library and designers from the National Archives have created an exhibit where you can listen to secret real-time White House recordings from Kennedy’s meetings with his advisors during the 13 terrifying days in October 1962.
Do you remember the Cuban Missile Crisis?
Image: Medium Range Ballistic Missile Field Launch Site in San Cristobal, Cuba, taken October, 14, 1962. From the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. Learn more about the JFK Library here: http://go.usa.gov/Y8f9
Khrushchev: “Force will be met by force. If the U.S. wants war, that’s its problem…It’s up to the U.S. to decide whether there will be war or peace.”
Kennedy: “I see it is going to be a very cold winter.”
-Remarks between Soviet Premier Khrushchev and President Kennedy after their first meeting in Vienna, June 4, 1961
Soviet Premier Khrushchev and President Kennedy meet in Vienna, June 4, 1961
May 7, 1960. Khrushchev announces that the U.S.S.R. has U2 pilot Gary Powers in their custody and he has confessed to being on a spy mission. The State Department says there was no authorization for such a flight. LBJ issues a statement saying both parties will support the President in this crisis.
Photo from RIA Novosti archive, image #35172, http://visualrian.ru/ru/site/gallery/#35172 6x6 film / 6х6 негатив via Wikimedia Commons.
The U-2 Mission and the Cold War
The U-2 spy plane was designed as a high altitude, single-pilot, single-engine aircraft. It was lightweight, but able to carry a variety of equipment such as multi-sensor cameras, and electro-optic, infrared and radar imagery machines.
Although the plane’s design broke ground in many ways, its main drawback was sluggish flight control due to its landing gear requirements. In case of an emergency ejection, the pilot seat was equipped with a hunting knife, a .22 caliber pistol, a parachute, and a survival pack. An explosive mechanism was installed that would blow up the plane after the pilot ejected.
On May 1, 1960, Captain Francis Gary Powers’ CIA mission was to perform secret aerial reconnaissance by flying over the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact territory. While in flight, a missile hit his plane and Powers was unable to follow the self-destruct protocols. The Soviet Union quickly recovered the wreckage and captured the pilot.
President Eisenhower learned of the missing U-2 plane on May 2. Believing that there was no possibility that Powers could survive a high-altitude missile strike, President Eisenhower gave the order to proceed with releasing a cover story.
-from the Eisenhower Library
Day 13 - Cuban Missile Crisis
October 28, 1962
The thirteen days marking the most dangerous period of the Cuban missile crisis end. Radio Moscow announces that the Soviet Union has accepted the proposed solution and releases the text of a Khrushchev letter affirming that the missiles will be removed in exchange for a non-invasion pledge from the United States.
Above, the State Department Telegram conveying President Kennedy’s reply to the the Radio Moscow announcement.
See all 13 Days in October
Day 11 - Cuban Missile Crisis
A Soviet-chartered freighter is stopped at the quarantine line and searched for contraband military supplies. None are found and the ship is allowed to proceed to Cuba. Photographic evidence shows accelerated construction of the missile sites and the uncrating of Soviet IL-28 bombers at Cuban airfields. In a private letter, Fidel Castro urges Nikita Khrushchev to initiate a nuclear first strike against the United States in the event of an American invasion of Cuba. John Scali, ABC News reporter, is approached by Aleksander Fomin of the Soviet embassy staff with a proposal for a solution to the crisis. Later, a long, rambling letter from Khrushchev to Kennedy makes a similar offer: removal of the missiles in exchange for lifting the quarantine and a pledge that the U.S. will not invade Cuba.
A Soviet-chartered freighter is stopped at the quarantine line and searched for contraband military supplies. None are found and the ship is allowed to proceed to Cuba. Photographic evidence shows accelerated construction of the missile sites and the uncrating of Soviet IL-28 bombers at Cuban airfields.
In a private letter, Fidel Castro urges Nikita Khrushchev to initiate a nuclear first strike against the United States in the event of an American invasion of Cuba.
John Scali, ABC News reporter, is approached by Aleksander Fomin of the Soviet embassy staff with a proposal for a solution to the crisis.
Later, a long, rambling letter from Khrushchev to Kennedy makes a similar offer: removal of the missiles in exchange for lifting the quarantine and a pledge that the U.S. will not invade Cuba.
Day 9 - Cuban Missile Crisis
October 24, 1962
Chairman Khrushchev replies indignantly to President Kennedy’s October 23 letter, stating in part:
“You, Mr. President, are not declaring a quarantine, but rather are setting forth an ultimatum and threatening that if we do not give in to your demands you will use force. Consider what you are saying! And you want to persuade me to agree to this! What would it mean to agree to these demands? It would mean guiding oneself in one’s relations with other countries not by reason, but by submitting to arbitrariness. You are no longer appealing to reason, but wish to intimidate us.”
This photo is of the Soviet ship Kasimov during the Crisis.