Chomsky: Humanity Once Came to the Cliff's Edge of Total Self-Annihilation -- Let's Make Sure It Never Happens Again
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An Indecent Disrespect for the Opinions of Humankind
The deliberations that followed are revealing, but I will put them aside here. They did reach a conclusion. The U.S. pledged to withdraw the obsolete missiles from Turkey, but would not do so publicly or put the offer in writing: it was important that Khrushchev be seen to capitulate. An interesting reason was offered, and is accepted as reasonable by scholarship and commentary. As Dobbs puts it, “If it appeared that the United States was dismantling the missile bases unilaterally, under pressure from the Soviet Union, the [NATO] alliance might crack” -- or to rephrase a little more accurately, if the U.S. replaced useless missiles with a far more lethal threat, as already planned, in a trade with Russia that any “rational man” would regard as very fair, then the NATO alliance might crack.
To be sure, when Russia withdrew Cuba’s only deterrent against an ongoing U.S. attack -- with a severe threat to proceed to direct invasion still in the air -- and quietly departed from the scene, the Cubans would be infuriated (as, in fact, they understandably were). But that is an unfair comparison for the standard reasons: we are human beings who matter, while they are merely “unpeople,” to adapt George Orwell’s useful phrase.
Kennedy also made an informal pledge not to invade Cuba, but with conditions: not just the withdrawal of the missiles, but also termination, or at least “a great lessening,” of any Russian military presence. (Unlike Turkey, on Russia’s borders, where nothing of the kind could be contemplated.) When Cuba is no longer an “armed camp,” then “we probably wouldn’t invade,” in the president’s words. He added that, if it hoped to be free from the threat of U.S. invasion, Cuba must end its “political subversion” (Stern’s phrase) in Latin America. "Political subversion” had been a constant theme for years, invoked for example when Eisenhower overthrew the parliamentary government of Guatemala and plunged that tortured country into an abyss from which it has yet to emerge. And these themes remained alive and well right through Ronald Reagan’s vicious terror wars in Central America in the 1980s. Cuba’s “political subversion” consisted of support for those resisting the murderous assaults of the U.S. and its client regimes, and sometimes even perhaps -- horror of horrors -- providing arms to the victims.
The usage is standard. Thus, in 1955, the Joint Chiefs of Staff had outlined “three basic forms of aggression.” The first was armed attack across a border, that is, aggression as defined in international law. The second was “overt armed attack from within the area of each of the sovereign states,” as when guerrilla forces undertake armed resistance against a regime backed or imposed by Washington, though not of course when “freedom fighters” resist an official enemy. The third: “Aggression other than armed, i.e., political warfare, or subversion.” The primary example at the time was South Vietnam, where the United States was defending a free people from “internal aggression,” as Kennedy’s U.N. Ambassador Adlai Stevenson explained -- from “an assault from within” in the president’s words.
Though these assumptions are so deeply embedded in prevailing doctrine as to be virtually invisible, they are occasionally articulated in the internal record. In the case of Cuba, the State Department Policy Planning Council explained that “the primary danger we face in Castro is… in the impact the very existence of his regime has upon the leftist movement in many Latin American countries… The simple fact is that Castro represents a successful defiance of the US, a negation of our whole hemispheric policy of almost a century and a half,” since the Monroe Doctrine announced Washington’s intention, then unrealizable, to dominate the Western hemisphere.