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How Barbara Tuchmanís The Guns of August influenced decision making during the Cuban Missile Crisis
Library of America ^ | 3/19/21

Posted on 03/20/2012 10:28:47 AM PDT by Borges

Reviewing Barbara W. Tuchman: The Guns of August, The Proud Tower in the Times Literary Supplement recently, Robert Zaretsky noted that one of the ways to assess the aims and success of her 1962 Pulitzer prize–winning book is to consider “its influence on a man whose job it was to respond to present pressures: President Kennedy."

Much has been made of the influence The Guns of August had on Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis—and for good reason. Kennedy himself made a point of referring repeatedly to the lessons of Tuchman’s book (which had been published just a few months before that fateful October). In the midst of the crisis, he told his brother Bobby: “I am not going to follow a course which will allow anyone to write a comparable book about this time [and call it] The Missiles of October."

Given the passions of the moment, this was a nearly superhuman task. Would someone who had not read the book, or who had not studied history (as Kennedy had at Harvard), have been able to resist the advice of military men like Curtis LeMay, who wanted to evaporate the island with nuclear bombs?

(Excerpt) Read more at blog.loa.org ...


TOPICS: Books/Literature
KEYWORDS: barbaratuchman; cubanmissilecrisis; curtislemay; jfk; thegunsofaugust

1 posted on 03/20/2012 10:28:57 AM PDT by Borges
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To: Borges

JFK read a book that stood the test of time and now political and military push a book that turned out to be a fraud, Three Cups of Tea.


2 posted on 03/20/2012 10:47:31 AM PDT by C19fan
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To: C19fan

As a young boy, read Tuchman’s “Stilwell and the American Experience in China.” Have no idea how the book found its way into my hands.

It gave me an interest in China and Chinese Language I still have today.


3 posted on 03/20/2012 11:03:45 AM PDT by PGR88
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To: PGR88

“Vinegar Joe”?

Interesting guy.


4 posted on 03/20/2012 11:17:46 AM PDT by SuzyQue
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To: Borges

Tuchman and her much-lauded book are not without controversy. Although the book was about Europe’s stumble into World War I, during the 60s and 70s, the Left broadly cited it for the thesis that military planning inherently generated a drive to war. Tuchman, who had moved Left herself, did little to contradict this canard.


5 posted on 03/20/2012 11:26:20 AM PDT by Rockingham
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To: Rockingham

It’s also notoriously biased against the Germans. The WW1 era Germans were not Nazis.


6 posted on 03/20/2012 11:28:15 AM PDT by Borges
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To: Borges
An interesting parallel to this story is written in "Dereliction of Duty" by H.R. McMaster. In his historical narrative about the runup to the Vietnam War, he posits that the positive crisis solving experience that men like McNamara and Bundy received from the Cuban Missle Crisis meant to them that they could completely forgo the advice of the joint chiefs of staff while formulating their Vietnam policy. We know how that story turned out.

So while the leaders of the country cannot fully rely on their military leaders advice, they cannot fully discard it either. There has to be a happy medium between listening to their military leaders in the formulation of foreign policy, especially when the military is involved. Oh, and the maligned Curtis Lemay's (at least in this blog post) advice on Vietnam? Go full bore and win the thing or get out. No half measures. In hindsight, that sounds like it was pretty good advice...
7 posted on 03/20/2012 11:57:20 AM PDT by Old Teufel Hunden
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To: PGR88

My favorite Stilwell anecdote:

The General was fluent in Chinese. When he returned to the U.S. after V-J Day, the citizens of San Francisco Chinatown gave him a ticker tape parade. A Chinese-American kid asked for his autograph and Vinegar Joe signed his name in Mandarin characters. The kid looked at it for a second and said,

“Hell, a three star general and he can’t even write English!”

;^)


8 posted on 03/20/2012 12:03:09 PM PDT by elcid1970 ("Deport all Muslims. Nuke Mecca now. Death to Islam means freedom for all mankind.")
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To: Borges
"It’s also notoriously biased against the Germans. The WW1 era Germans were not Nazis."

The runup to WWI is truly a sad commentary. Through misunderstandings, Franz Joseph's government thought that Germany wanted Austria to go to war with Serbia and annex them. Kaiser Wilhelm was on his summer vacation during those crucial days in July and early August. This thinking gave Austria the boldness to issue a ridiculous set of ultimatums to Serbia which both sides knew Serbia could not acquisce to.
9 posted on 03/20/2012 12:03:15 PM PDT by Old Teufel Hunden
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To: SuzyQue
For another view on General Stilwell, read General Claire Lee Chennault's memoirs Way of a Fighter (New York: Putnam, 1949). Chennault, commander of the American Volunteer Group, American fliers who fought for China, which became the Fourteenth Air Force, was bitterly critical of Stilwell and blamed his policies for helping to bring about the Communist takeover of China.
10 posted on 03/20/2012 12:52:43 PM PDT by Fiji Hill (Io Triumphe!)
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To: Borges
Well, we're still here and the Soviet Union isn't, so the book's influence couldn't have been too pernicious.

As far as WW1 goes, I maintain that if, after the first month of Verdun, the troops on both sides had mutinied, shot their generals, hanged their politicians and gone home, the Twentieth Century would have been quite different. It's one of the reasons I don't think infinitely well of military discipline.

11 posted on 03/20/2012 12:55:32 PM PDT by Grut
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To: Rockingham; Borges
Tuchman, who had moved Left herself, did little to contradict this canard.

Barbara Tuchman's father was publisher of The Nation back in the 1930s. If the magazine reflected her views there probably wasn't much further left she could have moved.

I always wondered about stuff like this:

In the midst of the crisis, he told his brother Bobby: “I am not going to follow a course which will allow anyone to write a comparable book about this time [and call it] The Missiles of October.”

...

As Kennedy told his brother Bobby: “I wish we could send a copy of that book to every Navy officer on every ship right now, but they probably wouldn’t read it.”

There actually was a TV movie, called The Missiles of October, and William DeVane actually said those lines to Martin Sheen, but they always seemed phony to me, like they were something Bobby Kennedy or Arthur Schlesinger cooked up to make JFK look more "literate" and "intellectual" or "decisive" or "incisive."

De Vane does commercials for investing in gold now. I wonder if any senior citizens think it's Jack Kennedy telling them to buy.

12 posted on 03/20/2012 2:15:17 PM PDT by x
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To: Borges
The Germans in WWI were not Nazis but they do have a lot to answer for. The consensus among historians has shifted back and forth over the years, but Wilhelmine Germany now gets a hefty share of the blame for precipitating WW I, and the early atrocities attributed to the German army are seen as accurately reported.
13 posted on 03/20/2012 10:03:39 PM PDT by Rockingham
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To: x
I was not aware of Tuchman's Leftist roots. I do recall seeing the Missiles of October years ago and damn near gagging on the Kennedy worship embedded in it.

New details are still surfacing. As the UK Telegraph reported a few weeks ago in a story about Kennedy's teen age mistress:

At the height of the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, as the world teetered on the brink of a nuclear war between the United States and the Soviets, Kennedy hinted to his lover that he would be prepared to blink first: “I’d rather my children were red than dead.”

So, instead of Tuchman as the decisive influence on Kennedy during the missile crisis, it may well have been that he was swayed by Leftist sloganeering.

14 posted on 03/20/2012 10:16:42 PM PDT by Rockingham
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